The city of Manchester was once synonymous with textile manufacturing, but a revolution of a different kind has put the industrial city back on the map.
Manchester United, long the dominant power in England, let alone Manchester, have seen their grasp slip of late with relative upstarts laying claim to their throne but it has been the re-emergence of their ‘noisy neighbours’ that has been their biggest bane.
In stark contrast to the 1990s and the early 2000s, Manchester City are now playing expansive football and breaking records while they are at it.
For Sheikh Mansour’s deep pockets have transformed City from also-rans into a footballing powerhouse that is training its eyes not just on England but Europe and are making giant strides, thanks in no small part to the master of innovation that is Pep Guardiola.
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United, in the post-Alex Ferguson era, are yet to recover their swagger as they have been forced to go through several managers in a bid to find the legendary Scot’s successor and while Jose Mourinho’s appointment has seen an upswing in fortunes, the United faithful demand more from their beloved Red Devils.
And with runaway leaders City visiting their second-placed rivals for the 175th edition of the Manchester Derby on Sunday, what better way to mark the occasion than a combined XI ahead of the summit clash?
Considering both clubs have spent well over £1 billion on their squads, it was no easy task, but The Statesman has picked the best from either half of Manchester in a 4-2-3-1 formation for you:
Goalkeeper: David de Gea (Manchester United)
Considering David de Gea is challenging Manuel Neuer for the title of the world’s best goalkeeper, one could be forgiven into thinking this was an open-and-shut selection.
However, the main reason why City have shored up at the back this season has been their £35 million recruit—Ederson—as the 24-year-old has taken to the Premier League like a duck to water.
The Brazilian has been a calming influence for City’s shaky defence and is a serious upgrade over the calamitous Claudio Bravo.
And while De Gea is the winner here, especially after his incredible form in recent weeks, expect Ederson to trim the gap in the coming months.
Left back: Benjamin Mendy (Manchester City)
A controversial inclusion, considering Mendy’s 2017-18 season was effectively over when he suffered an ACL injury in September.
And add to the fact that Ashley Young’s renaissance at United is forcing people to include him in the conversation of the Premier League’s best left back.
However, Mendy is the standout choice here and while it remains to be seen if he can get back to his best after a serious knee injury, the 22-year-old has time on his side and once he’s back, the Citizens will be even more dominant than they are now.
Let’s not forget, Mendy is the world’s most expensive defender for a reason as his buccaneering displays for Monaco in the UEFA Champions League and Ligue 1 had him rated as one of the finest left backs in Europe last season.
Fabian Delph deserves a mention due to the commendable shift he puts in each time he deputises as a left-back, but like Young (who is technically filling in for Luke Shaw), he isn’t a proper defender and both Englishmen will get exposed sooner, rather than later.
Centre back: Eric Bailly (Manchester United)
Usually, calling a £30 million defender a bargain signing would garner incredulous looks, but in today’s hyper-inflated market, United’s Ivorian recruit counts as a steal.
Since his arrival from Villareal last year, the 23-year-old has established a reputation as a no-nonsense defender who doesn’t give an inch, no matter the opponent.
Unfortunately for United, he’s been ruled out of Sunday’s derby and that’s a big blow for he’s by far their best defender.
John Stones was in fine fettle this season after a difficult 2016-17 campaign for the Citizens, but the cultured Englishman is still not at the desired level and his latest injury (out till the New Year with a hamstring complaint) was the final nail in the coffin.
Centre back: Nicolas Otamendi (Manchester City)
Considering Vincent Kompany is City’s defensive rock, this is another contentious pick, but one needs to see the paltry number of appearances the Belgian has made in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 season.
Cumulatively, Kompany started just 23 times (Premier League only) in those two seasons and for a player of his stature, that’s nowhere near enough.
So, it’s safe to assume while Stones took his time to get accustomed to life at the Eithad and while Kompany spent more time on the treatment table than on the pitch, Otamendi picked up the slack.
City paid a hefty sum to sign him from Valencia in 2015 and the 29-year-old has only just begun to repay his employers.
Better late than never.
Like Bailly, Otamendi can be a bit rash, but if this season is anything to go by, he’s a real danger from set-pieces (five goals in all competitions) and for once, we can gloss over the mistakes.
At United, there is a cloud of uncertainty over who Bailly’s partner is.
Phil Jones has been impressive, but the Englishman has well-documented injury issues (currently a doubt for Sunday’s derby). And while compatriot Chris Smalling has been decent in his absence, he’s not the most consistent defender out there, is he?
Right back: Antonio Valencia (Manchester United)
Considering both Antonio Valencia and Kyle Walker’s displays for the past few seasons, this was a close call, but the United’s pacy Ecuadorian just about edges this.
For starters, Valencia is arguably a better defender than Walker, no mean feat considering he was a winger not so long ago.
