Messi. Supernaturally gifted.

If a week is a long time in politics then a fortnight amounts to an eternity in football. But if you cast your minds back to before we were all so rudely interrupted by an international break nobody wanted then City, United, Barcelona and Real Madrid strongly suggested that they were on a different planet to their peers with four sensational displays of football. But who is the best? Well there’s only one way to find out, and it’s not the violence that Harry Hill espouses….

There are currently four squads across Europe who are quite simply a cut above the rest. Each is blessed with an abundance of mouth-watering talent and flourishing youth. Their benches are warmed by superstars. Virtually every number from one to gazillion is a recognizable name with a trophy room in their sprawling mansions.

Even a cursory glance at the results prior to the international break in England and Spain would provide evidence of this. Barcelona and Real Madrid blitzed through their opening La Liga fixtures 5-0 and 6-0 respectively. Their opponents – Real Zaragoza and Villarreal – are hardly relegation fodder. In Blighty meanwhile both Manchester clubs tore London a new arsehole to join the multitudinous rear orifices sipping skinny lattes in Camden town. It wasn’t just the combined 13-3 scoreline that widened the nation’s eyes but the manner of both victories – tyrannical displays rich with flair, adventure and cracking goals that revealed they were operating on an entirely different plateau to their traditional peers.

Manchester City are the newcomers to this elite and, as yet have by far the most to prove. Until a league title or European honour is attained they will remain the great pretenders in the VIP enclosure. A reality TV star amongst Hollywood royalty.

Considering their blistering start to this campaign however and whilst their substitute options consist of a brooding Carlos Tevez and Balotelli and at least a couple of current England internationals – a row of seats that’s worth more per square inch than a balcony in Monte Carlo overlooking Megan Fox sunbathing topless – they are deserving of their place here.

But who has the best squad amongst these four groups of extraordinary players? Apologies for the immediate spoiler; it’s Barcelona. Okay, the more pertinent question should be who is second best?


Barca was in the running for this one until United scored a couple late on. Which says it all really. Ferguson’s men never know when they’re beaten – they never even contemplate the bizarre notion of being beaten – and their incredible reserves of iron-willpower and arrogance means they storm this round. City have yet to muster such inherent conviction though it is brewing season on season like fortifying wine. Madrid meanwhile suffer from having a walking, talking persecution complex in a Matalan coat on their touchline, radiating doubt and petulance throughout each big game.

Man Utd – 10/10

Barcelona – 9/10

Man City – 7/10

Real Madrid – 6/10

You sometimes wonder if the tactics board in the Nou Camp changing room simply reads ‘You decide’.

Tactical Flexibility

Roberto Mancini has shelled out the GDP of a smallish nation on constructing a ‘perfect’ squad – two players of top notch quality for each position – so in theory City should fare highly here. The reality though is that he rarely tinkers with formation beyond his favoured 4-3-3 reverting to 4-4-2 on occasion so we seldom witness such variance. United are renowned for their free-flowing esprit but are equally adept at counter-attacking when needs must and even shutting up shop when an away European stalemate is required so they mark highly. Real’s glittering array of options across the midfield offers Mourinho a whole miscellany of mayhem to play with but their defensive alternatives are limited. Barcelona meanwhile play with such sublime fluidity it’s difficult sometimes to even pin down a formation at all. Against Villarreal they employed two midfielders and a left-back in a three-man defence and when you’re blessed with such a supernaturally gifted player as Messi – who could pick up the match ball from playing right-back – and have full-backs transforming into world-beating wingers with a single change of pace…not to mention two of the most intelligent footballers on the planet in Xavi and Iniesta…you sometimes wonder if the tactics board in the Nou Camp changing room simply reads ‘You decide’.

Barcelona – 10/10

Man Utd – 8/10

Man City – 7/10

Real Madrid – 7/10


A crucial facet of any squad and one in which some surprises arise. Manchester United have a formidable back-line with bona fide stars of the near-future looking to usurp each role. Their offensive options are such that last season’s joint Golden Boot winner Berbatov often remains tracksuited throughout alongside former Ballon D’Or recipient Owen. In midfield though there is a distinct lack of strength in depth. Scratch at the surface of a promising Cleverley and rejuvenated Anderson and you soon find yourself amongst the Fletchers and Gibsons.

Both Barcelona and Real possess a jaw-dropping collection of midfield schemers, magicians and anchormen yet are perhaps susceptible to injuries at the back and even, arguably up front. The Catalan’s ruthless hunt for Fabregas remains slightly puzzling considering they had the funds for either the Arsenal general or Giuseppe Rossi; a like-for-like back-up for Villa should his hamstring ping at any point through a long campaign.

