Manchester United vs Manchester City: Combined XI ahead of Premier League clash

Manchester City vs Manchester United - Marcus Rashford, Alex Telles and Ruben Dias

Manchester United host Manchester City this Saturday in a game that could have a massive say on their respective seasons. 

The Manchester rivals are separated by just a single point in the Premier League table and in their own ways have endured lukewarm starts to the new campaign. 

Throw in the added subplot of whether the Red Devils can bounce back from their capitulation against RB Leipzig in midweek and it looks set to be a predictably gripping encounter.

But who is likeliest to come out on top? Perhaps a combined XI comparing the quality of both teams can give us some indication…

Goalkeeper – Ederson

David De Gea and Ederson are both goalkeepers of the highest order, even if they haven’t quite delivered this season when compared to their own standards historically. Nonetheless, with more saves, less goals conceded and more clean sheets to his name in 2020/21, albeit partly through the advantage of one extra appearance, we’re going with the City No.1.

Right Back – Kyle Walker

If you want an instant understanding of how genuinely incredible England’s right-back options are at the moment, just take a look at the No.2s who’ll play in the Manchester derby – and then remember that Kyle Walker’s in a battle to keep his place in the squad, while Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s still awaiting his first call-up. 

As one of the archetypes of the modern day attacking full-back now seen at all major Premier League clubs except for United, Walker gets the nod for us over the far more old-school Wan-Bissaka, whose lack of offensive flair has reportedly seen United eye up Kieran Trippier.

Right Centre-Back – Ruben Dias

Perhaps benefitting from the fact we haven’t seen the worst of him yet, Ruben Dias has come into this Manchester City team and really looked the part. He wins headers, reads the game well, plays out of the back with aplomb and just has the physical presence of a natural leader. Little Victor Lindelof didn’t stand a chance in this matchup, sadly. 

Left Centre-Back – Harry Maguire

Harry Maguire is not an £80m defender. Let’s get over that fact and accept that he’s still actually a very good one, albeit undermined by some inevitable flaws – namely those slow-turning, clunky legs and his penchant for the occasional horror show (like dragging down Luke Shaw in United’s own penalty box). 

Even after what was a pretty disastrous start to the season for the England international, he’s still played more games than Aymeric Laporte and John Stones combined, and won the most aerials of any Premier League defender. 

Left Back – Alex Telles

The lesser of an abundance of evils, quite frankly. Oleksandr Zinchenko has barely featured this season, Benjamin Mendy can’t stay fit and Joao Cancelo isn’t a left-back and for that matter, arguably isn’t even a defender. Luke Shaw has at least been consistent in maintaining the capacity to underwhelm that’s defined his United career, which leaves us with summer signing Alex Telles. 

It’s still very early days for the 27-year-old in Manchester but we at least know he can whip a decent ball in, with Bruno Fernandes and Kevin De Bruyne the only players across both clubs to better his average of 1.3 accurate crosses per game this season.

Manchester United's Alex Telles hugs Paul Pogba

Defensive Midfield – Rodri

While Rodri hasn’t given a great deal to write home about this season, the fact remains that he’s still a slightly more convincing choice than the rabble of holding midfielders Ole Gunnar Solskjaer continues to rotate through at Manchester United. 

Nemanja Matic is no longer at the peak of his powers, Scott McTominay works tremendously hard but lacks quality at times and Fred has a knack of looking decent one minute and rather disastrous the other. 

Rodri, meanwhile, is simply a smooth operator and his place in the starting XI is by far the least disputed – Ederson is the only City player to clock up more minutes than him this season. 

Right Central Midfield – Kevin De Bruyne

The first of the two midfield superstars who’ll be involved in Saturday’s clash. Arguably the best engine room operator in the world, even during what has so far been a disappointing season for City, their creator-in-chief has laid on the second-most key passes of any player in the division while only being surpassed by Harry Kane for assists

Nine times out of ten, the spotlight is firmly focused on the Belgium international’s midfield magic. But this Saturday he’ll need to produce something extra special to ensure it isn’t stolen by a player fast becoming arguably the second-best engine room operator in the world – which brings us onto…

Left Central Midfield – Bruno Fernandes

Bruno Fernandes is to Manchester United’s results what foundations are to houses – so fundamental that without him, everything seems to come tumbling down. The Red Devils’ second-half comeback against West Ham after the Portuguese had entered the fray from the bench is just the latest example of how everything good United do seems compelled to go through him. 

In fact, he’s United’s top scorer and joint-top assistor in the Premier League this season, while he also leads Solskjaer’s pack for shots and key passes, and is only second to Wan-Bissaka for tackles.

At this point, he’s only a harmonica short of being a genuine one-man band at Old Trafford. Paul Pogba, meanwhile, with only two Premier League starts to his name since the end of October, is nowhere to be seen in our combined XI.

Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes scores against Southampton in the Premier League

Right Wing – Riyad Mahrez

With four goals so far this season, albeit three coming in one game, Riyad Mahrez is actually Man City’s top scorer in the Premier League – and second-top across both teams after Fernandes. His averages are pretty strong too, with 2.8 shots, 2.8 key passes and 2.1 dribbles per game.

That, combined with the fact United’s desperate search for a reliable right-sided attacker has already seen them play Mason Greenwood, Juan Mata and Daniel James there this season with largely mixed results made this spot in our combined XI a relatively simple choice. 

Left Wing – Raheem Sterling

It’s not been a great season for Raheem Sterling so far. In fact, he’s produced amongst the lowest returns for shots, key passes and dribbles of his Manchester City career. Nonetheless, with three goals and one assist his output has been respectable if not exactly astounding, and ultimately this is still a player who has produced upwards of 20 goal involvements in each of the last three seasons.

Accordingly, his only real competitor amongst the United team is Marcus Rashford, but due to difficulties up front we’ve asked him to take up a different role in this combined XI. 

Striker – Marcus Rashford

Hopefully we didn’t spoil that too much for you. While Rashford’s inconstancies in front of goal are the main reason why he’s not United’s undisputed choice to lead the line, ultimately the rest of the striker cast in Manchester this season haven’t done enough to justify selection. 

Injuries have limited Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero to just seven Premier League starts combined, while Edinson Cavani’s showed flashes of brilliance but seemingly can’t last a full game just yet and the less said about Anthony Martial being dispossessed more times than he’s had shots this season, the better. 

Rashford spearheads the attack then, but don’t feel like he’s taken this position by default. With seven to his name, throughout both squads only Fernandes and De Bruyne have more goal involvements than him this season. 

Manchester United vs Manchester City - Manchester derby combined XI
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