Cristiano Ronaldo and Kevin de Bruyne are the stars in town who stroll into our Manchester derby combined XI, while Ruben Dias and Bruno Fernandes also make the cut… but which of City and United have the edge?
- Manchester United and Manchester City meet in a local derby at Old Trafford
- Both sides have shown erratic form ahead of Saturday lunchtime’s showdown
- Three points separate them as they aim to to keep up Premier League title hopes
- United will hope to build on win at Tottenham following humiliation by Liverpool
- City meanwhile will be looking to prove shock defeat by Crystal Palace was a blip
It’s not unusual for the Manchester derby to be a feast or famine affair, either everything happens or you see less action than yet another rained off Test match at Old Trafford.
That alone makes it an unpredictable affair, but given the erratic form of both teams ahead of Saturday lunchtime’s kick off, it’s difficult to pick a winner from Manchester United and their local rivals Manchester City.
Both have wobbled recently. United unforgivably capitulated 5-0 at home to Liverpool a fortnight ago, but then turned up at Tottenham to roll them over 3-0.
Manchester United and Manchester City will go toe-to-toe again in the derby at Old Trafford
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side then put up another suspect display mid-week in snatching a stoppage time 2-2 draw in the Champions League at Atalanta and it’s wild form like this that leaves them fifth in the Premier League table and eight points off the summit.
For City, they have fared slightly better sitting third and five points off leaders Chelsea. Yet despite thumping Club Brugge 4-1 midweek in Europe they head into the derby having suffered a shock 2-0 defeat at home by Crystal Palace last weekend.
So who knows what Manchester sides will turn up? But factoring in the certain absentees of the suspended Aymeric Laporte, Paul Pogba and injured Raphael Varane, Sportsmail looks at how a combined XI could line up.
United head into the match having drew 2-2 at Atalanta in the Champions League midweek
City meanwhile may have more confidence after a thumping 4-1 victory against Club Brugge
Perhaps this should have been a little tougher to pick, as David de Gea is still a world class goalkeeper on his day, but there really is just no looking past Ederson.
If we want to approach this with quantitative data then a glance at the clean sheets this season gives the City stopper the edge as only Edouard Mendy for Chelsea has kept more than the Brazilian’s five.
Granted, De Gea has made 28 saves compared to Ederson’s 11 but when you are keeping goal for Pep Guardiola’s champions, you are not really going to be expected to be too busy during a game.
Ederson is also a rare breed of goalkeepers who can add to a team’s attack, with his distribution of the ball from the penalty box arguably the best in the world, never mind the Premier League.
His long kicks down field to start a counter attack are more than just your old English ‘hit and hope, have it!’ long ball. They are football’s equivalent of basketball’s ‘Hail Mary’ and a highly valuable trait for any goalkeeper and team.
Ederson’s clean sheet record on top of his excellent attacking contributions give him the nod
Kyle Walker (City)
Tough call to make but not for the usual reasons of trying to compare multiple players.
On paper, it’s really straight forward, Kyle Walker is the right-back at Manchester City and remains the best right-back in England. Aaron Wan-Bissaka has promise but at United we are yet to see the same exciting talent he displayed at his previous club Crystal Palace.
So Walker’s place in this combined XI would be set in stone, if he wasn’t a doubt before the Old Trafford clash due to a foot injury that forced him off in the midweek 4-1 win over Club Brugge.
Should the 31-year-old not pass a fitness test, then it remains a tough call to make.
Wan-Bissaka is the natural fit, but Joao Cancelo is capable of deputising too and has shown slightly better form of late.
Kyle Walker may be an injury doubt for Manchester City but he is an undisputed choice
Luke Shaw (United)
Some good options to pick from here to play-left-back, and one of the toughest choices in this combined XI.
The aforementioned Cancelo and his fellow City team-mate Oleksandr Zinchenko are both dependable picks, but Luke Shaw just gets the nod for United.
Granted the England star hasn’t quite hit the same heights at the start of this season that he did during the last campaign or even in the summer where he starred for England at Euro 2020 and opened the scoring in the final.
The 26-year-old may have just one assist this season but his ceiling of performance just gives him the edge over Cancelo – despite the City’s stars superior displays in the Champions League where he has two goals and an assist.
Luke Shaw appears on the other defensive flank at left back, just edging out Joao Cancelo
Ruben Dias (City)
Both teams have some high quality centre-backs but injuries and suspensions respectively to Varane and Laporte make this slightly less complicated.
But one player whose place was never in doubt was Dias who has already turned into a leader at City since arriving for £60million last year.
Defenders are often overlooked when the personal accolades and glamour prizes are handed out, so for the Portuguese to be named the Premier League player of the year last season reflected just how important he was to Pep Guardiola’s side.
He has largely carried that form over into this campaign, and given the option he would be among the first picks if he played for almost any side in the top flight.
Ruben Dias remains an important part of Manchester City’s defence under Pep Guardiola
Harry Maguire (United)
Who plays alongside Dias? Now that is a tough. Naturally, a pairing with John Stones seems to be avenue to go down – given they were about as close as you could get to sticking a brick wall in front of a goal last season as they held a watertight City backline together on the way to the league title.
Curiously though, Stones has lost his place in the side having only played two hours of Premier League football this season, and that’s where Harry Maguire comes in.
An integral part of the United defence and when you come to the crunch of putting Maguire and Stones in the same team, it appears that United’s £80million star is more likely to get the nod if they are not already playing alongside each other – that’s at least the opinion of one manager in Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate.
