The Premier League title is so close, Manchester City can smell it.
And, if they manage to beat crosstown rivals Manchester United in the latest edition of the Manchester Derby at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, they will have killed two birds with one stone.
When the Red and Blue halves of Manchester collide, the world sits back and holds it breath for more often than not, a classic is in the offing.
This season, however, it’s safe to say that the Sky Blues have put the Red Devils in the shade and regardless of the outcome of the tie at the Etihad, their fans will remember the 2017-18 season with fuzzy memories and rightly so.
Despite their ultimately contrasting fortunes, both sides are stocked with quality players in every department and picking a composite XI is a task easier said than done.
Purely on the basis of the current campaign’s form, here is The Statesman’s combined Manchester United-Manchester City XI, in a 4-2-3-1 formation:
Goalkeeper: David de Gea (Manchester United)
Is David de Gea in the midst of his best-ever season at United?
With 99 saves, 14 clean-sheets and just 23 goals conceded in 31 games, it would appear so.
So while in this position United fans can safely say they’ve got the best in the business, City’s young upstart—Ederson—made it a very close call indeed.
Since his arrival in the summer, the Brazilian’s gone from strength to strength and while he’s perhaps not quite on de Gea’s level, he’s certainly getting there.
While the former Benfica man may have conceded fewer goals, the fact that de Gea leads the league in terms of saves tells you that he makes United’s defence watertight more often than not.
If there was a Golden Glove podium, Ederson would most definitely finish in second, such has been his impact in his debut season, and he’s just unlucky in this sense to come up with a man who’s considered a cut above the rest.
Left-back: Ashley Young (Manchester United)
With Benjamin Mendy injured for almost the entirety of the season, this was almost a no-brainer.
Almost, for Fabian Delph has done a remarkable job of filling in at left-back but with Aymeric Laporte’s arrival in January, he’s found playing time hard to come by of late.
Laporte looks like a solid defender, but he’s looked uncomfortable playing at left-back and Ashley Young, for all his failings, has looked anything but.
Much has been said on the status of Luke Shaw, who on his day, can be the best left-back and while the 22-year-old still has time to realise his potential, it probably won’t be at United.
Which leaves us with the sole ever-present at left-back across both halves of Manchester—Ashley Young.
The converted winger has been excellent, quickly quelling doubts about his ability to adapt and while United may well buy another player in his position, the Englishman has been done an seriously impressive job this season.
Centre-back: Nicolas Otamendi (Manchester City)
With John Stones’ arrival and the fact that City already possessed the hulking Vincent Kompany, it seemed that Otamendi would become yet another expensive flop at the back for the big-spenders.
Fast forward to April 2018 and it’s safe to say that the tough-tackling Argentine has been their standout option at the back.
While Kompany, as has become an unfortunate trend, has drifted in and out of the physio room and Stones has struggled to live up to his gargantuan transfer fee, Otamendi’s quietly gone about his business.
Like Sergio Ramos—the player he’s so often compared to—Otamendi lives life on the edge and his 10 yellow cards in all competitions suggests that he’s not quite a Rolls Royce but a bulldozer, but perhaps that’s just what the Citizens needed.
His goalscoring record isn’t bad either and while normally Eric Baily would be a strong contender, the Ivorian’s been injured for far too long this season to put in a strong shout.
Centre-back: Chris Smalling (Manchester United)
As the likes of Eric Bailly and surprise, surprise Phil Jones have struggled with injuries all season, Smalling’s been a rock at the back for United.
Jones has actually played a fair bit in this campaign, but he’s still not been as consistent as his compatriot.
At 28, he’s no spring chicken, and while he can always improve, Smalling’s actually managed to become a leader and despite an ever-changing partner in the middle, has done an admirable job.
With 22 appearances out of a possible 31, it isn’t ideal, but considering the injury woes both Manchester giants have had this season, it’s enough to warrant an inclusion in this squad.
Right-back: Kyle Walker
Perhaps the toughest decision in the entire combined XI, for Antonio Valencia’s had a terrific season for the Red Devils.
The 32-year-old Ecuadorian seems unencumbered by age but Walker’s taken a leaf out of his counterpart’s game by adding that sorely-needed consistency to his game.
While fullbacks shouldn’t be judged by their offensive statistics, in the modern game their is far more emphasis on their contributions on both ends of the pitch and Walker’s six assists suggest he’s a vital cog in City’s well-oiled machine.
