Manchester Derby combined XI: Rashford, Casemiro & the United stars closing the gap on City ahead of title audition

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The Red Devils' revolution under Erik ten Hag is well underway, and the reigning Premier League champions could be their next victims this weekend

Manchester United have won each of their last matches in all competitions, including four in the Premier League after strolling past Bournemouth with a 3-0 victory at Old Trafford on January 3 in a result that saw them draw level with third-placed Newcastle on 35 points, albeit having played a game fewer.

Perhaps what many didn't pick up on is that United also moved to within just four points of Manchester City, who are sitting second as the main challengers to early pace-setters Arsenal.

As such, if United beat their arch-rivals at Old Trafford on Saturday, they will also deserve to be considered as title contenders, which is a testament to just how much has changed since Erik ten Hag's shaky start to life in English football.

The Dutchman has transformed United into a solid, hard-working outfit, with every player contributing to a high-press out of possession and a direct, fluid approach being adopted in attack, making them a joy to watch.

City beat their neighbours 6-3 at the Etihad Stadium on October 2 as Erling Haaland ran riot, and Pep Guardiola still boasts a superior squad in terms of overall depth in each position.

United have been closing that gap in quality since then, however, and fans across Manchester are now bracing themselves for the most high-stakes derby contest for the best part of a decade.

The question is, how many United players would now get into a combined XI alongside City's megastars, based on current form? GOAL takes a look...

  1. GK: Ederson

    GK: Ederson

    Despite David de Gea's return to form at United this season, Ederson is still the top man between the sticks in Manchester.

    The Brazilian has recorded seven clean sheets in 17 Premier League appearances while showing off his superb reflexes and distribution skills on a consistent basis once again to help City stay within touching distance of Arsenal.

    Ederson's passing range is second to none in the goalkeeping ranks, and he even managed to post an assist in City's 3-1 victory over Brighton on October 22.

    De Gea is certainly not on the same level technically, and his awkward fumble in United's FA Cup win over Everton showed that he remains prone to costly lapses in concentration.

    The difference between the two keepers could ultimately prove vital in deciding who finishes higher come the end of the season.

  2. RB: Kyle Walker

    RB: Kyle Walker

    Walker started the season in strong fashion as City went unbeaten through their first eight Premier League games, but was forced to undergo surgery after rupturing his groin in their derby win over United.

    Gareth Southgate still took a risk on the 32-year-old for the 2022 World Cup, though, and after sitting out England's first two group games, he played a key role in their run to the quarter-finals.

    Walker put in a man-of-the-match display to keep Kylian Mbappe quiet during the Three Lions' narrow loss to France in the last eight, and has transferred that form to club level since returning from the international break.

    Aaron Wan-Bissaka has also enjoyed a mini-resurgence at United while City fans are excited by the potential of teenager Rico Lewis, but Walker is one of City's most important players at the moment, especially given Joao Cancelo's recent dip in form.

  3. CB: John Stones
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    CB: John Stones

    The 2021-22 season was a frustrating one for John Stones on a personal level as he played second fiddle to Aymeric Laporte, but he has managed to change that dynamic this term.

    The 28-year-old is finally delivering on his full potential and is now ahead of Laporte in the squad pecking order, often starting alongside Ruben Dias or summer signing Manuel Akanji.

    Stones hasn't let his foot off the gas since returning from the World Cup, where he was arguably England's standout player, and he appears more determined than ever to cement his status among the best defenders in Europe.

    Marcus Rashford is currently enjoying a hot streak at United, but he may need to reach an even higher level to get the better of his compatriot when City arrive at Old Trafford.

  4. CB: Raphael Varane
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    CB: Raphael Varane

    Lisandro Martinez has added much-needed steel to United's backline since his arrival from Ajax last summer, but Raphael Varane deserves the most credit for their improved defensive record.

    The Frenchman, who helped his country reach a second successive World Cup final in Qatar, has been nothing short of colossal for the Red Devils this season after rediscovering the kind of form that made him one of the best centre-halves in the business at Real Madrid.

    Martinez has been the perfect foil for Varane, but the 29-year-old has also been superb in the Argentina star's absence post-Qatar, and his continued presence will be vital to United's chances of returning to the Champions League and winning a trophy.

    The two men are set to reunite in the heart of the defence this weekend, and Haaland is unlikely to have another easy afternoon if he has Varane breathing down his neck while Martinez cleans up alongside him.

  5. LB: Luke Shaw
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    LB: Luke Shaw

    Luke Shaw was the easiest pick for this combined XI based on form, with the United star thoroughly deserving of widespread recognition for his post-World Cup performances.

    Ten Hag asked Shaw to fill in at centre-back in United's wins over Nottingham Forest and Wolves, and he adapted to the task admirably to help De Gea record back-to-back clean sheets.

    The 27-year-old was restored to his favoured left-back slot after Harry Maguire's return against Bournemouth, and produced his best display of the season to date, which he capped with a sublime individual goal to round off the scoring.

    City will have a tough task on their hands to stop Shaw from making an impact in the final third, and he could be a nightmare for the next man on this list to try and get past at the other end...

