December 9, 2022

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Manchester United vs Liverpool combined XI: Who gets the nod up front or alongside Bruno Fernandes?

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A lot can change in football in just over a year – and the fierce rivalry between Manchester United and Liverpool currently proves that more than anything else.

Flashback to January 2020, when the dethroned champions were flying high at the top of the league and welcomed their old enemy to Anfield. On that day, they came out on top with a 2-0 win and justified sensational calls from some pundits.

John Barnes and Danny Mills both named just Liverpool players in their combined XIs – with every single United big name missing out. The suggestions irked Jurgen Klopp, but their calls weren’t particularly surprising.

Jurgen Klopp and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer meet again when Manchester United take on Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer meet again when Manchester United take on Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer meet again when Manchester United take on Liverpool

Bruno Fernandes scored in the last clash between them with United triumphing in the FA Cup

Bruno Fernandes scored in the last clash between them with United triumphing in the FA Cup

Bruno Fernandes scored in the last clash between them with United triumphing in the FA Cup

After all, Liverpool were sauntering to their first top-flight title in three decades and United were flailing in their top four bid. 

Now, however, the teams fielded by the experts would look very different. With Liverpool ravaged by injuries and United sitting comfortably in second, it is players from Old Trafford who largely dominate our selections.

Discover who Sportsmail has named in our very own XI, which will only include those who are currently fit and ready for action, below… 

GOALKEEPER 

Alisson 

This was a real conundrum with three very good and very capable goalkeepers to choose from. 

Both David de Gea and Dean Henderson have been jostling for the No 1 jersey at United, with the latter perhaps more favoured towards the end of this season.

However, it is their limitations and the strong form of Alisson that sees the Liverpool man ultimately come out on top.

Alisson gets the nod ahead of David de Gea and Dean Henderson in Sportsmail's combined XI

Alisson gets the nod ahead of David de Gea and Dean Henderson in Sportsmail's combined XI

Alisson gets the nod ahead of David de Gea and Dean Henderson in Sportsmail‘s combined XI

De Gea’s shot stopping ability can’t be called into question, but his uncertainty with aerial balls and lapses of concentration have seen United punished in the past.

Henderson, meanwhile, is destined for a bright future but is prone to making poor and rash decisions, as shown recently against Burnley.

In comparison, Alisson cuts an assured and confident figure between the sticks, and his highlights reel of fine saves this campaign has often helped keep Liverpool alive. 

RIGHT BACK

Trent Alexander-Arnold

The fact that Gareth Southgate is hesitating over naming Trent Alexander-Arnold in his England squad for Euro 2020 is bemusing. 

The starlet’s obvious ability will make him a very useful option indeed – and it is good that Klopp hasn’t held back in vehemently defending his player.

Yes, Alexander-Arnold has been guilty of sloppy errors and poor positioning. 

But his formidable crosses and penchant for arriving on the edge of the box to pull the trigger have proved the bane of many teams in the Premier League.

It is for this reason, and the limitations going forward of United’s Aaron Wan-Bissaka, that Alexander-Arnold gets the nod.  

Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold also makes the cut due to his impressive attacking ability

Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold also makes the cut due to his impressive attacking ability

Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold also makes the cut due to his impressive attacking ability

CENTRE BACK

Harry Maguire

United captain Harry Maguire has recovered from a horror summer, and an England nightmare, to become a standout performer for United. 

He is ever present under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, leading vocally from the back and even contributing to attacks with surprisingly graceful forays into midfield.

It is no secret that United have struggled to break down teams who sit in a compact shape and remain deep, but Maguire’s good passing ability aids their cause. 

His ability to read the game is also impressive and, despite the odd clumsy challenge, his straight line speed has not proved an issue. 

With Liverpool’s first-choice central defenders fit, Maguire would face more of a fight to be named in this team, however.

