Manchester City are setting the standards at the moment and it is down to Manchester United – and the rest – to catch up.
At the moment, the gap between City and Erik ten Hag’s side feels pretty big. They did well to hang on at 1-0 down in Saturday’s FA Cup final and then to come back into the game and equalise, but the best team definitely won in the end.
City had more possession, better chances and the superior players. They fully deserved their 2-1 win at Wembley and their margin of victory could and should have been even bigger than that.
Yes, United threw everything at them in the final few minutes but, for the vast majority of the game, they simply weren’t allowed to do anything because of the way City play.
Pep Guardiola’s side pass you to death when they have possession, so that when you get the ball back you are exhausted. But then, for the first five or six seconds, they press with such intensity that it’s very difficult for teams to use it effectively.
That happened on Saturday and it meant none of United’s big hitters like Marcus Rashford, Casemiro, Christian Eriksen, Jadon Sancho and Bruno Fernandes played well.
Instead, United were dominated – but it’s not as if they could have done much differently with the players they have got. When they were chasing the game, they just didn’t have the depth or the quality to turn the game, as hard as they tried.
Alejandro Garnacho added a bit of a spark when he came on with half an hour to go but Ten Hag’s options felt limited, especially compared to City’s substitutes. When United needed a goal at the end, they only really had Wout Weghorst to turn to on the bench.
United need to spend big to challenge again
Whether it was some brilliant skill to open up City’s defence or the ability to round it off with a great finish, United did not have the magic they required.
It was a disappointing day for them but this defeat should not take anything away from what they’ve achieved this season – winning the Carabao Cup and finishing third to qualify for the Champions League definitely qualifies as a success.
They’ve made lots of progress after losing their opening two league games of the season but it’s also obvious how much work is left to do for them to reach City’s level.
United finished 14 points behind the champions in the end but the gulf seems larger than that. In terms of the scoreline, they pushed City quite close in a one-off game here but they are miles away from challenging them for the Premier League title.
They need to spend – and spend big – if they want to be serious contenders again. I think they probably need to bring in three or four big hitters for that to happen.
They need to spend well too, which hasn’t always happened in recent seasons. Ten Hag said after the Cup final that he’s got a plan to improve his team but he needs some players who fit into his style of play.
Signing them is not going to be easy. It obviously depends on how much United have got to spend and that is affected by what happens with the ownership situation at Old Trafford, which is pretty confusing at the moment.
What do United need?
United definitely need a top-class centre-forward, just to take the pressure off Marcus Rashford, who has had a brilliant season, with his 30 goals in all competitions, but needs some help.
Bruno Fernandes was their next highest scorer, with 14 goals, but he was their only other player to reach double figures in 2022-23. Weghorst, who arrived in January, found the net just twice.
It’s easy to say they should just break the bank and bring in Harry Kane to solve that particular problem but we just don’t know if that is a viable transfer or not.
But if Tottenham are willing to sell and Kane wants to go there, then yes, he would definitely be one that United should be looking at.
Along with people like West Ham’s Declan Rice.
Those should be the calibre of the signings United are trying to bring in, to take them to the next level.
Ten Hag has a lot to think about though, right through his side.
I don’t know if a new goalkeeper is a priority but we saw David de Gea make another costly mistake at Wembley – he really should have saved Ilkay Gundogan’s winner.
I am no goalkeeping expert but I was sitting next to Peter Schmeichel, who is one of the very best around, and he said De Gea should have kept it out.
De Gea’s form has not been very convincing all season and he is a free agent in the summer but it could be that he gets a new contract because Ten Hag decides he has other positions which need strengthening first.
City are one game away from immortality
City, meanwhile, march on. First the Premier League title, now the FA Cup – next up is the Champions League final.
They are one game away from immortality and they are never going to get a better chance than next Saturday in Istanbul to win the Treble.
That would give this team legendary status and put them in the same bracket as those Manchester United boys in 1999.
I think they will do it too – I am expecting them to be too good for Inter Milan.
City have so many special players but at the heart of it all, of course, is Guardiola. While he is there, they are going to be hard to stop.
I have been talking about how United can strengthen but there is speculation City could lose two of their stars this summer, with Gundogan and Bernardo Silva’s futures both in doubt.
They are brilliant players but even if they both go, I can’t see it hurting City significantly next season.
They have already coped with losing the likes of David Silva, Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure, and the problem for United and everyone else is that we’ve not just seen this team evolve under Guardiola, they seem to keep getting better and better.
Alan Shearer was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan at Wembley.