The Machester bragging rights have been comfortably settled in the blue half of the city for the best part of a decade now.
Manchester United fans will tell you they’ll soon have waited nine horrendous, excruciating, painful years since they last saw their side crowned champions of England (cry me a river), while City could be just months away from notching their fifth Premier League title since their cross-town rivals’ last coronation.
Given City’s dominance in recent years, United fans have been forced to take a trip down good old memory lane whenever trying to convince those of a sky blue persuasion that United are still the best team in Manchester.
There’ll forever be a place in football discourse for nostalgia – it’s one of the best things about the game – but the problem is our memories can often become a little fuzzy over time.
Take Kevin Keegan’s rampant Newcastle side of 1995/96 for example. The so-called ‘Entertainers’ bagged just 66 Premier League goals that season, only the third-highest tally in the league and just two more than sixth-placed Everton.
Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ are widely regarded as one of the best Premier League sides ever, yet their tally of four wins from their final nine league games of the season isn’t exactly worthy of such a title, while six defeats away from league duty – two of which came against mid-table also-rans Middlesbrough in the League Cup – hardly smacks of a side deserving of a place in the history books.
Much like the aforementioned Arsenal team of 2003/04, United’s treble-winning side will forever be used as a stick to beat City fans with when they claim to support one of the best sides the English top-flight has ever seen. But were United’s 1999 side actually that good?
A successful Dennis Bergkamp penalty in the FA Cup semi-final replay and three more minutes of Bayern Munich resistance would have seen Sir Alex Ferguson’s men finish the season with just one piece of silverware added to the trophy cabinet – and even that looked to be slipping away from them at one point on the final day of the season.
Still, football is a game of fine margins and United fans will forever be able to praise their side’s 1999 season over City fans. Unless Pep Guardiola’s men surpass said achievement, of course.
With a nine-point gap at the top of the Premier League, City are favorites to record their fourth Premier League title win in five seasons.
Having come so desperately close to getting their hands on the Champions League trophy last season, they also look well set to make another charge at Europe’s top domestic prize in the coming months.
If City can tick two of the three boxes drawn by Ferguson’s treble-winning side, United fans’ hopes of retaining their trump card would rest solely on City’s inability to win the FA Cup.
City’s fourth-round victory over Fulham at the weekend may not have looked particularly pertinent in their quest for cup glory, but events elsewhere as the competition’s hopefuls were whittled down from 32 to 16 might well be.
It seems a little odd to suggest that League One Wigan’s exit at the hands of Stoke could have removed a huge hurdle in City’s route to success, though the Latics’ record against City in the cup in recent years is reason to believe it has done just that.
No football fan can forget Ben Watson’s stoppage-time winner to deny Roberto Mancini a final piece of silverware at the helm of City in 2013.
Since then, City and Wigan have met twice more in the FA Cup, with the Latics rising to the occasion both times to knock their Premier League opposition out of the competition.
Guardiola has assembled a side capable of beating any team in the world, but that’s not to say they’re immune to the occasional banana skin and Wigan could have proved to be just that they had met in the FA Cup.
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In beating the League One side on Saturday, Stoke removed such a hazard and could have edged City one step closer to matching the United side of 1999.
We say ‘matching’, with 45 points left to play for City and just 22 points off United’s league points total since 1999, if Guardiola’s side do win the treble, the debate over who has boasted the better side will be no longer.
Arise, Sir Pep Guardiola.
Do you think City’s current side are better than United’s 1999 team? Follow City Is Ours content editor Ross Jackson on Twitter to get involved in the discussion and give us your thoughts in the comments section below.guar
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.