Are Manchester City the best team ever in the Premier League?
Manchester City are a fine team. They deserve their double-digit lead at the top of the Premier League. As the halfway mark of the campaign approaches, Pep Guardiola's team remain unbeaten.
Just how good are they?
The most obvious point of comparison in the Premier League era is Arsenal's Invincibles, the side that were unbeaten in the 2003-04 season. Arsene Wenger's team share many similarities with City. Arsenal had guile and pace up front and could attack at a speed that blew their rivals away.
The Invincibles were a much more balanced side than City. The presence of Patrick Vieira in the midfield and Sol Campbell at the back gave them a spine that Guardiola's team lack. City are top-heavy with attackers, making them considerably more entertaining to watch. Arsenal had plenty of flair, but today's table-toppers are breathtakingly adventurous.
What the two teams share is an environment that allows them to flex their brilliance. Their biggest rivals have failed to rise to the challenge.
Thirteen years ago, Arsenal's peers all had disappointing seasons. Manchester United were still bouncing back from Sir Alex Ferguson's late-career crisis.
The early 2000s were not the finest period in the Scot's time at Old Trafford. In 2001, Ferguson announced his intention to retire -- the self-confessed "biggest mistake" of his management. After changing his mind, Ferguson attempted to build a team around Juan Sebastian Veron. The talented Argentinian did not make his mark on Old Trafford and departed before the season -- as did David Beckham -- and there were indications that United had lost their direction. They would find it soon. Cristiano Ronaldo arrived and was on a steep learning curve in his first season in England. United were not ready to compete with a side as good as Arsenal.
Neither were Chelsea. The London club were in the first year of Roman Abramovich's ownership, spending massively to make ground on Arsenal. They were Wenger's closest challengers, but it would take Jose Mourinho's arrival at the end of the season to transform Stamford Bridge.
Liverpool were in the final, discordant months of Gerard Houllier's tenure and finished fourth. Newcastle United were one place behind them. It was not the Premier League's strongest season.
We're seeing a similar situation play out in the 2017-18 season, as the teams who might have expected to test City have played into Guardiola's hands.
Manchester United have spent heavily, but their timid approach to the derby was disappointing. Mourinho has been unduly negative this year, and had his team shown as much fight on the pitch as they did in the tunnel after the match, United might have been able to take points off their neighbours.
Chelsea did not build from a position of title-winning strength in the summer. In contrast with Guardiola, Antonio Conte has limited power over the direction of his club. Chelsea's mismatched and undermanned squad are not capable of competing for the title.
An erratic Liverpool capitulated to City in their 5-0 defeat at the Etihad in September. Arsenal are a pale shadow of the Invincibles.
Tottenham Hotspur are the only team in last year's top six still to face City (they play at the Etihad on Saturday). While Guardiola's side have improved, Pochettino's Spurs have regressed. Yet Tottenham are equipped to push City harder than any other team in the division.
Spurs are tight at the back, have a combative midfield and Harry Kane can test City's defence. They will have the opportunity to dominate the middle of the park -- Guardiola often operates with only Fernandinho as a dedicated midfielder -- and if Tottenham can get the ball out from the back quickly they can trouble City.
Even if Spurs are unable to halt the league leaders' momentum, things will get tougher for City. In recent weeks, Huddersfield Town, Southampton and West Ham United have kept Guardiola's team on a tight rein. City have needed late goals to win against three sides from the bottom half of the table. Managers across the league are beginning to work out how to put the brakes on Kevin De Bruyne & Co.
Last-gasp winners are the hallmark of quality teams -- they wear down the opposition -- but in the second half of the season City will be facing teams for the second time. Players and managers will be more familiar with the style, tactics and tricks employed by Guardiola's men. Whether they can stop them is questionable, but things will undoubtedly get harder for City from now on.
So, back to our original question: How good are City? Very. They are arguably the most exciting side to watch in Premier League history. They still have a long way to go to prove they are the best, but no one else looks good enough to stop them for long this season.
Tony Evans has been a sports journalist for more than 20 years. He writes for ESPN FC on the Premier League. Twitter: @tonyevans92a.