After his larynx-shredding “AGUEROOOOO !!!!!” efforts as Manchester City snatched the 2011/12 Premier League title in unforgettable fashion, Sky Sports commentator Martin Tyler offered an observation.
“It could be the start of a dynasty,” he said, as Roberto Mancini’s players lapped up the bedlam.
The reality was different, as City fell away in their title defense the following year and Mancini was sacked. Manuel Pellegrini regained the crowd in 2013/14 but, after Pep Guardiola’s first campaign in charge in 2016/17, City had been champions just once in five years.
The picture is very different now, with City sealing a fourth title out of the most recent five to continue a phenomenal run of dominance under the Catalan tactician.
But how do they compare to the other great dynasties – sides that racked up multiple titles across several competitions and were widely recognized to be the dominant force of their time – of the Premier League era?
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5. Chelsea 2004-2007
Arsenal vs. Manchester United had been the terms of engagement in English football since around 1997 until Jose Mourinho came swaggering into view from Porto to take charge of Chelsea. He emphatically backed up his “Special One” proclamation in a first season that saw Chelsea rack up a huge 93-point total to finish 12 points clear of defending champions Arsenal. They also won the EFL Cup.
The Blues’ success was built upon the most miserly Premier League defense of all time. They conceded just 15 times in 38 games and lost once. Chelsea backed things up with another monster haul of 91 points, eight clear of Manchester United, in 2005/06. Alex Ferguson’s side overhauled them next time around and, even though Mourinho kept his Chelsea trophy tally rolling with the League and FA Cup double in 2006/07, Roman Abramovich’s infamously itchy trigger finger had the Portuguese out of a job at the start of the next season, leaving him free to embark upon a historic tenure in charge of Inter Milan from 2008.
4. Arsenal 2001-2004
Arsene Wenger shook up the English football establishment when Arsenal overhauled Manchester United to win the Premier League and FA Cup double in 1997/98, but United responded with their most dominant period under Ferguson. Arsenal went trophyless for three years but the arrivals during that time of Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Freddie Ljungberg and Sol Campbell helped to remodel Wenger’s squad into a truly formidable proposition.
By 2001/02, they were at full capacity and romped to a second double in memorable fashion – Sylvain Wiltord scoring the winner at Old Trafford to dethrone United after a 2-0 win over Chelsea in the FA Cup final. Arsenal scored in every league game that season and went unbeaten away from home. They looked set to make it back-to-back titles the following season, only to collapse under pressure from United.
Nevertheless, Wenger’s men responded to prove they were the definitive team of the early years of this century with their unforgettable Invincibles season in 2003/04, going an entire Premier League campaign without defeat. Chelsea ended Arsenal’s interest in the Champions League that season and ran away with the title next time around. When inspirational skipper Patrick Vieira dispatched the winning penalty against United in the 2005 FA Cup final in his last act for the club, it felt like the end of an era.
3. Manchester City 2017-2022
“If he thinks he’s going to turn up and outplay everybody in the Premier League, and that teams like Watford, Leicester City, Bournemouth, Southampton and Crystal Palace are going to let his Manchester City side have the ball for 90 per cent of the time and pass pretty patterns around them so they can get a result, then he is absolutely deluded, “harumphed Stan Collymore in a 2016 column for The Mirroraround the time Guardiola’s trophyless debut season at City was starting to unravel.
There is indeed a fine line between delusion and effective bloody-mindedness and, in the years since he was openly mocked for sarcastically asking “what is tackles?” in a post-match news conference, Guardiola has bent the English game to his will. City’s 100-point campaign in 2017/18 smashed a succession of records and they backed that up with 98 in 2018/19 to pip a relentless Liverpool to the post.
Their form fell away the following season but City mastered pandemic football like no other side in 2020/21, with an English-record 21-game winning run across all competitions spanning December to March breaking the back of the campaign. A run of four consecutive EFL Cups ended this season and the 2019 FA Cup win completed an unprecedented domestic treble. European glory has remained elusive, which places City just behind the two other teams to have won four out of five titles in the Premier League years, although Guardiola has time to further embellish his golden era.
2. Manchester United 2006-2011
Ferguson’s last great team might stand as his most impressive achievement, even if it’s not his most celebrated. Dominating throughout the 1990s and in the early part of this century cemented his claim to greatness but after that Wenger and Mourinho lifted the bar, bringing a more cerebral edge to English football’s traditional blood and thunder.
There were teething problems as the likes of Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic took a little time to settle but they would make up half of one of the Premier League’s best ever backlines alongside Rio Ferdinand and Gary Neville. Edwin van der Sar arrived in 2005 and Ferguson finally had a suitable heir to Peter Schmeichel. In midfield, Owen Hargreaves and Michael Carrick helped to add a more refined edge alongside stalwarts Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, helping United reach three Champions League finals during this timespan, beating Chelsea on penalties in Moscow in 2008 before twice running into Guardiola’s Barcelona.
It was the attack that defined this United vintage, with Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo a truly terrifying proposition. When they were joined by Carlos Tevez between 2007 and 2009 to make it three titles in a row, Ferguson’s team often looked unstoppable. Ronaldo and Tevez left in 2009, with Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea taking advantage to snap the streak, although the more laconic Dimitar Berbatov came into his own to win the Golden Boot in another march to glory in 2010/11, while Rooney continued on his way to overhauling Bobby Charlton as United’s all-time record goalscorer.
1. Manchester United 1995-2001
In terms of former Liverpool players going wildly off-grid by telling exceptional coaches some big home truths, Collymore was not the trailblazer. After United ceded the Premier League to Blackburn Rovers in 1994/95, Ferguson embarked upon a bold reset – selling experienced trio Paul Ince, Mark Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskis and placing his faith in a richly gifted crop of young players including Scholes, David Beckham, Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers.
A 3-1 opening day loss to Aston Villa in August 1995, when United were 3-0 down by half-time, prompted Match of the Day pundit Alan Hansen to infamously proclaim: “You can not win anything with kids.” United duly did the double, beating Liverpool in the FA Cup final after hauling in Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle United. Beckham’s sensational goal from the halfway line at Wimbledon set the tone for 1996/97. Newcastle, Arsenal and Liverpool were all seven points shy of the Red Devils in the final analysis.
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Talisman Eric Cantona stunned Old Trafford with his 1997 retirement and Arsenal stopped United from making it three in a row as Wenger claimed his first Premier League the following season. The same core regrouped as Dwight Yorke arrived for his formidable link-up with Andy Cole in attack for 1998/99.
The strike duo inspired much of United’s success in their historic treble season, although it was Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who unforgettably got them over the line in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich to complete a feat that has still never been repeated in English football. United cantered to success by 18 and 10-point margins in the next two seasons to make it five titles out of six – the next challenge for Guardiola to address more than two decades on.