After confirming their fifth league title last weekend, the big question is this: is Manchester City the best-ever Premier League team?
For many, the answer is no, and rightly so, but only at the moment.
It is necessary to establish some yardsticks to help evaluate how great title-winning teams will be judged: points accumulated, wins, draws, losses, goals scored, goals conceded, goals difference, winning points margin, away wins and number of games to spare.
Unsurprisingly, no particular team tick all boxes, but in the end, the title-winning sides are crowned champions because for the same reason: points haul. Fancy football, tactics, good defending, invincibility, comeback victories and all everything else comes afterwards. But points always come first.
That simple fact helps establish points tally as the most important yardstick for greatness and/or success. It should also be stated that a club’s performance in one competition doesn’t count in rating their performance in another, in this case, the Premier league. For instance, Manchester United’s treble-winning side have the third worst finish by a champion in Premier League history. They finished with a paltry 79 points. Similarly, Arsenal’s famed Invincibles who were awarded a golden trophy for their incredible feat only won the league title and nothing more.
An example to show points supremacy over all criterion is the ongoing season where Tottenham and Liverpool are seen to be “doing better” than Manchester United but the points tally tell a different story. Another example was the 2015/2016 season when Tottenham appeared to be the best team after Leicester City but crumbled on the last matchday to Newcastle, allowing neighbours Arsenal to usurp them to second position. Not many realize till date that Arsene Wenger and company finished second but the supremacy of point tally reigns supreme.
Putting any other criteria to winning or greatness is simply cutting the nose to spite face because it will amount to defining what a win actually is. The Invincibles (Arsenal 2003/04) are seen by many as the greatest ever league champions and that’s understandably down to the optics and emotional attachment to the rare feat of being unbeaten but in truth, they were only handed the trophy because they accumulated the most points in that season.
Cruel as it may look, the Invincibles team, with 90 points, would miss out of the top four if Manchester United of 1999/2000 season (91 points), Chelsea 2004/2005 (95 points) and 2016/2017 season (93 points) and potentially Manchester City‘s ongoing season are pitched together with it.
There is a chance that a team draws all games in the league. That would earn a team 38 points but the same “Invincible” status. In many Premier League seasons, there reward would be relegation. As special as being unbeaten appears to be, it does not guarantee anything in itself. New Zealand were unbeaten at the 2010 World Cup but still fell out in the group stage after finishing third behind second placed Slovakia who had lost a game. In fact, a win and a loss is better than two draws during which you stay “unbeaten.” This is not to take anything away from the glorious achievement of Arsene Wenger and his 2003/04 troop but to establish that point tally is simply superior.
Having established that wins/points is the currency of the game, it is therefore objective to say that the best ever Premier League team is the team with the best ever points finish: Jose Mourinho’s 2004/05 Chelsea team that won the Premier League with 95 points, two more than the nearest rival which is Antonio Conte’s 2016/2017 Chelsea.
Potentially, this City side can end with 102 points if they win their remaining five games. They currently have 87 with home dates against Swansea, Huddersfield and Brighton & Hove Albion and two away at West Ham and Southampton. Three wins out of those games will take them to a record 96 points.
As of today, with five games to play, this City side already combine the rare accolade of having the best defence and attack in the league. With nothing else to play for, they side are on course to break the record point tally (they need nine more points), record wins (they need three more wins), record away wins (they need two more), record goals scored (they need 11 more), record goal difference (with an additional +4) and record biggest title-winning points margin (with three more additional points over whoever finishes second).
At the moment, they have won the league with the joint highest number of games to spare with five games to go and have equaled the record of 11 away consecutive victories with the win at Newcastle last December. They have also set the record for most consecutive victories (18) this season.
It is absolutely fair to have preferences but if objectivity is anything to go by, a record point tally at the end of the season will make Pep Guardiola’s 2017/2018 Manchester City the best Premier League champions ever. Opinions are subjective, facts are not.
Written by Larry Eghosa Okhuosi, follow @larryeghosa