Harry Maguire, the United captain, is also in and has been ever-present since joining in 2019

Harry Maguire, the United captain, is also in and has been ever-present since joining in 2019

Harry Maguire, the United captain, is also in and has been ever-present since joining in 2019

CENTRE BACK

Victor Lindelof

Admittedly, this pick is a little more controversial. Victor Lindelof has attracted his fair share of criticism since joining United in 2017, and rightly so.

The Sweden international has been guilty of being bullied by a number of players over the years and his ability to rise highest and win headers is also questioned.

He does also possess several enviable characteristics, though. 

Lindelof’s passing range is exquisite, with difficult angled balls to the flanks or nonchalant pings over the top made to look easy.

Like his usual partner Maguire, his knowledge of the game also shines through with his positioning and welcome knack of timing his challenges well.

Despite this, Virgil van Dijk would certainly have been picked ahead of him, although the Liverpool stalwart remains injured.

Victor Lindelof is usually Maguire's partner and has caught the eye with his fine passing range

Victor Lindelof is usually Maguire's partner and has caught the eye with his fine passing range

Victor Lindelof is usually Maguire’s partner and has caught the eye with his fine passing range

LEFT BACK

Luke Shaw 

What a stellar season this has been for Luke Shaw. Maligned by Jose Mourinho, it truly looked as though there would be no way back for the 25-year-old.

But suddenly, almost out of nowhere, Shaw has regained all of his confidence in one incredible burst – and his forays down the left have improved United tenfold.

Full backs racing up and down and getting chalk on their boots were a hallmark under Sir Alex Ferguson, and Shaw has summoned that back this term.

His spot at Euro 2020 already looks sealed, and deservedly so. 

It is no mean feat to beat Andy Robertson in the pecking order for this rivalry, either, but his form is unparalleled by anyone else in the same position in England. 

Luke Shaw spectacularly burst into form this term and is the top-flight's most in-form left back

Luke Shaw spectacularly burst into form this term and is the top-flight's most in-form left back

Luke Shaw spectacularly burst into form this term and is the top-flight’s most in-form left back

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CENTRE MIDFIELD

Fabinho 

Fabinho has proved to be an inspired signing. The holding midfielder was a key cog in the ruthless winning machine that romped to top-flight glory last term.

This time around, he has been forced to step in at centre back to fill in for an injury crisis which has decimated their hopes of retaining the trophy.

Despite performing ably as the last line of defence, there can be no doubting Fabinho’s best position remains in the no 6 role, as the anchor-man.

From here, he has snapped into tackles superbly, sparked many a counter-attack and provided some serious bite when the going got tough.

His adeptness at excelling in many roles, as well as his track record of making those around him better, sees him fend off Fred, Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matic.

Of course, the likes of Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Thiago Alcantara were also batting it out to be named in this team. But have they made the cut?

Fabinho was a key part of Liverpool's title-winning team and gets the nod in holding midfield

Fabinho was a key part of Liverpool's title-winning team and gets the nod in holding midfield

Fabinho was a key part of Liverpool’s title-winning team and gets the nod in holding midfield

CENTRE MIDFIELD

Paul Pogba

In short: no. Sportsmail has opted for Paul Pogba to fill one of our final midfield slots. On his day, he is one of the world’s finest performers.

For United, their record signing has turned up spectacularly in recent weeks after returning from injury and despite being dogged by speculation over his future.

His performance from the left wing against Roma typified his rich vein of form, and it is clear he is enjoying his football more than ever under Solskjaer.

With Pogba at the peak of his game, it would be foolish to leave him out. His trickery and ability on the ball has added another dynamic to United’s flourishing strike force.

With Henderson out injured, Wijnaldum not catching the eye and Thiago being criticised for his attacking contributions, Pogba is an easy pick.

