A highly-anticipated Manchester derby takes place this weekend at Old Trafford as Manchester United play host to bitter rivals Manchester City in the Premier League, with the two giants going into the bout on the back of contrasting fortunes in Europe.
The visitors had already secured their passage into the next round of the Champions League and were simply playing for pride against Marseille, but Pep Guardiola nevertheless named a strong contingent and City eased to a 3-0 win over the French powerhouses at the Etihad Stadium.
In contrast, United's Champions League venture came to a premature end at the hands of RB Leipzig, who weathered a late United storm to run out 3-2 winners and condemn the Red Devils to a third-placed finish in Group H, with the pressure continuing to mount on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
As far as both teams' league fortunes are concerned, the arch-rivals are only separated by one point in the table having played 10 matches each, with the hosts marching to a 3-1 win at West Ham United while City eased past Fulham 2-0 in their most recent outing.
Both managers have plenty to ponder when it comes to team selection for this all-important showdown, and here, Sports Mole picks a combined XI from both teams, using only players expected to be available for Saturday's encounter at Old Trafford.
Zack Steffen earned plaudits for his performance in City's win over Marseille - the American's Champions League debut for the club - but Steffen and fellow second-choice 'keeper Dean Henderson still have a long way to go before they reach the levels of Ederson or David de Gea. Both shot-stoppers are among the best in Europe but have not been immune from criticism this season, although the City man boasts eight clean sheets in all competitions compared to De Gea's three, so Ederson occupies the first spot in our team.
The modern-day right-back must be just as capable going forward as they are defensively, something which Aaron Wan-Bissaka is yet to master. The former Crystal Palace protege's prowess at the back is well-documented, but Wan-Bissaka's attacking output evidently needs work. Kyle Walker's goal contributions this season have not been much better either, but the 30-year-old is certainly no "idiot" as Roy Keane claims, and the City man's experience at the top level sees him make our lineup.
Aymeric Laporte has been pushed aside in recent weeks due to the resurgence of John Stones, but the Frenchman is undoubtedly still one of the leading centre-backs in Europe and was a routine selection for this XI. Alongside Laporte is his centre-back partner Ruben Dias, who has settled into life in England very well and deserves plenty of credit for his role in City's impressive defensive record. The two Citizens keep United duo Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof out of the team, while Stones also does not make the cut despite his recent revival.
The sole United representative in our back four is Alex Telles, who has quickly pushed aside Luke Shaw and Brandon Williams to become Solskjaer's first-choice left-back. The Brazilian has been hampered by a positive coronavirus test in his early weeks at Old Trafford but was a straightforward pick over the inconsistent Benjamin Mendy and Oleksandr Zinchenko, the latter of whom is yet to start a Premier League game for Manchester City this term.
The midfield three pick themselves in this combined lineup, but on his day, Paul Pogba would have been a serious contender. However, the Frenchman's agent Mino Raiola suggests that Pogba's days at Old Trafford are numbered after he has struggled to become a regular starter under Solskjaer this season. Pogba's United teammates Fred, Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matic all miss out here as the ever-present Rodri starts in the holding midfield role.
The goals would flow in a team which included both Kevin De Bruyne and Bruno Fernandes, with the two playmakers staking their claims as two of the best players in the league after stellar starts to the campaign. De Bruyne and Fernandes boast 13 goals and 16 assists between them in all competitions this season and were two of the simplest selections for this combined lineup over the likes of Donny van de Beek, Phil Foden and Ilkay Gundogan.
However, Fernandes's inclusion is where the United representatives stop in this lineup, with an all-blue front three completing our XI. Anthony Martial continues to divide opinion and is unlikely to feature in this one anyway through injury, and while Edinson Cavani has added a new dimension to the United attack since his summer arrival, the Uruguay international is also a major doubt after missing out the loss to Leipzig.
Guardiola has already confirmed that Sergio Aguero - who boasts nine goals against the Red Devils - will not line up from the first whistle in this derby, but that is not to say that the prolific Argentine cannot make an impact from the bench like he did against Marseille. Gabriel Jesus is yet to start firing on a consistent basis, and while Ferran Torres has proved his worth to Guardiola as a centre-forward in the Champions League, Aguero has to lead the line in this team.
The 32-year-old is supported out wide by two familiar faces. Riyad Mahrez continues to be rotated in and out of the side by Guardiola, but the Algeria international has kept Bernardo Silva out of the team in recent weeks and scored a terrific hat-trick against Burnley, so Mahrez starts on the right flank ahead of United trio Juan Mata, Mason Greenwood and Daniel James. The left-wing spot was a much more complicated choice given Marcus Rashford's impressive start to proceedings, but Raheem Sterling - who had a hand in both of City's goals against Fulham - cannot be overlooked and just edges out his compatriot to complete our combined XI.