Man City ahead of Manchester United and Liverpool FC greats after joining elite club
Manchester City have joined an elite group of teams to have won the English league title in four out of five years after clinching the 2021-22 crown after a thrilling race with Liverpool. No team has ever won four on the bounce, and on just eight occasions since league football began in this country 134 years ago has anyone won four out of five – and those teams are remembered among the all-time greats.
City have broken their way into that aristocratic cabal in astonishing style, setting new records for points, goals, winning streaks and many more over the past five years. And that is despite being up against a Liverpool side which many critics feel is the greatest in their club’s remarkable history, and which has pushed them all the way in two of those seasons, as well as preventing Pep Guardiola’s team from completing a complete sweep of five straight triumphs.
Comparing teams from different eras is always fraught with problems, but we have compared those eight great teams by dint of their points per game records, the only true statistical way to hold teams from different eras up against each other – although it ignores other factors, such as success in other competitions, and the relative strengths and weaknesses of rival clubs.
So, while City’s success has come with the best record, judgment of true status is subjective – and it must be remembered that City could be at the start of a run of success that rivals those of Liverpool in the 70s and 80s and Manchester United in the 90s, 00s and 10s.
Here is how those great teams rank in terms of points per game:
8. Liverpool 1981-86
Aston Villa had capped their run at four wins from five but Liverpool were not done, and piled up another four titles from the next five to make it a record-breaking eight triumphs in 11 seasons.
The Boot Room philosophy meant that Paisley’s retirement in 1983 made no difference as Joie Fagan stepped up to carry the standard and then Kenny Dalglish won the league at the first time of asking after becoming player-manager
The quality of football did not waver even as the playing and coaching personnel changed.
Points per game: 2.01 (based on three for a win)
Context – what Liverpool did from 1975 to 1986 was unprecedented in English football, a dominance no-one else had ever achieved. Expected rivals like Manchester United and Arsenal were re-building after mediocre periods in their history, and while several clubs, including City – pipped by a point in 1976-77 – had a stab at keeping pace, and Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa and Everton all punctuated their run with titles of their own, they reigned supreme, also winning three League Cups, a European Cup and an FA Cup in the same five-year spell.
Rivals – United developed a habit of beating their fierce rivals in league games but could not stop their dominance of the trophy haul, while Everton, with their 1984-85 and 1986-87 league wins started to put the brakes on the Liverpool juggernaut.
Managers – Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan, Kenny Dalglish
Star players – Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush, Graeme Souness, Alan Hansen
7. Manchester United 1992-97
Sir Alex Ferguson said his greatest achievement was knocking Liverpool off their perch, and United certainly did that in the Nineties, winning the first Premier League title and going on to dominate it for 18 years.
The Reds combined a successful youth policy that produced stars like David Beckham, the Neville brothers, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt with signings that were both shrewd – Eric Cantona, Peter Schmeichel – and lavish, like Gary Pallister, Roy Keane and Andy Cole. The blend was irresistible and they swept all before them with an attractive brand of attacking football.
Points per game: 2.03
Context – Liverpool had set the standard with their dominance in the 70s and 80s but United surpassed it with 13 title wins from the first 20 seasons of Premier League. In that initial five-year burst, as well as the four league titles, they also won two FA Cups.
Rivals – with Liverpool on the wane, and Arsenal seeking a transformative manager, United had no realistic challengers, apart from Blackburn, bolstered by the financial input of steel magnate Jack Walker, which saw his team finish runners-up in 1994 and then interrupt United’s run of success the following season. Kevin Keegan’s exciting Newcastle blew their big chance in 1995-96 and managed a distant second the following year.
Manager – Alex Ferguson
Star players – Eric Cantona, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Roy Keane, Peter Schmeichel, David Beckham
6. Arsenal 1930-35
Arsenal became known as the “Bank of England” club for their massive spending. They attracted Huddersfield’s innovative manager Herbert Chapman after he led the Yorkshire club to the first-ever hat-trick of League titles, and spent big on star names like David Jack and Alex James. Sadly Chapman died of pneumonia during the 1933-34 season but the team he built continued on to two more title victories under Joe Shaw and George Allison.
Arsenal were ahead of their time, playing the WM formation that Chapman evolved from changes in the offside rule, added shirt numbers to their kit, got the local tube station named after the club, developed Highbury complete with revolutionary floodlights and introduced Arsenal’s famous white sleeves for the first time.
Points per game: 2.04 (based on three for a win)
Context – The Gunners won five league titles in seven years in the 1930s, with Manchester City being one of the teams to interrupt that remarkable run. They also won two FA Cups in the same period
Rivals – Having tempted their manager away, Arsenal handicapped dominant Huddersfield, and ensured no-one could live with them in the league, although Aston Villa twice managed runners-up and Everton interrupted their run in 1931-32
Managers – Herbert Chapman, Joe Shaw, George Allison
Star players: Cliff Bastin, Eddie Hapgood, Alex James, David Jack
5. Liverpool 1975-80
The Anfield side became the first team to dominate English football over a sustained period, being barely touchable for most of the period from 1975 to 1990, interrupted by one-off wins from Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa.
They were a force of nature, a team that played quick, incisive football from front to back and replaced the loss of one European Footballer of the Year, Kevin Keegan with an even better player, Kenny Dalglish. They recruited brilliantly, had a sound defence and a midfield which was uncompromising and talented – summed up by Graeme Souness – and in Dalglish and Keegan had extraordinary strikers.
