The Manchester Derby might not have as much relevance to the league standings as many of us hoped it would at this stage in the season, but it will still be a thoroughly enjoyable and vigorously contested game.
The build up over the weekend got me thinking – who would I choose if I were to select a ‘Manchester XI’ dream team? So, y’know, rather than just thinking about it, I sat down and assembled one.
Manchester United have played 21 of their 30 Premier League games in a 4-2-3-1 formation this season and Manchester City have matched them in 11 of their 30, so it seems like the logical choice to stick with it.
Goalkeeper: Joe Hart
Based on this season’s form alone, you’d probably have to give the goalkeeping slot in your Manchester XI to David De Gea, but based on overall ability I still see Joe Hart as the superior player of the two.
De Gea has improved dramatically this season and no longer looks like the shaky, error-prone youngster he was when he joined Manchester United, whilst Hart hasn’t looked like the same brick wall in front of goal as he did last year, but I’d still rather have the Englishman between the posts.
The main reason I’ve decided to go for ability over form is because I feel De Gea has had more opportunities to shine this season due to Manchester United conceding far more shots on goal than Manchester City. The Spaniard has been forced to make an average of 2.8 saves per game, whilst Hart averages less than one save per game.
This was probably the toughest decision for me, as both Rafael and Pablo Zabaleta have played tremendously well this season, but in the end I decided to go for Rafael for his reliability at the back and creativity when travelling forward.
Looking at their respective defensive stats this season it’s clear that Zabaleta averages more tackles and interceptions per game, but Rafael is dribbled past far less often, has made 19 more clearances and committed 13 fewer fouls.
When you couple the solid defensive stats with the fact he’s scored one more goal, supplied one more assist and created 7 more goalscoring chances than his blue-side-of-Manchester counterpart, Rafael just about edges it.
Centre-back: Vincent Kompany
Vincent Kompany is the most obvious defensive choice of the lot and someone who I’d expect to be at the heart of anyone’s Manchester XI. He’s as solid as a rock, extraordinarily intelligent and as good as any defender in the league when it comes to starting up moves from the back. I’m wasting my time writing about him, aren’t I? You’d have to be mad to leave Kompany out of your side.
Centre-back: Rio Ferdinand
Manchester United have had the likes of Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Wes Brown and Rio Ferdinand. Arsenal had Tony Adams, Steve Bould, Martin Keown and Sol Campbell. Blackburn had Ian Pearce. Chelsea have always had John Terry. Man City had Joleon Lescott. Do you see where I’m going with this? A title-winning Premier League side always has an English centre-back and, if my Manchester XI were to actually compete in the Premier League, history suggests they would need one too.
You can argue Nemanja Vidic is probably the superior player when he’s on form or that Jonny Evans has done more than enough to be considered, but when I assemble a team like this one I always make sure to include an English centre-back.
Left-back: Patrice Evra
Both of Manchester United’s full-backs have been incredibly influential when going forward this season, which is why I made the decision to include both Rafael and Patrice Evra in my XI. Evra in particular has been outstanding going forward and he currently finds himself as Manchester Utd’s 5th top goalscorer and 3rd highest assist maker in the Premier League.
Where he looks a little shaky is in his defensive play, he’s made 3 individual errors this season, but with the only realistic competition for this place coming from Gael Clichy, you’d have to give it to Evra.
Central midfield: Yaya Toure and Michael Carrick
I’m writing about my central midfield in one paragraph because, if you remember, Yaya Toure and Michael Carrick make up the exact same duo I had in my Paddy Power Premier League XI earlier this season. I wouldn’t even consider removing either one of my dream central midfield pair because I believe that, between them, they have everything you could possibly want.
Yaya provides an injection of steel, energy and power to the middle of the pitch, whilst Carrick would use his intelligence and range of passing to dictate the play. Between them they’ve completed 3716 of their 4107 passes this season, which is exactly the kind of ludicrous accuracy you want from your central midfielders.
They’ve also made a combined 92 interceptions and 85 tackles, so they’re more than capable of handling their defensive duties and shielding the backline when required.
Attacking midfielder (right): David Silva
My front four consists of goal scorers for the most part, so it’s vital to have a creator to give them the service they need. In terms of Premier League players, I don’t think there’s a better creator than David Silva. The Spaniard is only joint 8th in the Premier League assist charts this season with 7 to his name, but creates more goalscoring chances per game than any other player and only Arsenal’s Santi Cazorla completes more through balls per game.
As I said in my Premier League XI blog, Silva created more goalscoring chances in 2012 than any other Premier League midfielder, and with the quality of Rooney, Aguero and van Persie on the end of them you wouldn’t bet against goals.
Attacking midfielder (centre): Wayne Rooney
There’s a wealth of attacking talent in the Manchester Utd and Manchester City squads and there’s no position with more options than the central attacking midfield role, but, for me, this choice was still an easy one.
It seems to me that whenever Wayne Rooney doesn’t play for Manchester Utd the cohesion between midfield and attack is less apparent. Whilst you could argue my point with the fact that they marginally average more goals per game without Rooney than with him (2.4 per game without as opposed to 2.3 with), that stat is incredibly misleading as 6 of the 9 games he’s missed have been against teams who are currently fighting to save themselves from relegation. Rooney has delivered in all of the big games and has 9 goals and 5 assists to his name whilst playing in the central attacking midfield position.
Attacking midfielder (left): Sergio Aguero
Sergio Aguero versus Carlos Tevez for the last spot in my attacking midfield trio was a tough one, especially given the fact that I’m seemingly one of the few who prefer Tevez of the two Argentinians. The only reason I went against my preferred player is because Aguero has actually played around a quarter of his games on the left this season, whereas Tevez has only been deployed outside of the two central roles on one occasion.
Although there are other options for the wide positions who make more sense, Aguero has all of the attributes to succeed there. It’s also worth noting that he averages a goal for every 2.5 games he plays out wide this season, which is a good return.
Striker: Robin van Persie
Robin van Persie is going through a bit of a goal drought of late, but you still can’t deny that he’s probably the best striker in the Premier League. In 27 Premier League starts the Dutchman has contributed 19 goals and 8 assists, which means, on average, he directly contributes towards a goal in every single game he starts.
Van Persie also averages a shots to goals average of 21%, meaning he’s likely to score a goal in any game in which he takes 5 shots. Alongside the quality of Silva, Rooney and Aguero, I’m sure van Persie would score for fun.