Football/Soccer

Celtic and Manchester City are both full value for their praise

Celtic's 69-game unbeaten domestic run is over, but they deserve great credit for their achievement.

YOU don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone…Or do you?

The idea that current achievements can only properly be appreciated when placed in historical context has some merit, but it’s not wholly true.

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers can sometimes indulge in cringe-making motivational techniques (the ‘three envelopes’ malarkey, for example) but he was quite right to praise his players after their 4-0 thrashing by Hearts on Sunday.

The Hoops hadn’t been beaten in their previous 69 domestic matches, which is an astonishing achievement in any era.

Yes, Celtic’s domestic dominance is a combination of the Parkhead club being run pretty well in recent years and their old rivals Rangers being almost a complete shambles, particularly in terms of financial prudence.

Yet Rangers were never the only team that could beat Celtic in the past.

No one sensible is likely to suggest that the current Celtic team, or the one that went 62 games unbeaten a century earlier, is better than or even equal to the team that came half-a-century in-between, the Lisbon Lions.

Yet that doesn’t mean that both the 1915-17 and 2016-17 vintages did not achieve amazing things in their long unbeaten runs.

The Hoops have bought and sold well and Rodgers is a very good manager who has them playing the game in an attractive fashion.

In recent weeks, Celtic have sometimes appeared like a long distance runner struggling to complete the course, especially in away games. They wobbled at Motherwell last month before pulling level late on with a controversial penalty, then almost got overtaken by Hibernian after getting caught up with by them, before finally collapsing in Edinburgh against Hearts.

Of course, the difference with athletes is that they have a set distance to complete. Celtic’s run could have kept going and going, although the likelihood is that it would end sometime, as it did on Sunday.

The irony for Celtic – and other clubs with similar domestic streaks – is that the longer their run went on, the less value it accrued, at least in some eyes.

That argument goes as follows: if no one else is able to beat them (Celtic) then that’s because the rest of the teams are rubbish; it’s not that Celtic are great.

That theory is already being propounded about Manchester City in some quarters.

The Citizens are running away with the English Premier League, unbeaten themselves in 18 games in that competition this season, having won 17 of those. The only points they dropped came when they drew 1-1 with Everton, having come from a goal down and played the entire second half with 10 men.

Sure, City have enjoyed some fortune during their winning run: at the very start of it, with Raheem Sterling’s deflected 97th minute winner at Bournemouth, then when the same player curled in a 96th minute winner against a Southampton side that had spurned chances, and whenever Vincent Kompany escaped a red card at 0-0 on their visit to Leicester.

However, it’s impossible to seriously argue that City weren’t the better team in all those 16 victories.

What’s more, they have been hugely impressive against all the sides that would be regarded as close in class to them, their fellow Champions League clubs from England.

They thrashed Liverpool 5-0 (albeit after a red card for the Reds which was highly debated, if not debatable, in my opinion), then won more comfortably than the 1-0 score-line suggests at champions Chelsea.

Their superiority in the Manchester derby at Old Trafford was almost embarrassing to their hosts, and they won 4-1 at the weekend against a Spurs side which, let’s not forget, beat European Champions Real Madrid earlier this season.

City’s 2-1 victory in their derby was remarkable for a number of reasons.

They became the first club to record 14 consecutive wins in the English top flight in a single season.

They ended United’s 40-match unbeaten run at home.

They became only the second team to score more than one goal in the Premier League at Old Trafford against Mourinho's Manchester United – having achieved that themselves in their 2-1 win there in September 2016, after which the Red Devils embarked on that lossless home streak.

Some – such as Moaninho, unsurprisingly – might suggest that City were ‘lucky’ at Old Trafford, given that their two goals came from defensive errors by an opposition forward, and they also survived a late penalty appeal.

Yet that would be to ignore City’s clear superiority – and they should have had an even clearer first half penalty themselves.

The greatest credit for City and Guardiola is the thrilling, positive way they play.

The contrast with United, at least in the bigger games, is stark.

Mourinho picked a team with a front four of Martial, Lingard, Rashford, and Lukaku, a side that included wingers-turned-full-backs in Valencia and Young – but despite all that attacking talent, his approach was still negative.

He was very defensive too away to Liverpool and Chelsea, picking up only a point from those two games.

Sure, City have outspent United in recent seasons, in terms of both gross and net expenditure (although the Red Devils spent more net in the summer).

Yes, City have the most expensively accumulated squad ever – but United’s isn’t far behind in that reckoning (£775m to £712m spent on transfers in).

The big difference, though, is that Guardiola’s men are providing far better value for money.

There has to be a balance between `flavour of the month’ syndrome and nostalgia; and of course it’s right not to rush to judgment.

However, only an arch-begrudger would deny that City are playing extraordinary, exceptional football at present, or that Celtic deserved great credit for their streak.

* Merry Christmas to all readers; I hope you enjoy peaceful and happy holidays.

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