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Chelsea Class of 2006 Englandís Greatest Club Team?

Fri 23rd May 2014 | Football Club Management

It's a question that has been argued over by football fans for decades – which is the greatest English club team of all time?

Now, after inputting the results of more than 200,000 matches into his highly sophisticated computer model, one of the UK's leading sports statisticians believes he has the answer: it's the Chelsea side of 2006.

 Dr Ian McHale, Director of the Centre for Sports Business at Salford Business School, and Chair of the Royal Statistical Society's sports section, has developed a mathematical method for comparing the performance of every English Football League team, taking into account their varying prowess from season to season and the standard of opposition faced.

Dr McHale explained: “The research looks to answer the ultimate football question – if you had to pick a side from one year to play for your life, who would you choose?”

Analysing every English Football League, Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup match played since the foundation of the Football League in 1888 until the end of the 2011-12 season, Dr McHale has identified the year of maximum 'strength' or quality for each team, which can be objectively compared with sides from any era.

By looking at 206,843 games in which 601,039 goals were scored, and including any team which has played at least 250 matches, Dr McHale's method suggests that José Mourinho's 2006 title-winning Chelsea is the greatest English domestic team of all time. Second in the list is 2008's Manchester United side, with the Arsenal 'Invincibles' of 2003-4 in third.

All-time greatest English domestic football team (maximum annual strength)

Ranking Team Year
1 Chelsea 2006
2 Manchester United 2008
3 Arsenal 2003
4 Liverpool 1987
5 Manchester City 2011
6 Manchester United 1998
7 Everton 1986
8 Leeds United 1969
9 Liverpool 1977
10 Preston North End 1888


Dr McHale also used his research method to assess 10-year dominance rather than single-season strength, and on this measure Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United of 1992-2002 heads the rankings, just ahead of 1979-89-vintage Liverpool, with Wolverhampton Wanderers under Stan Cullis from 1951-61 in third place.

All-time greatest English domestic football team (10-year dominance)

Ranking Team Years
1 Manchester United 1992-2002
2 Liverpool 1979-1989
3 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1951-1961
4 Manchester United 1946-1956
5 Chelsea 2001-2011
6 Tottenham Hotspur 1956-1966
7 Arsenal 1996-2006
8 Leeds United 1964-1974
9 Arsenal 1945-1955
10 Preston North End 1950-1960


Dr McHale added: “If you consider domestic championships and cups, many people would argue that you can't look beyond one of the great Liverpool sides of 1970s and 1980s, or Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United teams of the nineties or the early part of this century, as the greatest English club team ever.

“Our study uses a new statistical model to provide an objective answer to whether or not that's the case and can give an extremely good measure of how good a football team was at its peak.

“And by using the overlapping records of teams all the way from 1888 to 2012 we can directly compare great sides from different eras and variables such as improvements in training, tactics and diet cancel each other out.

“For example, the study suggests that Liverpool under Kenny Dalglish in 1987, fourth in the single-season ranking, would on balance defeat the Manchester United Treble winners of 1998-99.

“But when it comes down to the strongest team over one year, the research indicates that Chelsea in 2006 are peerless. Perhaps this is evidence that José Mourinho really is the 'Special One'.”

Manchester United legend and Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville said: “I played against Chelsea when they won the League in 2006 and they were a fantastic team. We came back to beat them to the title the following year, so the rivalry was extremely intense and I think the fact that Chelsea were up against a really strong United at the time drove them to even greater heights.

“I'm not that surprised that the research has shown them to be the greatest all-time team when it comes to a single year.

“But I think the 10-year dominance is an even better measure of the true strength of a football club, so I'm really pleased to see United coming top of the pile for the 1992-2002 period.

“It's a real testament to the consistent excellence of United under Sir Alex Ferguson throughout the nineties and the early 21st Century, dealing with Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United in the early years and an impressive Arsenal under Arsene Wenger later on.”

Image: Action Images / Reuters / Phil Noble

Posted by: Aaron Gourley 

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