Premier League

Why we shouldn’t yearn for the ultimate team

MANCHESTER CITY are worthy champions, make no mistake. Inevitably, whenever any team is crowned as the nation’s best, comparisons are made with past winners and the new masters of the universe are duly benchmarked. It’s happening at the moment, with some journalists pronouncing the start of a dynastic period of domination, others pointing out the shortcomings of Pep Guardiola’s team of all stars. Some are even writing City off versus teams like Liverpool’s exciting 1987-88 side or Arsene Wenger’s 2003-04 “Invincibles”.

City are now the on-pitch representation of the Guardiola philosophy. No champion side in England has ever dominated possession like Manchester City 2017-18 – an astonishing 70.9%. The previous best was Chelsea in 2009-10 under Carlo Ancelotti, a team that enjoyed possession to the tune of 59.7%. City’s statistics are also an improvement on the 60.9% established in 2016-17.

City are heading for a 100-goal season, they’re currently on 98 from 34 games, and they’ve conceded just 25 goals, the lowest since 2008-09 when United yielded 24. With another 12 points up for grabs, they can also breach the 100-point mark.

Critics point to City’s supposedly soft underbelly, a defence that looks a little ragged at times, but the goals against column doesn’t reveal any telling weakness. Three defeats  this season against Liverpool suggest that someone does know how to get under City’s skin and that’s by not allowing them to take charge of possession. It’s a surprise that others have not identified this strategy.

They’ve still kept 15 clean sheets, however. There’s little doubt that their defensive record would make Jose Mourinho proud.

City don’t just pass teams to death, they beat them emphatically. Consider that of their 29 league wins, 12 have been by three or more goals and a further eight by two goals.

From an entertainment perspective, City are every bit as good as any champion from the Premier League era.

But how do they shape up against some of the outstanding teams – Arsenal 2003-04, Manchester United 1998-99 and Chelsea 2004-05, to name but three?

They’ve certainly outscored all of these past champions, by more than 20 goals in the case of the two London clubs and they’re likely to be as many ahead of United’s treble-winning side.

Arsenal’s 2004 team and Chelsea’s first Mourinho side both relied on small margin wins – Arsenal securing 20 and Chelsea 21. The “Invincibles” only won six games by three or more goals.

City are also well poised for a substantial margin of success. They’re 16 points ahead at present, a more convincing gap than the other three champions.

So it is clear that City have produced something very special this season but still people are keen to caveat that truly great teams produce it year-in, year-out. That’s a little dismissive given that some of history’s top sides are often one-offs – Tottenham won the title (indeed the double) in 1961 and never won another championship but still people eulogise about that team. Brazil 1970 never won anything either side of the Mexico World Cup.

Should we worry that City may have imperfections and do we want the ultimate football team to be constructed? All through history, when a “dream team” emerges, they don’t go on forever and they can, occasionally, come unstuck. That’s the beauty of football, however dominant teams can be, unpredictable results can – thankfully – still happen.

At the same time, if the day comes when the flawless team comes to the fore, football may cease to be exciting. When innovation peaks, where do you take the game?

Football is not mechanical or the result of a scientific experiment – it still relies upon human endeavour, error and improvisation and that should ensure that football’s invention remains intact. City’s ultra-technical football and slide-rule approach is very close to the perfect line-up, but as Juergen Klopp demonstrated, the system can be infiltrated.

What is really going to determine how successful Guardiola has been will be the UEFA Champions League. That’s why he was hired by City, to make the club a credible European power. But it is not just City that need that endorsement, Guardiola has not won the competition since 2011.

Doubtless, City will spend big in the summer to strengthen an already formidable squad. Europe is ready for a new dominant force – Real Madrid’s current team is not as impressive as the past few years, Barcelona are still falling short in Europe and Bayern Munich are about to change managers again. City’s team is good enough to dominate the Premier in a manner that hasn’t been seen since Manchester United, the question is, can Guardiola break his own hoodoo and complete the job before he moves on to pastures new for his next challenge?

Photo: PA

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