Paul Pogba is world class at the top of his game and has been in a superb vein of form recently

Paul Pogba is world class at the top of his game and has been in a superb vein of form recently

Paul Pogba is world class at the top of his game and has been in a superb vein of form recently

CENTRE MIDFIELD

Bruno Fernandes

It has been quite some time since a player has arrived at United and singlehandedly transformed them. Bruno Fernandes has managed just that.

He hadn’t joined the club in time for that fateful clash back in January 2020, but quickly inspired an unbeaten Premier League streak until the end of the season. 

His fiery character, sheer desire to come out on top and extraordinary creative mind arguably make him the first name down for this combined XI’s team sheet.

Fernandes’ superb double in the 6-2 thrashing of Roma took his goal tally for the season to 26, but his sights remain trained to the very top.

The sheer consistency of his performances makes him a magical watch – and, after scoring in the FA Cup win over Liverpool, Fernandes knows what this rivalry means.

Bruno Fernandes is an easy selection due to his transformative effect since signing last season

Bruno Fernandes is an easy selection due to his transformative effect since signing last season

Bruno Fernandes is an easy selection due to his transformative effect since signing last season

RIGHT WING

Mohamed Salah 

It was a real surprise to hear Michael Owen accuse Mohamed Salah of not being a natural finisher.

Without the efforts of their reliable talisman, Liverpool would be in a much worse position in the table and surely staring down the barrel.

Out of the club’s first-choice front three, Salah is the only man doing his bit. His tally of 29 goals this term is more than double what Sadio Mane has mustered.

Salah is also the first Anfield ace to have scored 20 goals in three Premier League seasons, underlining his importance to boss Klopp’s project. 

His moments of brilliance and relentless consistency mean the forward, without a doubt, makes the team.

Mohamed Salah is the only member of Liverpool's front three pulling his weight this campaign

Mohamed Salah is the only member of Liverpool's front three pulling his weight this campaign

Mohamed Salah is the only member of Liverpool’s front three pulling his weight this campaign

STRIKER

Edinson Cavani 

United and Solskjaer have made no secret of their desperation to convince Edinson Cavani to stay put at Old Trafford for at least another campaign. 

It is not hard to understand why. The veteran no 9 is another player to have exuded a transformative effect on the club and his penalty area movement is scarily effective.

His 12 goals in all competitions have helped propel United towards achieving their objectives – and his all-round performance against Roma was a striking masterclass.

The darts to the near and front post, his cool precision in front of goal and his willingness to press all over the pitch was a lesson to aspiring youngsters.

Hand him five good chances in a game, and Cavani will put away at least two of them. It is this poacher’s instinct that makes him the frontman for this team.

Edinson Cavani has defied his advancing age by leading the line brilliantly this term for United

Edinson Cavani has defied his advancing age by leading the line brilliantly this term for United

Edinson Cavani has defied his advancing age by leading the line brilliantly this term for United

LEFT WING

Marcus Rashford

Despite often being fielded on the right flank this term, Marcus Rashford’s best position is undoubtedly over on the opposite side.

It has since emerged that the England international has effectively played with discomfort for two seasons now, but it is difficult to tell from his performances.

Admittedly, there are times when Rashford makes the wrong decisions at high speed, or tries to take on too many players, but his ability is enough to drop jaws.

There is always a feeling that the forward will dance his way through a backline and tuck the ball away in every game – and, to great effect, this occasionally is the case.

His fine form this campaign, and Sadio Mane’s surprising dip in confidence, means that Rashford rounds off the frontline for Sportsmail‘s combined XI.      

Marcus Rashford completes the team and starts on the left due to his ability to beat defenders

Marcus Rashford completes the team and starts on the left due to his ability to beat defenders

Marcus Rashford completes the team and starts on the left due to his ability to beat defenders

Our United and Liverpool combined XI has adopted a 4-3-3 formation and can be seen above

Our United and Liverpool combined XI has adopted a 4-3-3 formation and can be seen above

Our United and Liverpool combined XI has adopted a 4-3-3 formation and can be seen above

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