When questioned at a news conference about the possibility of Manchester United launching a championship challenge for Man City this year, Pep Guardiola laughed.
Under new manager Erik ten Hag, United had a far better 2022–23 season, scoring 17 more points than they had the year before finishing three places higher in the Premier League. They also won the Carabao Cup, ending a six-year trophy drought, and advanced to the FA Cup final.
After winning the league championship 13 times under Sir Alex Ferguson, United is still the most successful team in the Premier League. However, the Scottish manager’s retirement in 2013, following a fifth title in seven years, has resulted in a decade of misery at Old Trafford; in the ten seasons that have followed, United has only placed inside the top three four times.
The Red Devils spent almost £175 million on players like Rasmus Hojlund, Mason Mount, and Andre Onana during the summer, meaning early success was expected. However, Ten Hag’s team has failed to find their form in the early stages of the season. Instead, United has had a poor start to the season, suffering their third loss of the year in a crushing 3-1 loss to Brighton and Hove Albion at the weekend.
United’s performance contrasts sharply with how Manchester City, its’ inner-city rival, has begun the current campaign. To become the first side to ever win the division four times in a row, the Citizens have won all five of their Premier League games to date.
You know how powerful Arsenal are, Guardiola remarked at a news conference before City’s season-opening Champions League match against Crvena Zvezda: “You know that. I attended the game at Goodison Park on Sunday. They are outstanding. And Liverpool, the mentalities still exist there.”
Then, a reporter yelled “Manchester United” to get Guardiola’s reaction when they would challenge Chelsea for the championship. Guardiola initially chuckled at the provocation.