City take this one handsomely with the aforementioned 22-man squad of quality and experience throughout. Their second string could conceivably challenge for a European placing in their own right.

Man City – 10/10

Barcelona – 9/10

Real Madrid – 7/10

Man Utd 7/10


City’s recent purchase of Nasri really bumps them up here. They now finally have a fellow alchemist to conjure up magic alongside their Spanish Merlin and with a traditional touchline-hugging winger in Johnson, the quicksilver predatory genius of Aguero, not to mention the erratic brilliance of Balotelli, they possess a cornucopia of craft and explosive guile.

Over in Madrid the Bernabeu is regularly ignited by the electrifying spark of the phenomenon that is Cristiano Ronaldo (69 goals in 64 appearances and with barely a five-yard toe-poke amongst them), the elegant poise of Kaka, Ozil probing, Di Maria and Sahin delighting, and all orchestrated from deep by the best passer of the ball in the modern game, Alonso. On their day – which is most days – it is a sumptuous sight.

Barcelona have taken the long-held perception of what is possible within the confines of ten players knocking a pigskin about and blown our freaking mortal minds. I could eulogise about Messi and co until my fingertips are raw. So could you. So let’s give them the obligatory maximum points here and move on to Man U.

United have never received due acknowledgment for how much they’ve missed out on Valencia. He offers them out-and-out wing-play and a further dimension to their attacking thrust. They do however possess Nani, Young and the dynamic, bustling artistry of Rooney. It should be noted however that United’s wonderful football is not down to the sheer breadth of creative individuals they have at their disposal. They actually have surprisingly few and, of them, only Rooney would start in either Spanish team. It is actually through the smothering, all-attacking style of play that Ferguson insists upon. This marks them down in this category.

Barcelona – 10/10

Real Madrid – 9/10

Man City – 8/10

Man Utd – 7/10

United arguably have the best back-line once Ferdinand returns to full fitness to resume his long-standing partnership with Vidic

First XI

A strong, multifaceted squad is one thing but your expensive superstars in club blazers sitting in the stands are no good to you once the whistle blows. If a club is fortunate with injuries and suspensions – even with the constantly demanding twice-a-week schedule of the modern age – then having a supreme starting XI will gain you silverware. Liverpool once won the league by utilising only fourteen players though admittedly that was a different age.

Here is where we come down to the proverbial brass tacks. Whose strongest team would triumph more times than the others in an eternal semi-final/final knock-out competition?

It would take a foolhardy man to bet against Barca; their scintillating ingenuity across the park, seamless interchanging, and quick instinctive passing is of such an other-worldly standard it can dazzle any team from any era into a humbled mess of wearied legs and rollercoaster-spun heads . Club or national side. Even amongst such esteemed company as Rooney, Ronaldo and Aguero Messi alone gives the Catalans a significant edge here. Then there’s Villa, Sanchez, the spell-binding guile and nous of Xavi and Iniesta…sod this piece, let’s Youtube the hell out of them right now!

So Barcelona rightfully takes the crown. But, as stated at the beginning, let’s see who would come second.

Though Real’s defensive options are a touch limited down the flanks what they do have is a mightily robust heart. Casillas between the sticks. The artful Carvalho and Sergio Ramos bolstering, giving the fabulous Alonso the assurance to spray thirty yard gems to Di Maria and Ronaldo. With Higuain or Benzema waiting to pounce.

United arguably have the best back-line once Ferdinand returns to full fitness to resume his long-standing partnership with Vidic and in Evra they possess the best full-back around. Their midfield however is still under construction and currently looks vulnerable against the world’s elite. Cleverley and Anderson are – by some distance – the weakest central duo of the four under discussion.

Compensation for this lies in the triumvirate of Young, Rooney and Nani who are fast forming a devastatingly potent understanding of each other’s play.

City’s spine is redoubtable and carved from oak. England’s young number one; the outstanding Kompany; De Jong the archetypal enforcer; and goal-machine Dzeko. It’s a backbone so powerful it could be dug up in a thousand years and scare the bejeezus out of aliens. In addition to this, flourishing around them is the effervescence and energy of Yaya Toure, Silva, Nasri and Aguero. If you’ve scoffed at the fortunes spent and uttered the phrase ‘a bunch of mercenaries’ in the past couple of years ask yourself this…would you like your team to face them at the moment?

Barcelona – 10/10

Real Madrid – 9/10

Man City – 8/10

Man Utd – 8/10

Overall scores

Barcelona – 48/50

Man City – 40/50

Man Utd – 40/50

Real Madrid – 38/50