Ederson OUT but Foden IN: Man City and Liverpool combined XI ahead of title showdown – Stuart Brennan



It has been billed as Manchester City’s brilliant midfield against Liverpool’s world-class attack … but whichever way you look at it, Sunday’s Premier League title crunch is a showdown between perhaps the two best teams on the planet right now. That is a rarity in English football history, that we should play host to the two best sides, a claim which was reinforced by the breathless, high-end 2-2 draw between them at Anfield in October.

The problems begin when you get asked to pick a strongest combined XI from the two modern-day rivals from either end of the East Lancashire Road. The players who could not even squeeze onto the bench, even in an age of nine substitutes, is almost scandalous.

But here goes – and if you disagree with the selection, you are not alone – I changed my mind three or four times and still have doubts about some positions.

GOALKEEPER

A dilemma that Brazil coach Tite faces every time he gets his squad together. Whether to go with Alisson’s better shot-stopping skills or Ederson’s phenomenal ability with his feet from him that virtually makes him an 11th outfield player as well as a very competent keeper. This decision would be based solely on the combined team’s tactical approach – Pep Guardiola would pick Ederson, and Jurgen Klopp Alisson, and both would be right. To boil it down to a keeper’s basic job, for the sake of argument, we will take Tite’s word for it and go with Allison.

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RIGHT BACK

Again, one that must give Gareth Southgate headaches. Kyle Walker’s pace, and his technical ability from him, is a huge asset for City in defense and attack, while Trent Alexander-Arnold has one of the sweetest right feet in world football and is getting better. Both have defensive issues but that hardly matters in two front-foot teams. Tough choice but that sublime passing ability gives the edge to Trent.

CENTER BACKS

So much to choose from, with Joel Matip showing up well this season for Liverpool, while John Stones and Aymeric Laporte have challenged Ruben Days‘ “Undroppable” status at times in this campaign. Virgil van Dijk is a no-brainer, but Dias is close behind him, maybe lacking a little of the Dutchman’s passing nous. As a centre-back pair, they would be almost indestructible.

LEFT-BACK

Andy Robertson combines old-fashioned competitive defending, overlapping raider and playmaker in one body and would be a huge asset to any team on the planet. But for re-inventing the position and giving Guardiola an extra midfield – so vital in so many games this season – Joao Cancelo has been a stand-out performer for City this season.

DEFENSIVE MIDFIELD

Another very tight call, one in which an argument either way is persuasive. Fabinho is a classic holding player, quick to snuff attacks and with the ability to launch his own. But rodry‘s improvement this season, to become the fulcrum of the City team – and his remarkable last-ditch block on Fabinho to preserve a point at Anfield – mean he has the smallest of edges.

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ATTACKING MIDFIELD

Liverpool have very useful players making up the rest of their midfield, with Thiago Alcantara being a Guardiola favourite, the under-rated Jordan Henderson a driving force behind their recent success and Naby Keita able to get into most teams. But this area is City’s real engine-room – in Bernard Silva they have a player who combines sheer work rate and ball sorcery like no other player in the club’s history. And then there is Kevin DeBruyneprobably the best midfielder on the planet, scorer of vital goals in big games, king of the assists and another inexhaustible workhorse.

RIGHT WING

For all that Riyad Mahrez has been excellent for the past two seasons, and Gabriel Jesus offers a demonic press, there is only one winner here. Mo Salahdespite going into Sunday’s game out of shape, would be in the world XI of any individual sentient – phenomenal goalscoring and a constant menace.

LEFT WING

Another case of “spoilt for choice” but Raheem Sterling’s patchy form this season and Jack Grealish’s constant promise that he is about to cut loose mean that they are not in the running here. Sadio Mane has been a serious weapon for Liverpool in recent years, almost as feared as Salah, and probably more effective this season, and he gets the jump, probably ahead of teammate Luis Diaz.

CENTER ATTACK

Where to even start. City have no real striker since Sergio Aguero departed, while Liverpool have the hugely impressive Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino to offer, two players who would also be excellent for City. But Phil Foden – the best player on the pitch at Anfield – needs to be shoe-horned into the team and with Mane and Salah hogging the flanks, sticking him in the false nine role in which he has operated for much of the season with distinction, is the choice. The thought of him combining with Mane, Salah, De Bruyne and Bernardo is enough to make you dizzy.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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