Granted, United’s defence has more holes than a sieve, and Maguire’s wild sliding lunge as Atalanta scored midweek doesn’t earn him much praise, but a lot of the Red Devils’ woes are down to a side slightly geared towards a gung ho attack with the back four a seeming afterthought.
Harry Maguire was not error free for United at Atalanta but he makes the combined XI
Scott McTominay (United)
Charged with protecting that United defence is Scott McTominay and it can at times be a thankless task for the Scotland international when nearly half of his team-mates are all trying to be the stand-out attacking light in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side.
The defensive midfielder though has become a reliable star at Old Trafford and has been improving season-on-season since being given his debut by Jose Mourinho in 2017.
He keeps out Rodri from the combined XI, although there is very little to choose between them. While Rodri has settled very well in the City midfield, McTominay though just gets the nod, with his imposing presence in the midfield an important skill as well as his ball-winning ability.
Granted, his inability to play a quick incisive pass may hinder, but there are plenty of other players in this squad who can make up for that.
Scott McTominay adds a physical presence to the midfield in screening the back four
Bruno Fernandes (United)
No longer the poster boy at Manchester United now ‘you know who’ is back from his ventures to Spain and Italy, but thankfully for United that sideshow has not caused too much of a downturn in form for Fernandes.
While the Portuguese midfielder has four goals this season, three of those came against Leeds United on the opening day, and the other was against one of this year’s Premier League circus acts of Newcastle United.
The assists though are starting to trickle in nicely – three in his last four games while in the Champions League he has at least one in all four of United’s group matches – two in the comeback home victory over Atalanta.
It’s a measure of his continued importance to United, and his three assists are more than any other City midfielder in the Premier League this term – not as many as Paul Pogba’s season leading seven but he misses the Manchester derby through suspension anyway.
Given the incredible attacking talents on offer for both the Manchester rivals, even a slightly off form Fernandes is walking into this side.
Bruno Fernandes may not be scoring as much but his creative plays remain vital for United
Kevin de Bruyne (City)
First name on the City team-sheet? There are not many better candidates, and if it’s good enough for the Premier League champions then he isn’t about to tumble out of this XI with ease.
Yet he hasn’t had a good start to the season – not at least by his high standards. Just two goals in all competitions and one assist coming in the 5-1 Champions League rout over Club Brugge.
He’s not looked right since the Champions League final where he took a big hit to the face from Chelsea’s Antonio Rudiger and this season his only completed 90 minutes have come in the 2-0 defeat at Paris Saint-Germain and the 2-2 draw at Liverpool.
So something is not quite ticking for the Belgian star but who wouldn’t want to see how it would unfold if he played in a midfield with Fernandes?
I’m sure we are now all aware of the parable ‘Can Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard play together?’ from football past but even that combination wasn’t that bad, was it?
Kevin de Bruyne has endured a below par start to the season but remains a key City star
Phil Foden (City)
Now it gets a little tricky. It’s almost embarrassing at the amount of talent that can play on the left of the attack and that’s just looking at obvious picks such as Raheem, Sterling, Jack Grealish and Marcus Rashford.
The trouble is none of the trio are having particularly stand out seasons, at least by their high standards, and that’s where we may have to start cramming players into the starting line-up.
Because one man who hasn’t been mentioned so far is Phil Foden, and his improvement and importance to Pep Guardiola’s side over the last year or two has grown exponentially.
Guardiola has experimented with the England star as a false nine this season with encouraging results, but he isn’t making the cut in this team in that position, neither is there room for him the midfield.
So as with the De Bruyne and Fernandes conundrum, we turn to the bible of ‘England football solutions: 2000s edition’ and simply stick him out on the left of the attack and hope he can also shine out there (that did actually work once with Paul Scholes at Euro 2004).
It’s not quite the blind hit and hope you may think. He impressed playing there in the 2-2 draw at Liverpool earlier this season where he even got on the scoresheet.
The in-form Phil Foden is forced out to the left, but he can still shine on the attacking wing
Raheem Sterling (City)
Then you turn to the right side of the attack for both teams… and it’s crickets at night, tumbleweed by day.
No obvious stand-out candidates and perhaps the best natural fit would be Jadon Sancho at United. Except he has been a huge disappointment since his long protracted £73million transfer from Borussia Dortmund.
No goals, no assists and his only 90 minutes so far have come in a League Cup loss at home to West Ham. Solskjaer has not even used him in his past two league games, so if he can’t even make a United team including used subs – he isn’t getting into this one.
Likewise, Sterling has been off his best for a while now, but there are signs things are looking up for the forward who despite being a left-sided attacker can play on the right.
He’s had similar problems to Sancho regarding game time but he did come on mid-week on the right against Club Brugge and scored his first goal since August in doing so. It gives him the nod in this team.
Raheem Sterling found his scoring touch on the right side of the attack in the win over Brugge
Cristiano Ronaldo (United)
Granted, he doesn’t press, carry out the ever increasing demands of a forward in defensive duties, and he doesn’t run anymore either apparently which may now impact a team’s shape.
But he scores goals, lots of them, many important, some of them even majestic. Mid-week summed it all up.
Two goals in an overall suspect United display at Atalanta and the latter of those was a crisp volley into the bottom corner from the edge of the box to rescue a Champions League point in stoppage time.
How many 36-year-old footballers are still so important to their side, especially outfield? As former United manager Ron Atkinson once said, ‘you can play with all your silly machines’ and show the stats of why he is hindering United as much as you like.
Our only currency for a centre-forward is goals and he has nine from 12 games this season. Give him a chance and he ain’t missing.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s mastery has saved Manchester United multiple times this season
Sportsmail’s combined XI ahead of the Manchester derby on Saturday lunchtime
Share this article
Source: Read Full Article