This week, CIES Football Observatory released the total cost of each and every squad in Europe’s five highest ranked leagues.
Unsurprisingly, Premier League clubs featured rather prominently in the higher rankings.
And perhaps even less surprisingly, it was the two Manchester clubs that took the top two spots in England, with Manchester City’s squad costing a cool £412 million (€560 million), whilst Manchester United’s cost the slightly lower amount of £392 million (€533 million).
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In fact, the two sides would have sat atop the whole list were it not for Real Madrid and their habit of signing stars in deals worth in excess of £60 million, with Los Blancos' squad costing an astonishing £431 million (€587 million).
Now, whilst the fact that City outstripped United in terms of spending will come as a shock to few, the relatively small difference between the two totals does raise a few questions.
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With Manchester City currently sat proudly atop the Premier League table after winning their first four fixtures, having scored an impressive 10 goals and yet to concede, it is a very different story for their local rivals.
Despite lying in fifth place, United have struggled on multiple fronts already this season, scoring only three times in their first four games - one of which was an own goal - and having already lost their 100% home win record to a stubborn Newcastle side who refused to be broken down.
It already appears the case that retaining their spot in the Champions League looks to be United’s biggest aim for this season.
City, on the other hand, have ambitions to challenge on all fronts, aiming to finally make their mark in Europe after a tough first four years in the competition, which has seen them eliminated twice in the group stage and twice more in the round of 16.
How, then, with a difference of only £20 million between the two clubs squad’s, could their fortunes be so different? Has one side simply spent their money better than the other? Or perhaps the problem runs deeper.
To analyse this, let’s first compare the two club’s squads.
Manchester United – David de Gea, Sergio Romero, Victor Valdes, Sam Johnstone
Manchester City – Joe Hart, Willy Caballero, Richard Wright
Very little separates the sides here. Both have undoubted first choices in De Gea and Hart, and both have an established, solid backup in Romero and Caballero.
Valdes looks set to play no further part at United, and both Wright and Johnstone will surely only feature for their respective clubs should either of the two first-choice options be injured, or in a lesser cup competition.
VERDICT – DRAW
Manchester United – Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Marco Rojo, Daley Blind, Matteo Darmian, Luke Shaw, Paddy McNair, Guillermo Varela
Manchester City – Vincent Kompany, Nicolas Otamendi, Eliaquim Mangala, Martin Demichelis, Bacary Sagna, Pablo Zabaleta, Aleksandar Kolarov, Gael Glichy,
United are well stocked at full-back, with Shaw and Darmian both offering reliability as well as untapped potential. In terms of cover, United also have Smalling, Varela, Blind, and Rojo who can all play out wide should the need arise.
City also have multiple options. So far this season, Kolarov and Sagna have been preferred to Clichy and Zabaleta, but all four are more than capable of challenging for a starting berth. Mangala also has experience of playing wider in defence, having done so at former club Porto.
It is at centre-back, however, that differences really begin to show. United have only Jones, Smalling, and Rojo as senior centre-backs in their squad, while McNair offers cover and is full of potential but cannot yet be viewed as a reliable option.
The same is true of Daley Blind who, despite having played at centre-back and performed commendably, is not a natural central defender. With Jones’ injury concerns, it would take only an injury to Smalling or Rojo to leave United facing an injury crisis at the back.
City, on the other hand, have four options who could all be considered as first choice. Club captain Vincent Kompany is guaranteed a starting spot, leaving Mangala, Otamendi and Demichelis to compete for the remaining spot.
Sagna could also be utilised in a more central position if required, having had some experience doing so at former club Arsenal.
VERDICT – MANCHESTER CITY
Manchester United – Michael Carrick, Juan Mata, Ashley Young, Ander Herrera, Nick Powell, Antonio Valencia, Marouane Fellaini, Morgan Schneiderlin, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Jesse Lingard, Andreas Pereira
Manchester City – Fernando, Samir Nasri, Jesus Navas, Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne, Fabian Delph, David Silva, Fernandinho, Patrick Roberts, Bruno Zuculini, Yaya Toure
Having brought in Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger in the summer window, United have finally addressed the gaping hole in the centre of their midfield.
With Carrick still more than capable of helping United take control of the midfield battle, and Herrera and Mata continuing to impress whenever played together, United have variety and options available to them. Fellaini also offers versatility, with Lingard, Powell and Pereira offering youth and potential.
Having signed Roberts, Delph and De Bruyne, City merely added competition to a midfield which was already viewed as one of the best in the Premier League.
Sterling, Navas, De Bruyne and Silva offer versatility across City’s attacking triumvirate in midfield, whilst Toure, Fernandinho and Fernando offer the strength and stamina required behind. Roberts and Zuculini both have potential and offer cover.
And while United's midfield is strong in depth, it isn't as strong in terms of quality when compared to City.
VERDICT – MANCHESTER CITY
Manchester United – Wayne Rooney, Anthony Martial, Memphis Depay, James Wilson
Manchester City – Sergio Aguero, Wilfried Bony, Kelechi Iheanacho
Rooney continues to be a divisive figure for United. Whilst possessing undoubted talent and ability, his role and success as a lone striker for United continues to provoke debate.
New no.7 Depay has made a promising start to his United career, and looks to have the potential to really kick on and become one of the world’s best. Inconsistency issues, however, especially in his finishing and composure, linger.
£36 million signing Martial is something of an unknown entity to many, bringing electric pace and raw potential, but not yet having had the chance to be accordingly judged. Wilson is a promising prospect and should at least offer competition to Martial and Rooney across United's front line.
In Aguero, City have one of the world’s best forwards, consistently amongst the league’s highest scorers and a constant threat in any game he plays in. Bony has also proven his quality at the highest level and should offer invaluable competition to City’s already lethal attacking front line.
Iheanacho offers potential, but in a team with Bony and Aguero, and as part of a system that favours one striker, he faces an uphill struggle to break into the starting 11 any time soon.
VERDICT – MANCHESTER CITY
Despite possessing individual players good enough to challenge their rivals, United as a whole lag behind City in almost every category.
Lacking sufficient cover and looking flimsy in defence, United lack a Kompany-esque style leader who can be relied upon to get a 9/10 most weeks. A defender in the mould of Nemanja Vidic is a must if United wish to build a defence again upon which they can establish a serious title challenge.
In midfield, United have no attacking midfielder as talented as Silva, and lack that one player who can grab a game by the scruff of the neck and produce a moment of sublime quality in the same way that Toure can.
There is promising signs for United, however, with Mata’s influence continuing to grow, as well as his newly founded partnership with compatriot Herrera continuing to impress. Schneiderlin added much need defensive solidity, whilst Schweinsteiger brings something that has been so lacking around United over the past two seasons - a natural born winner who knows how to succeed at the highest level.
The biggest deciding factor between the two teams in terms of attacking threat is Aguero. In the Argentine, City have one of the best strikers in modern football, and until United find a way to either return Rooney to his unstoppable best or find a suitable replacement, they will continue to struggle to keep pace with their rivals.
All in all City remain the superior side, and despite several promising purchases by United - over the last two transfer windows especially - United must look to a higher quality of player when adding to their squad if ever they wish to return to the pinnacle of both the domestic, and the European game.