Fellaini in, Gerrard out: this season's best Liverpool/Man United XI
With Manchester United and Liverpool "clashing" (they never meet quietly for tea and biscuits) this weekend in a battle of the underachieving North-West giants, we wondered who would get in a combined LFC/MUFC team. Then we realised we could work it out, using Stats Zone and a little help from Opta...
Goalkeeper: David de Gea (Man United)
What, no Simon Mignolet? It's perhaps no surprise that the Belgian can't get into this hypothetical XI, but let's take a moment to applaud the increasingly impressive De Gea, whose 70% save percentage ousthines his Mersey rival's 67%. At Arsenal, the Spaniard made 8 saves in a somewhat smash-and-grab 2-1 win, and was only beaten by a late Olivier Giroud consolation. Still can't grow a proper beard, though.
Right-back: Antonio Valencia (Man United)
True, Louis van Gaal has often used wing-backs, but nothing illustrates the defensive problems of these giant clubs who brought you Phil Neal, Viv Anderson, Steve Nicol and Gary Neville than having a winger at full-back. Kudos to the Ecuadorian, who in the home win over Crystal Palace made 8 tackles – no United player has made more in a game this season, and no United player has made more than his 40 over the season so far.
Centre-back: Martin Skrtel (Liverpool)
Bet you didn't expect that. The Slovak operates on the edge of the law and "the cusp of panic", to use the phrase of one Liverpool fan (while defending him). He's hardly the ball-playing centre-back you might imagine Brendan Rodgers wanting – but then again, that was Dejan Lovren, and in fact Skrtel's 92% passing accuracy is Liverpool's best this season. But he also loves to defend: against Leicester, he made 20 clearances and won 8 of the 13 aerial duels he contested.
Centre-back: Marcos Rojo (Man United)
See? Van Gaal *can* sign defenders. The Argentinian offers adaptability and stability: having recovered from that dislocated shoulder in the Manchester derby, he's been there as the winning run has stretched to five. At Southampton, he made 6 tackles, 7 interceptions and 9 clearances, and over the course of the season, he has made more passes (590) than any team-mate.
Left-back: Alberto Moreno (Liverpool)
Having knocked over more crosses from open play (35) than any team-mate bar Raheem Sterling (37), Moreno offers more of an attacking threat than his compatriot Jose Enrique, who many were surprised to see picked against Basel; Rodgers rectified that with a half-time switch, and other matters took prominence. At Tottenham the younger Spaniard made 4 tackles and 9 clearances, also popping up the other end to score.
Central midfielder: Jordan Henderson (Liverpool)
Henderson still divides opinion, not just over the Fergiebook-selling Gaitgate but his continuing inclusion at the hub of things for Liverpool and England. Obviously the managers run the numbers, because Henderson offers plenty of everything: against Aston Villa he attempted 121 passes, while over the season he's made more tackles (41) than anyone else at Liverpool or Man United.
Central midfielder: Marouane Fellaini (Man United)
As if to prove that sentimentality and stats don't mix, Steven Gerrard isn't as good as last summer's schadenfreude signing, the apparent emblem of all that was wrong with David Moyes' Manchester United. The big Belgian isn't a top-class midfielder but can be harnessed usefully: in the win against Stoke he made 72 passes and 4 tackles, scored the opener and won 5 of his 6 aerial duels - typical of a man who's won more headed battles (42) than any other United player this season.
Right winger: Raheem Sterling (Liverpool)
All teams have a go-to guy, who is given the ball and expected to make things happen. Despite the bigger auras of Gerrard and Rooney, Sterling is now that man for club and country. He's far from the finished product but is certainly capable of creative destruction: against Everton he created 6 chances and popped off a couple of shots, too. Over the season, only Eden Hazard (70) has completed more dribbles than Sterling's 47.
Attacking midfielder: Wayne Rooney (Man United)
When he's not plugging holes in midfield or battling away in a lone front role, Rooney looks at his best in the hole. Against QPR the skipper ran riot, scoring 1 goal and assisting another, firing off 3 shots in total. Over the season, Rooney has been involved in 8 goals (5 scored, 3 created), second only among United players to...
Left winger: Angel Di Maria (Man United)
Some say left wing isn't his best position, and that he might be more effective as a No.10, but Di Maria hasn't complained. A one-man chance machine, against Everton he created 5 opportunities for others and had 6 shots himself. Meanwhile, his 61 attempted dribbles this season is a mahoosive 28 clear of the nearest team-mate.
Centre-forward: Robin van Persie (Man United)
It feels like a long 18 months since Van Persie and Luis Suarez were virtually inseparable as the country's best strikers. Suarez dominated last season but Van Persie is gearing back up now, with 3 goals in his last 3 games. At Southampton he was particularly important and efficient, having all 3 of United's shots – and scoring with 2 of them. That takes him to 6 goals for the season, double the best of any Liverpool player.