United climbed to the top of the table with a 1-0 win at Burnley on Jan. 12, moving seven points clear of City (who had two games in hand) to raise hopes of a first title at Old Trafford since 2013. But when United travel to the Etihad on Sunday, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team will find themselves 14 points behind Pep Guardiola’s men following a 21-point swing in just seven weeks.
Heading into the weekend, City and United are the top two — Leicester can climb into second with a win at Brighton on Saturday — so how close are the two teams in terms of quality?
ESPN tests the strength of the squads by selecting a combined XI from the two teams.
There is no contest when it comes to deciding Manchester’s best goalkeeper. City No. 1 Ederson beats United’s David De Gea and Dean Henderson hands down in terms of his reliability and importance. The Brazilian is winning the race for the Golden Glove having amassed 15 clean sheets so far this season — De Gea has 9 from 24 games / Henderson has 1 from 4 — and his distribution has also led to goals for City this season.
De Gea has made a series of costly mistakes this season, but Ederson has been flawless.
DF: Joao Cancelo
The Portuguese defender struggled to make an impact in his debut campaign at City last season following his arrival from Juventus, but he has been a key figure for Pep Guardiola in year two. Cancelo has been played in both full-back positions, but his performances at right-back have improved City defensively and moved him ahead of Kyle Walker in the pecking order.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka‘s tenacity and tackling make him a regular at United, but his distribution is poor and means he can’t compete with either Cancelo or Walker.
DF: John Stones
Having seen his career hit the doldrums over the past two seasons, Stones looked likely to be heading for the exit door at the Etihad. But an early season injury to Aymeric Laporte opened the door for the England man to return to the team and he has since built a formidable partnership with summer signing Ruben Dias.
City have posted 12 clean sheets in 16 games when Stones has played this season and his ability on the ball places him ahead of all of United’s centre-half options.
DF: Ruben Dias
City spent last season struggling to overcome the loss of former captain Vincent Kompany, who left to take a coaching role at Anderlecht, but Dias has ended the search for a successor to the Belgian defender.
The Portugal international has been a rock at the heart of City’s defence and, at £64.3m, was cheaper than Liverpool‘s Virgil van Dijk and United’s Harry Maguire. Guardiola’s first-choice centre-half since the day he arrived, Dias gives City the composure and reliability that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is still searching for among his central defenders at United.
DF: Luke Shaw
It has taken almost seven years, since his £28m arrival from Southampton as the world’s most expensive teenager in 2014, but Luke Shaw has finally found his best form in a United shirt this season. The 25-year-old has vastly improved his fitness over the past 18 months and it is now enabling him to give United quality, both defensively and in attacking positions down the left flank.
Shaw’s renaissance makes him Manchester’s best left-back this season, placing him ahead of City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko and Benjamin Mendy.
The battle for the defensive midfield spots is a close one, with Scott McTominay‘s energy and goals and Nemanja Matic‘s calming experience giving United an extra level of solidity this season. But neither can match City midfielder Rodri when it comes to consistency, with the Spaniard missing just two of City’s 27 Premier League games so far this season.
Rodri is happy to provide a defensive shield in front of the back four and give licence for City’s attacking players to focus purely on breaking forward.
MF: Ilkay Gundogan
The German midfielder has been a revelation for City this season, scoring 11 goals in 21 appearances and helping drive their surge up the table to the top spot. Although he has been used in an advanced role by Guardiola during Kevin De Bruyne‘s recent injury layoff, Gundogan is most comfortable in a deep-lying midfield position.
His versatility is crucial for Guardiola, and Gundogan has really stepped up when City needed a match-winning contribution during their 21-game winning streak.
MF: Kevin De Bruyne
Injury has restricted De Bruyne to 21 Premier League appearances so far this season, but he has still scored three goals and registered 11 assists. When fit, the Belgian is the outstanding midfielder in the league and remains a model of consistency for Guardiola’s team.
De Bruyne would be one of the first picks in a Premier League All-Star XI, so he certainly makes this all-Manchester team.
MF: Bruno Fernandes
The United midfielder is in his poorest patch of form since arriving from Sporting CP in January 2020, but nonetheless, he has still scored 15 goals and registered 10 assists this season. Fernandes has been a game-changing signing for United and you only have to look at the stats to realise where the team would be without him.
Despite the abundance of quality that City have in their squad, Fernandes still walks into an all-Manchester team because he is one of the few United players that could make City better.
FW: Phil Foden
The 20-year-old has long been billed as the next big thing in English football and he is now justifying the hype at City. Foden scores goals, makes them, and also possesses an incredible burst of pace to take him past defenders, as showcased during last month’s 4-1 win at Liverpool.
Born in Stockport, just outside of Manchester, Foden is the lone homegrown player to make this combined City-United XI.
FW: Raheem Sterling
Marcus Rashford has scored nine league goals and delivered six assists this season, but his inconsistency means he misses out on a place in this team to Raheem Sterling. Sterling has scored nine goals and created one fewer assist than Rashford, but the former Liverpool forward is comfortable in any position in the attacking third of the pitch and has a proven track record of delivering when it matters most.
Rashford is still developing and is not as close to being the finished article as Sterling, but the United forward needs to add a ruthless streak to become the top-class goal scorer many believe he can be.