And Walker, who was briefly the world’s most expensive midfielder, hasn’t quite weeded out the inconsistencies in his game, whereas Valencia is dependable.
Valencia may get slated for his lack of invention in the final third, but the 32-year-old’s determination and work-rate makes him a nuisance to play against for he is almost unbeatable one-on-one.
Perhaps by the time the next Manchester Derby comes by, Walker could feature, as they are literally neck-and-neck.
Central midfield: Nemanja Matic (Manchester United)
David de Gea was showered with universal acclaim after his incredible 14-save display against and rightly so, but Nemanja Matic’s contribution, despite being injured, was nothing short of spectacular.
And when the Citizens come visiting on Sunday, United’s Serbian enforcer will be in the thick of action and key if they are to register an upset.
For United, he’s arguably more important than Paul Pogba is, and that just tells the whole story.
Whether or not the Red Devils win the League title, the former Chelsea man will undoubtedly feature as one of the top signings of the season.
Fernandinho’s contributions often go unnoticed due to the brilliance of his more-offensive minded teammates and while the Brazilian is a vital part of the City’s irrepressible unit, he’s not quite in Matic’s league.
Central midfield: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)
Kevin De Bruyne, another player Chelsea let go, has been making a strong case to be crowned the Premier League’s best player.
Capable of playing anywhere in midfield, De Bruyne thrives in a box-to-box role and if he can keep going at his current rate, he will be a serious contender for the FIFA FIFPRO World XI as well.
Ilkay Gundogan seems to have gotten over his injury nightmare, but whether the talented German can recapture his best form remains to be seen and till then, De Bruyne is the best midfielder from the Blue and Red halves of Manchester.
Paul Pogba has been inspirational for United this season, but the fact that he got himself sent off against Arsenal and missed a significant chunk of their campaign with a hamstring injury act against him.
Had the flashy Frenchman started each and every game for the Red Devils, perhaps he would have had a chance against De Bruyne, but for the moment the Belgian coasts into the combined XI.
Left wing: Anthony Martial (Manchester United)
After an underwhelming 2016-17 season, many expected Anthony Martial to force his way out of Old Trafford but credit to the Frenchman, who put in the hard yards and the results are there for all to see.
The 22-year-old, with a tally of eight goals and five assists (all competitions), has picked up the slack as the likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Romelu Lukaku have faded after strong starts.
City winger Leroy Sane has been superb as well and while his stats are (eight goals and as many assists in all competitions) are better than Martial’s, the Frenchman’s tendency to score winners in big games gives him the edge.
Taking in mind that Jose Mourinho employs a defensive formation against top sides, Martial’s stats are even more impressive and while this was a close battle, the Frenchman icy-cool composure in front of goal coupled with his mazy dribbling skills see him get the nod.
Central attacking midfield: David Silva (Manchester City)
Whether David Silva’s resurgence is due to the collective strength of City’s midfield or the Spaniard has rekindled the flame inside him on his own, he has been an absolute joy to watch this season.
His winner against West Ham was excellent and kept City’s winning streak intact, but the fact that he’s notched 10 assists (all competitions) already, suggests that ‘El Mago’ is back at the top of his game.
Currently an injury doubt for Sunday’s clash at Old Trafford, Silva is the reason why the Citizens can unlock teams who park the bus and his incisive passes are what the likes of Sane and Sterling thrive on.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan no longer makes United’s match-day squads, a shame considering his early form, and Juan Mata isn’t a United regular anymore, which makes Silva’s inclusion a no-brainer.
Right Wing: Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)
Sterling’s remarkable start to the season has silenced all his critics who said he lacks a final product.
With a tally of 13 goals and two assists (all competitions), you would be hard-pressed to find a winger in better form than the diminutive Englishman.
Serling was always blessed with searing pace, but as his finishing has improved under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola, the 23-year-old has transformed into a force to be reckoned with.
Jesse Lingard may be in the form of his life at the moment, but the United man is nowhere near Sterling, as the City winger is currently the best wide-man in England.
Centre forward: Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)
It was a three-way battle for the final spot, with Gabriel Jesus, Sergio Aguero and Romelu Lukaku all contenders but in the end, at least for now, City’s record-breaking striker is the winner.
Overall, Lukaku has the edge in terms of pure stats (12 goals and four assists in all competitions) over Aguero (12 goals and three assists in all competitions) and Jesus (10 goals and two assists in all competitions), but City’s South American strikers are both better options.
Jesus does so much more for the team than just score, for he’s always on the move and is extremely consistent, while Lukaku has spells when he goes missing for weeks on end.
This is not to disparage the Belgian, who is a solid all-round forward, but he undergoes barren patches far too often for one’s liking.
With the shootout between Jesus and Aguero, the Argentine emerges as the candidate to lead this combined XI, for he has that ‘X-factor’ which sees him conjure goals from nothing, especially in big clashes.
Final score: Manchester United 5, Manchester City 6