Not very, if most people are to be believed. Despite being on track to get close to the Premiership’s highest ever points total, (Chelsea’s 95 in 2004/05, which, itself, was overshadowed by events in Turkey), nobody seems to think this United side are anything special. Meek exits from all three cup competitions and an alarming defensive frailty earlier in the season may have contributed to the average viewer’s perception that this Manchester United is a champion by default. The league is poor, but some team has to win, and this doesn’t make that team a great one. Not like, say, the Arsenal Invincibles, or that Chelsea side. United are still chasing the record league points total too – will they beat Manchester City tonight? Can they beat that total points record? Why not place a free £20 bet with bwin?
Well, to truly answer the question of whether this Manchester United side are the all-time greats that their stats show, some stats and facts must be utilized.
Since Sky invented football in 1992, five sides have won England’s top competition. The average points needed to become Champion has been around 86. The five most relentless teams, and supposedly the ones United should be compared to, were: Chelsea 2004/05 (95 points), Manchester United 1993/94 (92 points), Manchester United, 1999/00 (91 points), Chelsea 2005/06 (91 points), and Arsenal 2003/04 (90 points, and the Invincibles barely sneak in, Manchester United 2008/9 also had 90 but lost four games).
But are these the best sides the Premiership has produced? Might they not just be flat-track bullies, beating up on bad leagues just like this year’s United is accused of doing? How do we separate the wheat from the chaff so we can start a proper analysis?
Well, one way of analyzing the strength of the league is by looking at the quality of its top sides. The stronger the top teams are, the harder it is for one of them to pull away from the rest of the pack and secure a record breaking number of points, but it also means that the one side that climbs out of the bear pit is truly very strong.
The gap between the fourth and first side in the Premiership this season is projected to be around 18 points (using a very superficial points per game analysis and not taking into account strength of schedule remaining/injuries, loss of concentration with the title wrapped up, etc.). The average gap between the fourth and first placed side throughout the Premiership era has also been around 18. So it seems that this league hasn’t been that weak after all. Every team bar United hasn’t managed to rise above their peers, as indicated by the fact that the gap from second to fourth stands at only six points. Of the top sides mentioned above, they mostly featured in seasons where there were two teams smashing up the rest. Chelsea and Arsenal in 2004/05, United and Blackburn in 1993/94, Arsenal and Chelsea (sort of) in 2003/04. Only United in 1999/00 similarly managed to rise above the parity shown by the rest of the league to become clear and undisputed champions, where the gap between second to fourth was also six points.
So perhaps these teams are fair to use as comparisons: a Chelsea side that racked up the highest points total in the Premiership, an Arsenal side that never lost throughout the season, and a United side that showed similar drive to rise up above the rest of the pack.
[table id=233 /]
The table shows that, as with most conjectures, the story about United not being that great of a Champion is partly true and partly not. They’re not that great defensively, and their exits in cup and especially European competition holds them back. Remember, even before being beaten by Real Madrid they struggled with the likes of Galatasaray, Cluj, and Braga. Compare that to Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, who, along with being the deepest side out of the four, also won a trophy besides the Premiership and could have very well have won the Champions League but for losing the Semi-final to Liverpool on the slimmest of margins.
[table id=234 /]
They also don’t score as much as the other sides on this list famed for their smooth offensive play, despite at times this season throwing defensive caution to the wind. What truly makes them a great team is their win percentage, by far higher than anybody else’s. This team just do not stop, even in recent weeks with the title wrapped up.
If these four sides were to be ranked, a table that would differ from person to person to be sure, then it would probably go like this: Chelsea, United (12/13), United (99/00), Arsenal. That Mourinho side were a machine, going deep in every tournament entered, without the defensive frailty that this United side can still show from time to time.