Considering City’s free-flowing football this season, of course Walker’s stats were always going to be ‘better’, but the 2017-8 season’s seen a mature version of the English fullback emerge, who’s quickly gone about justifying his massive transfer fee since his arrival in the summer.
Defensive midfield: Nemanja Matic (Manchester United)
Why have one defensive midfielder? Why not have two?
Matic ranks along the best enforcers in the Premier League, alongside the likes of N’Golo Kante (Chelsea) and Fernandinho (Manchester City).
His arrival at Old Trafford from Chelsea left many scratching their heads but what was the Blues’ loss was definitely the Red Devils’ gain.
The towering Serbian still has plenty of football in him and had it not been for him, United would have found themselves far lower than second in the league table, without a doubt.
You won’t get too many glitzy haircuts or flashy boots with him, but what you do get is a no-nonsense professional who’ll put his body on the line to get the job done.
Defensive midfield: Fernandinho (Manchester City)
While City’s offensive players don’t complain about the pressing they’re forced to do, these two (Fernandinho and Matic) at the back would make life easier for everyone on the same team for sure.
Soon to turn 33, one would expect Fernandinho’s legs start to show signs of ageing soon, but so far so good as the energetic Brazilian continues to be the unsung hero of Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering side.
When he doesn’t play, City have a right to panic for they don’t have a like-for-like replacement, not even close.
And that just about tell you how important he is to Guardiola and Co.
Left Wing: Leroy Sane (Manchester City)
Not letting Sterling hog all the limelight, Sane’s chipped in pretty impressively (nine goals and 11 assists in the Premier League) to go from strength to strength.
His sheer pace, not unlike Sterling’s, allows City to break at pace and find a way past even the tightest of defences.
Predominantly left-footed, Sane loves taking a man on and is on course to go into double figures for both goals and assists, a remarkable achievement considering he’s not been a confirmed starter since the beginning of the season.
While some would say it’s easy to pad your stats when playing in such a dominant side, competition for places in Pep’s squad is immense and with the Catalan tinkering with his XI for almost every match, it doesn’t really help individual stats.
Anthony Martial’s been quite influential for United this season, but the pacey Frenchamn hasn’t quite managed to hit the heights the likes of Sane have and hence, misses the cut.
Central attacking midfield: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)
Yes, Kevin De Bruyne plays a far deeper role than a CAM one, but one would be hard-pressed to deny him a place in the squad.
Teammate David Silva has rediscovered form of old but De Bruyne is not even at his prime yet, a scary thought for opposition sides, for he’s topping the Premier League assist charts with 15 (four ahead of club mate Leroy Sane).
It’s not just about assists of course, for his range of passing, defensive discipline and last but certainly not the least, ability to score clutch goals in big games places him head and shoulders above the rest.
His form may have had an ever so slight dip of late, but make no mistake, this guy is the real deal and is all set to boss the English top-flight for the next couple of seasons.
United have utilised a plethora of players in this role, from Henrikh Mkhtiaryan, Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata, even Paul Pogba but none have quite had the impact that Jose Mourinho would have desired, at least over the course of the season.
Right Wing: Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)
A certain Egyptian may well be the best winger (or player, even) of the 2017-18 season, but City’s jet-heeled duo has been nothing short of outstanding.
Pep Guardiola deserves a share of the acclaim, undoubtedly, but Sterling’s the one who’s put in the hard yards.
With 16 goals and seven assists in the Premier League alone, the ex-Liverpool winger’s unlocked a level and at 23, is just getting started.
Alexis Sanchez’s arrival was met with unbridled joy in January but the Chilean’s found the going tough ever since and looks like a shadow of the player he was last season.
Centre forward: Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)
Technically one would consider this a three-way battle but a quick look at the stats takes Gabriel Jesus out of the equation.
Peer a bit closer and Aguero’s (21 goals and 6 assists) clearly got the edge over Romelu Lukaku (15 goals and 7 assists).
Those stats look even better if one considers Aguero’s game time as compared to Lukaku’s.
The Argentine, with 22 starts and 2 substitute appearances, has played a total of 1955 minutes only, due in part to Guardiola’s rotation policy and his own injury issues (he’s currently sidelined with a knee complaint).
Lukaku, on the other hand, has started 30 times to complete an impressive total of 2611 minutes.
Perhaps the fact that he’s not been afforded a rest the entire season has seen him go through troughs while the ‘fresh’ Aguero has fired on all cylinders nearly every time’s he’s taken to the pitch.
And while the burly Belgian has arguably been United’s best outfield player of late, Aguero’s still go the beating on him in every conceivable department, especially for this season.