Debate: Are Manchester heavyweights City and United the real deal or just pick of a bad Premier League bunch?

By Alex Bysouth

The battle for domestic supremacy has become a proverbial two-horse race in recent seasons with Manchester rivals City and United battling against one another for the title, but are they really Premier League elite or just top of the underwhelming current crop?

Even the most blinkered City fan would struggle to string together an argument that dismissed their club’s rise to prominence as being down to anything less than the spending power of club owner Sheikh Mansour, head of the Abu Dhabi United Group.

However, even built on the foundations of Mansour’s embarrassment of riches City left it very late to clinch last season’s Premier League title, a dramatic Sergio Aguero winner in added-time against ten-man QPR.

Since Mansour bought the club in 2008 the Abu-Dhabi based oil magnet has forked out well over £500million of his own cash, with the club spending nigh on £1billion in total during this period. So surely the Citizens should be sitting pretty en-route to a second successive title with a dream team selection of the world’s greatest talent?

Manager Roberto Mancini has bought big – Yaya Toure, David Silva and Aguero were all sourced from La Liga and enticed to the Etihad on contracts gazumping those of their previous employers.

And rightly so, whatever they pocket a week in their sizable pay checks is more than worth it in the eyes of Mansour, Mancini and the City faithful, as these three produced priceless performances last season in hunting down a United side who several bookmakers had already paid out on during the title run-in.

There is no shame in buying your way to a Premier League title. Blackburn Rovers splashed out on an SAS forward partnership of Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton, who racked up nearly 50 goals between them in the 1994/95 season, to collect their first top flight English crown in 81 years.

Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea are the most obvious example of a side finding success through incredible financial backing, but does Mancini’s current City outfit really match-up to Jose Mourinho’s record breaking 2004/05 side who totted up a spectacular 95 points, conceding just 15 goals and winning an unmatched 29 games?

Since clinching their first title in more than 50 years, Mancini has spent nearly £60million on reinforcements including Jack Rodwell, Javi Garcia and Scott Sinclair. Hardly superstars ready to set the world alight?

Rodwell has played just a handful of games since his arrival in Manchester, his one key contribution coming against Borussia Dortmund’s when his poor pass set-up Marco Reus as City were eliminated in the group stages of the Champions League.

It would be unsurprising to many if Mancini had meant to pick up Bayern Munich midfielder Javi Martinez instead of namesake Garcia, but the Italian boss has accidentally wound up with a Spanish replica of Gareth Barry, and as for Sinclair, did he ever really expect to play first team football at the Etihad? Or was a move to the north-west a bid to settle down with celebrity girlfriend Helen Flanagan?

That early European exit, despite a tough group, was enough to prove City do not yet have the credentials to mount another serious title challenge, let alone compete with the continent’s heavyweights.

United, however, are currently storming away from the pack and, even after last year’s dramatic turnaround, it would take a fool to bet against them bagging a 20th league title.

The acquisition of Premier League top-scorer Robin van Persie from Arsenal in the summer has proved a shrewd bit of business from Sir Alex Ferguson.

The Old Trafford club pride themselves on the consistency and ability with which the Scot turns out generation after generation of title winning sides.

So how does this side compare to Ferguson outfits of the past? United currently possess arguably one of the most lethal forward lines in world football, packed with enough talent to rival the treble-winners of Teddy Sheringham, Dwight Yorke, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Andy Cole in ’99.

Van Persie and Wayne Rooney would walk into Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona’s first XI’s, Javier Hernandez remains one of the Premier League top scorers despite fleeting appearances from the bench, while youngster Danny Welbeck enjoys a growing reputation for his hard work and versatility.

But look a little bit deeper and this is a side built around 31-year-old Michael Carrick, the former West Ham and Tottenham Hotspur midfielder who has lived in the Three Lions shadow of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard his whole career, collecting just 26 England caps.

The deep-lying playmaker may be one of the most underrated players of his generation, but would he have kept Roy Keane or Paul Scholes out of the side during their prime? Would Carrick, Darren Fletcher and Anderson compete with Arsenal’s 2003/04 ‘Invincibles’ of Patrick Viera, Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg?

Despite Chelsea being crowned European champions last May, it may well be – should Arsenal fail to turnaround a home defeat to Bayern and United slip-up in a tricky second-leg with Madrid – that David Beckham of PSG remains the only English representative in the Champions League come the quarter-finals stage this year.

But does anyone care if the United side running away with this year’s league doesn’t match-up to the likes of Eric Cantona, Beckham or Cristiano Ronaldo?

The rivalry between Manchester’s top sides is as fierce as ever and next season – should Chelsea appoint a stable boss, Spurs invest in a decent centre-forward and Arsenal’s youth finally come of age – the title race could well be fought out between five sides.

English football may not be the powerhouse it once was among European football, but one thing is for certain, the Premier League is still the most exciting and competitive league in the world.

La Liga and the Bundesliga may have caught up in terms of talent, but neither can match the Premier League’s fan base. Domestic broadcasting rights for the next three seasons total more than £3billion and the league’s global audience is as wide as ever, with nearly two-million viewers tuning in for each televised game in the United States.

United may sit top of an underwhelming crop, but – for the neutral at least – this is the best Premier League there has ever been.

Quid on Norwich to win at Old Trafford on Saturday then?

Image courtesy of, via YouTube, with thanks

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