Manchester United 2008 vs. Manchester City 2017: Who is better?
Wayne Rooney has called Manchester United's last Champions League-winning side of 2008 better than Manchester City's current crop, who have won 17 of their 18 games so far in the Premier League this season. But which is the better side?
United lost five games on their way to winning the league title, by two points from Chelsea, while also beating the Blues 6-5 on penalties in the European final.
United '08: Sir Alex Ferguson struggled to find a replacement for Peter Schmeichel when the Dane left Old Trafford in 1999 and it was not until Edwin van der Sar arrived in 2005 that he found another goalkeeper he trusted. He was 34 when he signed from Fulham but the Dutchman was vital in helping United concede just 22 league goals in 2007-08 -- the best record in the Premier League. He also made perhaps the single biggest contribution of the season by saving Nicolas Anelka's penalty in the shootout against Chelsea to win the Champions League.
City '17: Bayern Munich's Manuel Neuer was the perfect goalkeeper for Pep Guardiola's philosophy and the City boss now seems to have found the German's heir in Ederson. The Brazilian may not have hit the headlines for wonder saves -- although he has made some fine stops -- but he fits ideally into Guardiola's principle that the best way to stop the opposition scoring is to shut down their shot count by dominating possession and being alert to any danger. Ederson has a good reading of the game and is quick off his line to snuff out attacks while displaying incredible coolness with the ball at his feet -- rarely giving the ball away, and even starting attacks with his precision passing.
United '08: Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic were the best centre-back pairing in Europe in 2007-08. Vidic was the steel to Ferdinand's silk, the Serbian winning the ball and Ferdinand distributing from the back like a deep playmaker. Patrice Evra flew up and down the left while Wes Brown was the regular right-back after injury ruled Gary Neville out of the entire campaign. Ferguson was fortunate that, for the most part, they all stayed fit. All four started at least 45 games in all competitions and more than 30 in the Premier League. The consistency was invaluable.
City '17: City have been without captain Vincent Kompany and full-back Benjamin Mendy for much of the season but still have the joint best defensive record in the Premier League. Guardiola demands a lot from his defenders, insisting on a high line with plenty of space behind and little protection from the midfield. The defenders initially struggled in Guardiola's first season but John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi have finally got to grips with what's required. On top of that, they need to be assured in controlling possession while the full-backs are expected to consistently supplement attacks -- playing like auxiliary wingers on occasions.
United '08: Ferguson's transfer business in the summer of 2007 gave him a lot more options in midfield. In came Owen Hargreaves, Anderson and Nani to add to Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Park Ji-Sung and Darren Fletcher. Hargreaves only managed to start 23 games because of injury but, crucially, was available for the run-in, scoring in a vital 2-1 over Arsenal in April and starting both legs of the Champions League semifinal against Barcelona and the final against Chelsea. His engine, combined with the passing of Carrick and Scholes gave United a midfield that few teams in Europe could match.
City '17: Guardiola has described Fernandinho as one of the best three holding midfielders in the world but it's Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva who take the biggest plaudits. Fernandinho plays a crucial role, fitting in with defence and breaking up inevitable counter-attacks as City dominate games high up the pitch. But De Bruyne and Silva are so crucial at making breakthroughs against stubborn defences, happy to sit on the edge of their own box to try to stifle attacks. Their range of passing and clever interplay are crucial in turning City's dominance into opportunities.
United '08: In 2007-08, United's attack was dominated by Cristiano Ronaldo, but he also had plenty of help. Ronaldo scored 42 goals in all competitions, including 31 in the Premier League. He also did it in the big games, scoring against Arsenal (twice), Liverpool and in the Champions League final. It wasn't all about him, though, and Carlos Tevez (19 goals) and Wayne Rooney (18 goals) both made significant contributions. The work rate of Rooney and Tevez helped hide Ronaldo's defensive deficiencies and made United incredibly hard to play against. They ended the season as the Premier League's highest scorers with 80 -- the same number as the 1999 Treble team managed.
City '17: City have goals and pace throughout their attack and the quality is reflected by the fact that Sergio Aguero -- the club's record goal-scorer and one of the finest strikers of the Premier League era -- is no longer guaranteed a start. Leroy Sane can frighten any defence in the world, as was exhibited in Saturday's victory over Tottenham Hotspur when England international Kieran Trippier was torn apart. On the other wing, Raheem Sterling is maturing into an intelligent and dynamic forward and has more league goals than United's Romelu Lukaku this season, despite playing 400 fewer minutes.
United '08: Sir Alex Ferguson paired a formidable defence with a supremely talented attacking unit who scored goals at one end and kept them out at the other. They had the perfect mix of organisation and flare and ground out big results as many times as they blew teams off the park. By 2007-08, Ferguson was doing very little coaching and left a lot of the tactical work to assistant Carlos Queiroz. His strength was in man-management and motivation. It worked, and he ended the season with the second Champions League winners' medal and a 10th title.
City '17: Guardiola has dominated in Spain with Barcelona, Germany with Bayern and now he's getting ready to do it again with City. After an underwhelming first season, the Catalan insisted he would not change his style despite claims that it wouldn't work in the Premier League. His side is now playing not just every team off the park, but more impressively their nearest rivals. Champions Chelsea and derby rivals United have already been beaten away whereas United's 2007-08 side lost both derbies to an average City side as well as losing at Stamford Bridge to runners-up Chelsea and drawing at third-placed Arsenal.
If Manchester City win the Premier League and Champions League this season, they'd probably edge Manchester United's 2007-08 equivalent purely because of their incredible run domestically, all the while playing outstanding football.
Until then, though, it's Manchester United. They have the trophies and the history already there, while City is busy building their own.