  6. RW: Riyad Mahrez

    RW: Riyad Mahrez

    If anyone can put Shaw on the back foot, it's City's Algerian maestro Riyad Mahrez, who has been in a menacing mood since regaining favour in Guardiola's squad.

    The City boss challenged Mahrez to rediscover his "love for the game" earlier in the season, and he has certainly looked like a man enjoying himself in recent matches.

    Mahrez has recorded four goals and one assist in his last five appearances for City, with his latest masterclass helping them to a 4-0 victory over Chelsea in the third round of the FA Cup.

    The 31-year-old opened the scoring with a stunning free-kick and also netted a penalty as he tormented Chelsea's defence throughout the 90 minutes, and should be back in Guardiola's line-up at Old Trafford.

    If he is, Shaw's battle with him on the right flank will be one of the game's most intriguing sub-plots and where it could be won or lost.

  7. CM: Kevin De Bruyne
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    CM: Kevin De Bruyne

    Now we come to the man capable of winning any game on his own, either with a spectacular long-range strike or a defence-splitting pass that no one sees coming: The irrepressible Kevin De Bruyne.

    City's talismanic No.17 only needs a second to make a decisive contribution, as he is capable of conjuring up magical moments from thin air, and it is practically impossible to stop him when he's in full flow.

    He also now has Haaland to aim for, which has helped boost his assist tally to even more outrageous levels this season.

    United have their own playmaker in the form of Bruno Fernandes, who is a fine footballer in his own right, but it speaks volumes that he doesn't really hold a candle to De Bruyne.

    The Belgian will probably go down as the greatest Premier League midfielder in history, and United must hope he endures a rare off day if they are to emerge as derby victors.

  8. CM: Casemiro
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    CM: Casemiro

    United spent over £220m on new players in the summer transfer window, with Casemiro's price making up almost a third of that figure - but he has already proven to be a bargain acquisition.

    The former Real Madrid star has solved the midfield issue that had plagued United for years, slotting into a deep-lying role to break up the play and ease the pressure on the defence.

    Ten Hag knew exactly what he was getting when he signed the five-time Champions League winner, and he looks as sharp as ever after turning 30.

    Fellow summer signing Antony described Casemiro as United's "guard dog" after his last-minute equaliser against Chelsea in October. The Brazilian added on his compatriot: "He's a no-nonsense guy, a more serious type."

    Casemiro is very much a throwback midfielder, one that takes no prisoners and will do whatever it takes to win. City star Rodri is cut from a similar cloth, but the United enforcer just about edges this particular battle.

  9. LW: Jack Grealish

    LW: Jack Grealish

    “When I came here, I'll be honest with you, it was so much more difficult than I thought," Grealish said when discussing his record-breaking 2021 transfer to Manchester City in an interview with Sky Sports last week. "In my head I thought I was going to the team sitting top of the league and I was going to get so many goals and assists, and obviously it isn't the case."

    Grealish has only managed 14 goal contributions in his first 59 appearances for City, but is seeing more regular minutes ahead of Phil Foden in Guardiola's line up of late, and his overall game has come on leaps and bounds.

    The 27-year-old was undeniably brilliant at Aston Villa, but not consistently, and has had to work on his decision-making with the ball and movement without it.

    Guardiola is now being rewarded for his patience with Grealish, who turned the tide in City's favour almost single-handedly when coming on in the 60th minute of their Premier League win at Chelsea on January 5.

    If he can maintain his current level, his initial £100m fee will soon become an afterthought.

  10. ST: Marcus Rashford
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    ST: Marcus Rashford

    Rashford's redemption has been one of the feel-good stories of the 2022-23 season to date, as the 25-year-old has adopted a different mindset under the tutelage of Ten Hag.

    Many wondered whether Rashford would ever be the same player again after a disastrous 2021-22 campaign, but he has actually managed to bounce back and reach new heights.

    Fifteen goals in 24 appearances in all competitions only tells half the story. The England international has set up another six, finally adding an end product to his game through gritty determination to prove his doubters wrong.

    Rashford is United's main attacking threat, everyone else now looks for him to make something happen, and he has embraced that responsibility remarkably since the departure of Ronaldo. He wouldn't look out of place at City, or indeed any other top club right now.

  11. ST: Erling Haaland
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    ST: Erling Haaland

    There are not many superlatives left to sum up Haaland's instant impact at City, with the statistics for his debut Premier League season ultimately speaking for themselves.

    The former Borussia Dortmund marksman is the fastest man to break the 20-goal mark in the history of the competition, achieving the feat after 14 games - seven less than the previous record holder, Kevin Phillips.

    His hat-trick against United saw him become the first player to ever score three in three successive home Premier League games, after previous trebles against Crystal Palace and Nottingham Forest.

    After taking his haul of goals to 21 in City's draw with Everton on New Year's Eve, Haaland is just 11 short of equalling Mohamed Salah's all-time goals record in the English top flight (32). It seems inevitable that he will smash that record, provided he stays fit, given City still have 21 games left to play.

    Haaland is a force of nature and quite simply the most devastating striker of his era. It will be fascinating to see if Ten Hag can devise a plan to stop him after learning that fact the hard way.


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