Points per game: 2.06 (based on three for a win)
Context – Liverpool won 11 league titles in 18 years in the 70s and 80s, and in their first four-out-of-five feat also won their first two European Cups, but failed to win either domestic cup – defeat by United in the 1977 FA Cup final denied them English football’s first Treble.
Rivals – United and City briefly challenged Liverpool’s dominance but Brian Clough’s Forest interrupted it with their 1978 title win, while Villa capped it at four from five with their victory in 1981
Manager – Bob Paisley
Star players – Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalglish, Ray Clemence, Ray Kennedy, Graeme Souness
4. Manchester United 1995-2001
United built on their dominance of the nascent Premier League by bouncing back from Arsenal’s rude 1997-98 interruption with another remarkable run of success, becoming the first team ever to win five out of six titles. Their early success in the cash-rich Premier League had allowed more transfer spending with Dwight Yorke, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Jaap Stam and Andy Cole all bolstering the ranks and ensuring continuity.
Points per game: 2.14
Context – the level of dominance United established in the Nineties had not been seen before in England, and has not occurred since. They also picked up two FA Cup triumphs and the Holy Grail of the European Cup in 1999, when they became the first team ever to win the Treble of league, FA Cup and European Cup.
Rivals – Blackburn’s star quickly faded, but Arsene Wenger’s appointment at Arsenal, and some smart player recruitment made them worthy adversaries, punctuating their five title wins in six years with victory – and a league and FA Cup double – in 1997-98 – and three times finishing as runners-up, although only once pushing them close.
Manager – Sir Alex Ferguson
Star players – Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Roy Keane, David Beckham, Gary Neville, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke
3. Aston Villa 1895-1900
Villa were the first team to truly dominate English football, after it turned professional in the late 1880s and the Football League was formed in 1888. They were also-rans until the old committee that ran the club was swept away amid claims of ill-discipline and player drinking.
They attracted large crowds, for the day, of around 25,000, more than FA Cup final attendances and were known for a quick, slick short passing game imported by Scottish manager George Ramsay – that success allowed them to move from their old Wellington Road ground to their current home of Villa Park
Points per game: 2.24 (based on three for a win)
Context – Villa won five titles in seven years, and also won the FA Cup once in a period when professional football was just taking root.
Rivals – Villa were denied five straight titles by the 1897-98 title victory of Sheffield United, who had been runners-up the previous year, while Derby twice knocked them out of the more prestigious FA Cup. Only Sunderland provided a real league challenge, twice finishing runners-up
Manager – George Ramsay
Star players: captain John Devey and striker Billy Garraty, the top scorer in world football with 30 in 39 games
2. Manchester United 2006-11
Alex Ferguson successfully rebuilt his United squad after the all-conquering Nineties, blending the remnants of that squad with expensive new signings like Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Edwin van der Sar.
The focus on attacking football did not waver and it began to feel like the United dynasty would continue forever – especially to long-suffering City and Liverpool fans – until the retirement of Ferguson and renaissance of first City and then Liverpool, ended their golden age.
Points per game: 2.28
Context – the way United rebuilt as their Nineties team aged and lost big names was exceptional, and the Reds responded to Chelsea’s financial muscle with some major cheque-book work of their own to perform vital surgery on the team.
They also collected two League Cups and the club’s third European Cup, although they were also twice denied in finals by Pep Guardiola’s brilliant Barcelona team.
Rivals – Chelsea’s takeover by Roman Abramovich in 2003 and smart appointment of Jose Mourinho as manager made them a new force to be reckoned with, along with an Arsenal side which games its second wind under Wenger. Chelsea won three titles in six years to interrupt the Reds’ flow and the Gunners remained fierce rivals. Towards the end of this period City’s own takeover began to kick in and 2011 was to be the shifting point in the balance of power between the Manchester clubs.
Manager – Sir Alex Ferguson
Star players – Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Edwin van der Sar, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, Nemanja Vidic, Carlos Tevez
1. Manchester City 2017-22
Pep Guardiola’s arrival at Manchester City completed their transformation from middling English club to European superpower, and sparked one of the great football rivalries as Liverpool also experienced a long-awaited re-birth under Jurgen Klopp.
Guardiola’s innovative style of dominant possession football built on the limited successes of Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini to herald an unprecedented period of success for the Blues, and smash a dozen English records along the way.
Points per game: 2.45
Context – City racked up a new league points record with their first title under Guardiola in 2017-18 and came close to matching it in the breathless title race with Liverpool the following season. But the trophy-winning does not stop there, as City have also claimed four League Cups and an FA Cup in the same five-year spell, as well as reaching their first Champions League final.
The only thing they have not achieved in comparison to the great Liverpool and United teams is that elusive European success, but they are relatively young in Champions League terms, and you sense that it is coming.
Rivals – the nip-and-tuck scraps between City and Liverpool over the last few seasons have been the most competitive in the history of the English game. Liverpool have been exceptional – their points tally of 97 in 2018-19 is the third highest and would have won the title by a country mile in every season bar two – the Blues first two wins under Guardiola. Manchester United have also twice managed runners-up spots without coming close to threatening City’s dominance.
Manager – Pep Guardiola
Star players – Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Ederson, Bernardo Silva, Ilkay Gundogan