Can't pick 'em all...
Chelsea and Manchester United seem to be moving in different directions ahead of their FA Cup fifth-round clash on Monday. Granted, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men were outclassed by PSG in the Champions League, but the Norwegian has guided his side to 10 victories and a draw in his 11 domestic assignments since taking charge.
Chelsea, conversely, have lost four of their last eight games in all competitions, but Maurizio Sarri still has some fine players at his disposal. In this slideshow we’ve merged the two squads to select a combined XI – but which club will have more representatives?
David de Gea (Man United)
Kepa Arrizabalaga may be the most expensive goalkeeper of all time following his £71.6m summer switch from Athletic Club, but he hasn't yet proved that he belongs in the conversation when it comes to the world’s best glovesman.
De Gea is very much a part of such discussions, with Atletico Madrid's Jan Oblak perhaps the only goalkeeper with as strong a claim to the honour. The Spaniard has been in fine form of late, as demonstrated by his heroic, game-winning exploits against Tottenham last month. He’s a straightforward pick for our combined team.
Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)
Azpilicueta hasn't been at the top of his game for much of this season, but any consequent disappointment owes to the fact that he's set such a high bar for himself in recent years. Having previously been deployed as a centre-half in Antonio Conte's back three, the Spaniard has encountered a few teething problems in returning to right-back under Mauirizio Sarri.
He remains one of the league's best one-versus-one defenders, however, and deserves his spot ahead of Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia and Diogo Dalot.
Antonio Rudiger (Chelsea)
Rudiger has already made as many Premier League starts this term as he managed under Antonio Conte last time out, having missed only one of Chelsea’s 26 top-flight matches so far. The Germany international was man of the match in last year’s FA Cup final and has carried his tremendous end-of-season form into 2018/19; his pace and positional sense have saved the oft-exposed Blues backline on several occasions.
Eric Bailly has been in and out of United’s side this campaign and been far from his best when called upon, while neither Phil Jones nor Chris Smalling can match the Chelsea stopper for consistency.
Victor Lindelof (Man United)
Arguably the Premier League’s most improved player, Lindelof has been consistently excellent this term having endured a season of struggle in 2017/18. The Swede found himself behind Eric Bailly, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling in the pecking order last time out, but he’s since established himself as United’s best centre-back and was one of the few United players who performed well in the final months of Jose Mourinho’s tenure.
David Luiz edges out Lindelof in terms of his distribution from the back – his long-range passing has been terrific this season – but the erratic nature of his defending sees the Brazilian miss out.
Luke Shaw (Man United)
Shaw's Manchester United career was cast into doubt after he'd seemingly earned a permanent place in Jose Mourinho's bad books, but the England international has bounced back admirably from injury issues and his former manager's frequent public criticism.
The ex-Southampton left-back has excelled in both attacking and defensive phases of the game, and has certainly been performing at a higher level than Marcos Alonso of late. The Spaniard began the campaign with a goal and two assists in his first four Premier League appearances but has largely looked uncomfortable in a four-man defence, and now appears to be in danger of losing his place to Emerson Palmieri.
N’Golo Kante (Chelsea)
The most frequent criticism of Maurizio Sarri this season has focused on his continual use of Kante in a more advanced midfield role. Playing higher up the pitch has helped the World Cup winner match his best ever goalscoring season with four strikes in all competitions, but it’s also made him less effective as a ball-winner.
Nevertheless, Kante is still a shoo-in for a position in our combined team, with his boundless energy and timing in the tackle making him a manager’s dream. Ander Herrera has played well under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but still doesn’t come close to ousting the former Leicester man.
Nemanja Matic (Man United)
Matic and Kante’s midfield partnership was an integral part of Chelsea’s title triumph in 2016/17, so it makes sense to reunite them here. The Serbia international reads the game astutely and contributes to his side’s build-up from deep, while Kante’s lung power would cover for the Manchester United man’s relative lack of mobility.
Jorginho was the fulcrum of Maurizio Sarri’s magnificent Napoli side, but the jury remains out on the Italy international at Stamford Bridge. An engine room duo of Matic and Kante would provide a much more solid base for the four attack-minded players selected in front of them.
Anthony Martial (Man United)
Although usually deployed on the left, we’ve decided to field Martial on the opposite flank, largely because he’s too good a player to leave out entirely. The Frenchman didn’t see eye to eye with Jose Mourinho but has looked revitalised under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, reminding United fans of his quality with two goals and an assist in his last three league outings.
Both Pedro Rodriguez and Willian are now the wrong side of 30, and that’s shown in their displays this term. Martial can be electric and devastating when he’s in the mood, and beats both Chelsea men to the right-wing berth.
Paul Pogba (Man United)
The chief beneficiary of United’s managerial change, Pogba has gone from bench-warmer to star man in the space of two months. The Frenchman has been back to his brilliant best in his recent Premier League appearances, and his importance to this United side was underlined by Marquinhos’ man-marking job in PSG’s victory at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
Mateo Kovacic and Ross Barkley each have their own talents, but neither Chelsea man can claim to be on Pogba’s level. For that reason, the ex-Juventus midfielder is entrusted with attacking midfield duties in our joint XI.
Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
Hazard has spent much of the last year fluttering his eyelashes at Real Madrid, and he recently declared that he’s now decided where his future lies. For as long as he’s on English soil, though, the Belgium international is undoubtedly among the Premier League’s best players.
Hazard has had to carry this Chelsea team at times this season, scoring 15 goals and providing 10 assists in all competitions. A magnificent dribbler who’s virtually impossible to stop when he’s on song, the former Lille forward is the first name on our team sheet.
Marcus Rashford (Man United)
One of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first moves as Manchester United manager was to make Rashford the spearhead of his attack – and the decision has paid off superbly. The England international has caught the eye with his intelligent movement and pinpoint finishing, scoring frequently but also showcasing his creativity qualities with regular forays down the flanks.
Gonzalo Higuain is a little unfortunate to miss out given his stellar CV, but he’s not yet done enough at Chelsea – nor in an underwhelming loan spell at Milan at the start of 2018/19 – to get the nod over one of the Premier League’s most in-form players.
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