Despite a draw at White Hart Lane against Tottenham Hotspur, Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United played perhaps some of their best football since the inception of the 2012-13 season. Behaving like a tightly organized unit, Manchester United frustrated Spurs for the better part of the game and showed a great degree of resilience throughout the game.
The central defence was robustly organized, while the two central midfielders Phil Jones and Michael Carrick put on an excellent shift. Particularly riveting was Michael Carrick who was the man-of-the-match that game, and on account of his splendid performances over the course of the season has won the admiration of numerous detractors.
Gary Neville and Jamie Redknapp mentioned that this team were fully capable of facing Real Madrid at the Bernabeu.
And indeed they were.
Despite inconsistencies in defence, United have been a fascinating team this season. The firepower afforded by Robin van Persie combined with the likes of Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck has simply been too much for the opposition to handle. Furthermore, key personnel like Shinji Kagawa and Antonio Valencia have yet to hit their respective peaks.
So this begs the question: Are Ferguson’s 2012-13 Manchester United his best team ever?
For comparison, I have chosen the treble winning Ferguson team from 1998-99. I will firstly dissect the individual players and then move on to the collective team as a whole.
Despite his reflexes, David de Gea is nowhere near the "Great Dane" Peter Schmeichel. Despite having been absolutely splendid throughout the game, De Gea committed a rookie mistake in dealing with the cross that eventually led to the equalizer in Fergie time. For the present, there is absolutely no comparison between the two.
The defensive combination of the 1998-99 United squad was of Denis Irwin, Gary Neville, Ronny Johnsen and Jaap Stam. While the best defensive combination of the 2012-13 season is, in my opinion, Patrice Evra, Rafael, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand.
Denis Irwin vs. Patrice Evra
This is indeed a tough one to decide. While most would favour Irwin, I feel that Evra can also stand toe-to-toe against Irishman. Evra has continuously reinvented himself, and his performances this season have been nothing short of ordinary.
Gary Neville vs. Rafael
Obviously, this one goes to Gary.
Jaap Stam and Ronny Johnsen vs. Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand
I remember Ronny Johnsen in the second leg against Juventus playing perhaps one of the finest performances alongside Roy Keane. Then he played as a central midfielder. As a center-back, although he was solid, he was never in the mold of Vidic or Ferdinand.
While Stam is a superb defender in his own right, I consider him inferior to both Ferdinand and Vidic.
If you were to employ a 4-4-2 formation—the one employed by Ferguson for most of his career—the 1998-99 team had Ryan Giggs as left winger, David Beckham as a right-sided midfielder, Roy Keane and Paul Scholes in midfield.
The 2012-13 team would have Nani on the left-wing, Valencia on the right-wing, and Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverly as the two central-midfielders.
There is absolutely no comparison here. United’s midfield back then were part of the golden generation and all players were superior to their counterparts of 2012-13.
Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole are the representative of the 1998-99 class, while Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie represent the current crop.
While both Yorke and Cole were exceptional in their own rights, I am of the opinion that both Rooney and Van Persie are superior to them. Both Van Persie and Rooney are not only exceptional forwards, but they also track back and also orchestrate play in a manner that Yorke and Cole were unable to do, although the partnership between Yorke and Cole was more telepathic.
Hopefully, the current partnership will also be able to operate on the same level.
The combined team would be as follows:
Schmeichel; Evra, Ferdinand, Vidic, Neville; Giggs, Keane, Scholes, Beckham; Van Persie, Rooney
There are six representatives from the class of 1998-99, while there are five players from the current roster.
Winner: Team of 1998-99
On a collective basis too, the team of 1998-99 is far too superior to the current one. Until the last game, United behaved as a disorganized unit, prone to lapses in concentration and conceding far too many goals. The resilience, however, is almost the same quality as their predecessors, exemplified the number of comebacks United have been able to muster.
However, the team is yet to gel fully. Defensive issues need to be sorted out, while midfielders like Kagawa, Valencia, Young and Nani need to be more consistent. Cleverly still needs to mature, and so does Rafael. With new enforcements, perhaps the United team in a few years can be compared to that of 1998-99.