20 years ago this month on the 26th May 1999 Manchester United became the first English club to win a historic and memorable unprecedented treble of FA Premier League, FA Cup and UEFA European Champions League as they needed injury time and a couple of substitutes to famously snatch treble glory from German Giants Bayern Munich who had already won their Bundesliga and domestic cup equivalent (the DFB Pokal).
Some say it’s the greatest achievement of all time from an English football club whilst many blue wearing Mancunians might argue that this year’s treble winning team of Manchester City have even gone one better.
With a record Premier League points total a year ago suggesting that this City team under Spaniard Tactician Pep Guardiola might be the best ever in EPL history, this year they followed up their 2018 title win by reclaiming their title pushed all the way by Liverpool (who themselves only lost one game) until the final day of the 2019 campaign. Having already won the League Cup final in February they wrapped up the league in the final 90 minutes of the season with a comprehensive win over Brighton before clinching the FA Cup in emphatic style over Watford to record a domestic treble never done by an English Football team previously.
Both sides of Manchester, red and blue with remarkable record breaking achievements 20 years apart and both teams will rightly have their place in history for being the first in what they so incredibly achieved.
Whether United’s class of 99 or City’s dominant force of 2019 is better is a question that will be long posed by many within the beautiful game.. So what better way to have a face off, Coach to Coach, Player to Player, XI to XI and see who comes out on top.
Goalkeeper: Whilst Ederson has the ball skills to seemingly play almost anywhere on the park he perhaps lacks the charisma and natural qualities of Peter Schmeichel who was the best in his position for well over 10 years. The Great Dane was a colossal imposing figure that not only put fear into the opposition strikers but to those defending in front of him too.
Winner: Peter Schmeichel (Manchester United)
Right Back: Both Gary Neville and Kyle Walker have had exceptional England careers with the latter most recently reaching the World Cup semi-finals with his country. Walker is known as one of the best attacking full backs on the planet whilst defensively sometimes can be questioned. Neville with 85 England caps was a defender who read the game exceptionally and linked perfectly with his number 7 to forge an unforgettable partnership.
Winner: Gary Neville (Manchester United)
Left Back: By the time the right footed United left back Denis Irwin made the 1999 Champions League final he had already massed over 400 games for the club. Mr reliable was a solid dependable defender who could also get a goal. This season young Ukrainian midfielder Oleksandr Zinchencko has admirably filled in at left back almost making the slot his own but Irwin’s reliability over 12 years in wearing the United no3 gives him an overwhelming nod that maybe over time Zinchenko can narrow.
Winner: Denis Irwin (Manchester United)
Centre Half: Two great colossal figures would go up against each other for the main slot as number one centre back (although both could easily play alongside each other) and anyone who remembers Jaap Stam at his pinnacle will remember a defender who had everything. Pace, power, timing, agility. But Vincent Kompany at City has even more than that. A real world class defender of 11 years in Manchester blue his qualities over a longer period ensure he deserves his place as the leader of the back line.
Winner: Vincent Kompany (Manchester City)
Centre Half: The second centre back position is another tough decision with both City and United during their treble winning seasons often changing personnel. United in 99 had Ronny Johnsen who played in the final whilst Henning Berg and David May were also both used. City have had Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones but I’m going to opt for Aymeric Laporte who has been a sensationally solid competitor that might have gone under the radar as one of the most under-appreciated stars of the Premier League season.
Winner: Aymeric Laporte (Manchester City)
Defensive Midfielder: Although United’s Nicky Butt played in the final this really comes down to two simple choices. Manchester City’s 34 year old Brazilian Fernandinho or Manchester United’s inspirational Irishman Roy Keane? Whilst the former has qualities needed for modern day football ensuring his discipline and off ball awareness allows City to play the way they do, the latter lead United to play the way they did often dragging them by the horns as he did memorably in the 99 Champions League semi final against Juventus. Both real leaders but Keane was truly world class.
Winner: Roy Keane (Manchester United)
Right Midfielder: Rather than match the two number sevens of the respective era’s I wanted to put David Beckham against Kevin De Bruyne as the two footballers have very similar qualities indeed. Both pass a ball arguably better than anyone else in the history of the game, both have been outstanding servants and role models for their national teams and both are extremely dangerous from set plays. Possibly the toughest choice of all is who to drop as putting either player in this team would improve it rather than weaken it.
Winner: David Beckham (Manchester United)
Left Midfielder: Whilst United have only one name to choose from in getting chalk on his boots down the left wing, City often playing a flexible 4-3-3 have a slightly more fluid system that means their attacking players don’t really hold a specific position when going forward. Whilst Ryan Giggs is undoubtedly the finest left sided player ever to play in the English Premier League, City have Leroy Sane and Riyad Mahrez who although have shown promise in glimpses but not near as often as the great Welshman over time.
Winner: Ryan Giggs (Manchester United)
Attacking Midfielder: The Manchester United playmaker was undisputedly Paul Scholes who made the Red Devils tick with stunning precision passing and playing with a freedom and ease that had even the best opponents in world football in awe. City’s playmakers aren’t too shabby either. David Silva has consistently been one of the best footballers and is in my opinion one of the most underrated footballers on the planet whilst Bernardo Silva looks like he could eventually surpass even his namesake in City colours. Ilkay Gundogan is another that can be considered amongst the top echelons but Scholes and Silva (the Spaniard) for me would be the choice of two.
Winner: Paul Scholes (Manchester United)
Centre Forward: Leading the line in attack for United in 1999 was Dwight Yorke with 29 goals and his strike partnership was infamous as one of the best in world football at that time. City have largely played one centre forward this season but when that name is Sergio Aguero it is often all you need. 32 goals in all competitions for the Argentine striker who in his eight years at City has scored an unbelievably prolific 230 goals.
Winner: Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)
Centre Forward: Andy Cole was the second most played striker and scored 24 goals for Manchester United in 99 ahead of Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who got their own plaudits for what they did that year. Whilst Gabriel Jesus at City has scored 21 goals in 47 apps this season I wanted to opt for Raheem Sterling as a striker in what has been more as a partnership with Sergio Aguero than a replacement. Sterling has come of age of late improving in every game scoring 25 goals and becoming the Football Writers and PFA Young Player of the Year in a tremendous 2019 where he will no doubt need a new trophy room to fit in his silverware.
Winner: Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)
The Coaches: Spaniard Josep Guardiola has revolutionised football with his philosophy developed from Tiki-Taka and taking Barcelona to Champions League glory inputting some new found Premier League substance into his modern day game plan (following some German input of course). But Sir Alex Ferguson is the single most successful Manager of all time and if Guardiola (who has won half of Fergies league titles) continues in the same way he might even one day overtake the great Scotsman at the top. But for now, there is only one winner. A man who not only won United their first title in 29 years but one who also took Aberdeen to Scottish and European glory proving he was far from a one trick pony.
Winner: Sir Alex Ferguson (Manchester United)
So there it is… Player for player, eleven for eleven and gaffer for entrenador it is the red half of Manchester that still have the last laugh. They won the harder treble in a time when it was tougher to do so and with a team that in particular in midfield were one of the world’s greatest of any era.
Who’s to say following back to back titles and a first ever domestic treble that City cannot go on to better United’s achievements in 99 and continue to make their own substantial history over time. They may come up short for now but if Guardiola, City and co continue to play the way they do with the players they have their team can certainly evolve to become undisputedly the world’s best… Until then however… They still have some way to surpass the legends of United 99.
Overall Score: Manchester United 8-4 Manchester City