Five reasons Manchester United are still years behind Man City after Liverpool FC mauling – Stuart Brennan

Few people who were inside Anfield last month as Liverpool and Manchester City fought out a high-quality 2-2 draw were in any doubt that they were watching the two best teams in the country.

There was a strong argument that they could even be watching the two best sides on the planet, although Chelsea might have a legitimate protest, and a resurgent Bayern Munich could stake a claim, too.

And after the Merseysiders’ 5-0 humiliation of Manchester United, the narrative at the start of the season, of a potential four-way fight for the title, starts to look a little sickly.

That result was no great surprise – Paul Scholes got some stick for being a killjoy when he pointed out the truth, that the Reds would come a cropper if they played the same way against Jurgen Klopp’s team as they did against Atalanta.

Chelsea, Liverpool and City have hardly broken away, and there is still time for things to change, but right now they look like the only squads equipped to go the distance.

The default mode for anyone outside City trying to analyse why they are so good is to point to the money they have spent – and that is undeniably a big factor.

But United have also made huge investments over the last decade, and have out-spent City significantly in the past three years.

To suggest it is the tired old “oil money” cliche which has proved to be the difference is lazy, and a strict case of United being in denial over the truth.

The fact is that City are a better-run club than their old rivals, from the top down, and narrowing down the many facets of that would take some doing.

But to give a broad outline, here is why City have consistently out-performed United, on and off the pitch, for the past eight years.

The plan

The Blues’ new owner Sheikh Mansour was derided as a rich man buying a plaything when he took over in 2008, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Sheikh Mansour bought Manchester City in 2008.

Behind the lurid headlines about bids for superstar players, the telling investment was in the infrastructure.

Money was spent on developing the academy, training ground, and every department of the club, from diet and nutrition to the commercial department.

That, along with the cash spent on the squad, meant City have been able to reach, and then surpass, United’s level, and sustain it.

United have had big academy successes like Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford, but City have trumped them with Phil Foden, and have more coming through, notably Cole Palmer, Liam Delap, Romeo Lavia and James McAtee.

The revamp of the commercial side means the Blues are now self-sustaining and able to compete with United financially without falling foul of financial fair play rules.

Football director

United have resisted it for years, a legacy of the days when Sir Alex Ferguson ruled the roost at Old Trafford, and had his own mind in terms of a blueprint for the club, and strategic planning.

It was blindingly evident that once he had gone, that English model was outmoded, and if they wanted evidence of how vital having a director of football was, and how important it was to get the right man, they only had to look across town.

Brian Marwood did a good job for the Blues in the early days, bringing in stars like David Silva, Yaya Toure, Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero who made the initial transformation.

But as soon as it became apparent Pep Guardiola was a possibility as coach, the appointment of Txiki Begiristain to the post became crucial.

Begiuristain and Guardiola are steeped in the same Barcelona traditions and perceive football in the same way, so are rarely out of step when it comes to transfer policy.

By the time Guardiola took the reins in 2016, City had been moving towards a set-up that would fit the new manager like a glove.

Manchester City Training, Etihad Stadium, Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak came to watch the Manchester City players in training today at the Etihad Stadium Manchester City chief executive Ferran Soriano, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, Manchester City Chairman Khaldoo Al Murarak and Manchester City sporting director Txiki Begiristain during training. (Photo by Victoria Haydn/Manchester City FC via Getty Images)

The academy teams played Guardiola-esque football, players like Kevin De Bruyne, Fernandinho and Raheem Sterling were all bought with one eye on the future. The result has been a smooth evolution of the squad.

By contrast, United’s transfer policy has been piecemeal, lurching from David |Molyes to Louis Van Gaal to Jose Mourinho and thence to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – very different coaches with different philosophies, all wanting their own type of player.

The result is a patchwork squad at Old Trafford, a stark contrast to the smooth-functioning machiner at City, where every part has been carefully selected and does its job perfectly.

Ownership model

United still have greater income than City, despite all the nonsense talked about the wealth of the Blues’ owners, which is no longer relevant since FFP became a thing.

But City have vamped up their own revenue streams through success on the pitch, the City Football Group innovation and a smart commercial side.

Why do you think United are still trailing behind City? Have your say in our comments section here

Crucially, they also have an owner who is not intent on taking money out of the club, so every penny they earn gets re-invested.

Not only does that mean financially they can go head to head with the Reds,it has also brought a calm unity which United have not had since the Glazer family moved in, 16 years ago.


It goes without saying, but City pulled off one of the great coups in football history by engineering Guardiola’s move to the Etihad Stadium.

They did not just offer the brilliant Catalan the money to spend, they proffered a club set up for him to succeed, and with like-minded men in key positions, ensuring he would face none of the exhausting politics that saw him walk out of Barcelona, or the resistance to change that he encountered at Bayern Munich.

United wanted Guardiola – he was courted by Sir Alex Ferguson as his successor – but that package offered by City, and the lure of bringing unprecedented success to the Blues, was more tempting.

Guardiola has had bad moments at City, not least in a difficult first season when he finished pot-less, but the hierarchy kept their faith, backed him financially and verbally, and the results have been spectacular.

BRIGHTON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 23: Ilkay Guendogan celebrates with teammates Gabriel Jesus, Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva of Manchester City after scoring their team's first goal during the Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion and Manchester City at American Express Community Stadium on October 23, 2021 in Brighton, England.
Ilkay Gundogan was back in the Manchester City team and back among the goals.

It was a smart move based on sheer, proven ability, while United, in appointing Solskjaer, allowed themselves to be drawn in by nonsensical notions of “United DNA” – as if that can paper over his tactical shortcomings, without having top-class, experienced coaches working under him, as Fergie had.

Individuals vs team

Man for man, there is little difference between United and City, two squads of terrific footballers.

But anyone who had to pick a Manchester XI for a match in which they could win a million pounds would – if smart – pick 11 City players.

Bruno Fernandes is a fantastic player, but he would not fit City’s team better than Kevin De Bruynene, Bernardo Silva or Phil Foden.

Luke Shaw is an excellent left-back, but he could not do what Joao Cancelo does for City.

That is the beauty of City, they do not have a Cristiano Ronaldo or a Mo Salah, but what they do have is top-quality players who mesh with a silky smoothness that produces irresistible football.

Guardiola has built a team, Solskjaer and his predecessors – due to the lack of a strategic plan – have gathered individuals, who do not click often enough to make a difference.

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