The Manchester Derby is fast approaching and the preparation mounting, Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho are inching towards their first major matches as Manchester City and Manchester United managers, respectively. For the first time ever, both Manchester sides look formidable to any potential opponents in Europe, and with seemingly unlimited talent at their disposal, Manchester is slowly becoming the capital city it is destined to be in the footballing world.
With all of the aforementioned talent in the city, it would only make sense to compare and preview either side before the match. Here, below, are my picks from 30-16, in a list that perhaps outlines the true depth of unbelievable talent in the warmup of the most anticipated derby in Mancunian history.
30. Jesse Lingard, Manchester United, Attacking Midfielder, 23
Jesse Lingard’s stock after his first campaign is higher than ever. Scoring the last goal of Louis van Gaal’s regime to win the FA Cup and opening Jose Mourinho’s with a spectacular goal in the community shield, Lingard is poised to blossom into a great player. His work rate, skill on the ball and tendency to score wonder-goals is particularly enjoyable, and his finishing ability is the only thing holding him back from 15 goals a season.
29. Bacary Sagna, Manchester City, Right-Back, 33
Bacary Sagna’s consistent form since joining Manchester City has earned him the starting spot over Pablo Zabaleta. Though the Argentinean looks more solid moving into midfield for Pep Guardiola, Sagna is better defensively and moving forward, and holds the title of most consistent right-back in Manchester.
28. Michael Carrick, Manchester United, Midfielder, 35
Michael Carrick no longer is the world class metronomic midfielder he was, as his limited physical attributes declined further as he aged into his 30s. However, United’s vice-captain is a leader on the pitch, remains a great passer of a football and is, undoubtedly, the best (seemingly) fifth-choice midfielder in the Premier League.
27. Nicolas Otamendi, Manchester City, Defender, 28
An inconsistent first season showed the best and worst of Nicolas Otamendi, a defender who joined City as the best in La Liga and Argentina. While he seems rash at times, Guardiola seems to have found a way to isolate his strengths and mould him into a great squad defender. Otamendi is one of many footballers between looking to rejuvenate their reputations after a rough 15/16 campaign in Manchester. Most of the said players are listed between 30 and 20.
26. Marouane Fellaini, Manchester United, Midfielder, 28
Speaking of said defenders, Marouane Fellaini took his chance at United this season in incredible fashion, becoming somewhat of a screen in front of United’s defence. Breaking up play with incredible physicality, Fellaini’s poor positioning is compensated for by Mourinho’s creation of a completely disciplined role for the Belgian. I still think Morgan Schneiderlin will win his place in United’s midfield, but Fellaini is earning his place in the United squad and was one of the best midfielders in the Premier League in August.
25. Juan Mata, Manchester United, Midfielder, 28
More valuable as a presence off the pitch than on it for Manchester United, Juan Mata represents one of the wonderful footballing links between the players and the fans. However, David Moyes and Louis van Gaal struggled to find a role for him in their systems, accommodating Wayne Rooney instead. He scores in big moments for United, but he’s woefully misused on the right side of attack, even by Jose Mourinho. Overall, Mata has done enough to justify his transfer fee since joining in 2014, but not much more.
24. Morgan Schneiderlin, Manchester United, Midfielder, 26
If he was used properly under Louis van Gaal, Morgan Schneiderlin would be in the Top 10, easily. He’s a gifted midfielder that any team in Europe would welcome into their squad, and when used properly he tore opposition midfields to shreds. There’s more to come from the Frenchman, once his fitness is back on track.
23. Antonio Valencia, Manchester United, Defender, 31
With all the talent in Manchester, it comes as a surprise that most would choose Antonio Valencia as the best right-back in the city. However, Valencia has performed admirably for United in August, particularly moving forward, and was nominated for Premier League player of the month in August. Much like Fellaini and Otamendi, he’s in the process of reproving himself to United fans, and he’s doing a good job.
22. Raheem Sterling, Manchester City, Attacking Midfielder, 21
Raheem Sterling, a promising prospect who joined Manchester City as a marquee player, inevitably disappointed. However, he joins Valencia on the player of the month shortlist, because he’s in scintillating form. With the massive gulf of talent in Manchester, it would be unfair to place him in the Top 20 after three years of relatively overrated football preceding this season, but he’s undeniably a good prospect.
21. Ander Herrera, Manchester United, Midfielder, 27
Much like Morgan Schneiderlin, Ander Herrera is a world class talent who has been awfully misused by past managers. He is one of the brightest midfield players in the Premier League, and could be reason for United to switch systems to a 4-3-3 over the course of the season. Always popping in with ridiculous contributions at ridiculous times, Herrera is one of United fans’ favourite players.
20. Nolito, Manchester City, Winger, 29
An intelligent winger who joined City from Celta Vigo this summer, Nolito is playing out the prime of his career for Guardiola’s Manchester City after a good season in Spain and a relatively good Euro 2016. His ability to cut in from the left-wing is similar to United’s Ashley Young, but with more end product and intelligence overall. He’s a quality player, but dismiss any suggestions that his brace against Stoke means anything.
19. Kelechi Iheanacho, Manchester City, Striker, 19
The Kelechi Iheanacho-Marcus Rashford debate seemingly never ends between City and United fans, though I personally give the edge to (spoiler alert) the Englishman. However, Iheanacho has world class potential and will most likely start the derby for City after Sergio Aguero’s ban. With decent pace and reputable ability on the turn, Iheanacho could surprise a few on Saturday.
18. John Stones, Manchester City, Centre-Back, 22
City’s £47.5 million purchase of John Stones seemed ridiculous a month ago, and it was, but considering how adept he is at playing the way Guardiola wants him to, the former Everton defender could prove to be an asset. Roberto Martinez’s spastic defensive tactics at Everton seem to have hindered his reputation, and it is likely for the better for City, who could’ve paid even more for him.
17. Marcus Rashford, Manchester United, Striker, 18
Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford is loved by almost everybody in England, with his infectious humility and incredible personality clearly inspiring his football on the pitch. United’s main striker for almost half of last season, Rashford didn’t even have a Wikipedia page at this time last year, and now many believe he should be leading the line for club and country. His stats were undercooked because of Louis van Gaal’s tactics last season. The fact he manages to score goals even though they aren’t the main aspect of his game leads me to place him slightly above Iheanacho.
16. Chris Smalling, Manchester United, Centre-Back, 26
It is a testament to Manchester’s talent this year that United’s players’ player of the year last year, Chris Smalling, is only in 16th. He seems to have been locked out of the starting side at United by Eric Bailly and Daley Blind, and he is arguably the best defender in the Premier League who doesn’t start. A beast in the air and on the ground, Smalling’s only weakness is his tendency to dive into situations, but his development over the last two years has been excellent.