Foden in and Sterling out: Chelsea lucky to have two inclusions in combined XI with Man City

Chelsea - Man City combined XI Credit: Alamy
Chelsea - Man City combined XI Credit: Alamy

The standout fixture this week is Chelsea’s match against Manchester City at Stamford Bridge on Thursday. Raheem Sterling faces his former employers as Graham Potter tries to pick up a positive result against one of the best clubs in world football. It is not looking good for the Blues and City will be highly motivated to reduce Arsenal’s lead at the top of the Premier League.

Nobody agreed with my combined Arsenal – West Ham XI, not a single soul. So why not ruffle some more feathers? Here is the best possible team consisting of City and Chelsea players. The likes of Reece James will not be included as he is ruled out of the match through injury.

 

GK: Ederson (Manchester City)
Chelsea have two goalkeepers that are good but also simultaneously very dodgy. Edouard Mendy could have made this team ahead of Ederson a couple of seasons ago but he has been rubbish since he won the African Cup of Nations with Senegal last year, and Kepa Arrizabalaga is certainly not better than the City No. 1.

Ederson is the best ball-playing goalkeeper in the world and has been extremely reliable since moving to England from Benfica for £35million in 2017. Only 29, which is young for a ‘keeper, the Brazil international has plenty of years ahead of him and due to his overall ability, it is hard to envision Pep Guardiola looking to replace him any time soon.

RB: Kyle Walker (Manchester City)
With Reece James ruled out after yet another injury setback, I had a very straightforward decision to make here.

The drop-off in quality whenever James is unavailable is alarming and Graham Potter should probably bring in a new right-back this month. Denzel Dumfries has been linked and Pedro Porro has a £40m release clause. Will we see one of these two playing at Stamford Bridge?

Walker is one of, if not the, best right-back in Premier League history and is still going strong for club and country. His return from injury just in time for the World Cup was a huge boost for England.

 

CB: Thiago Silva (Chelsea)
The first Chelsea player to make the team, Silva is still going strong at the age of 38. He is enjoying another stellar campaign at Stamford Bridge, even with his side struggling domestically.

Chelsea are a worse team without Silva, who perfectly suits Thomas Tuchel and Potter’s five-at-the-back system and it would not be much of a surprise to see the club extend his contract beyond the summer of 2023. Having said that, Todd Boehly absolutely loves spending money and the Blues are expected to complete the signing of Monaco’s Benoit Badiashile this month before going back in for Leipzig youngster Josko Gvardiol this summer.

 

CB: John Stones (Manchester City)
2020-21 Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year and Champions League Defender of the Season Ruben Dias would have comfortably made this team, but he is injured.

This leaves John Stones and Aymeric Laporte to choose from as both are superior to every other City centre-half and every single Chelsea one, except Silva. It was a hard choice to make. A 50/50 one I’d say, but with Laporte being doubtful for the match, I gave the edge to England international Stones.

 

LB: Joao Cancelo (Manchester City)
Ben Chilwell is injured and wouldn’t have got in this team anyway, and Marc Cucurella has not found his feet since his big-money move from Brighton in August, so this was an easy one.

There isn’t much to say about Cancelo that hasn’t been said already. He is playing out of position and thriving beyond belief. Those trivela crosses are beautiful to watch. Here’s hoping we see a trademark assist on Thursday.

 

DM: Rodri (Manchester City)
The best holding midfielder in the league? I think so. Even as an Arsenal fan who highly rates Thomas Partey.

Rodri is a fantastic footballer, so assured in possession and actually pretty solid defensively. He is someone who goes further than stats and while you think his role might be one of the easiest in the Premier League considering how dominant City are, you would be wrong.

 

CM: Mateo Kovacic (Chelsea)
There will probably be a few tears shed about this inclusion, but that is what helps me sleep at night. There is nothing more amusing to me than seeing people angrily tweet me, asking how the hell I have the job I do. Bliss.

I absolutely love Kovacic, he is my favourite Chelsea player and someone who is extremely underrated. He had a terrific World Cup with Croatia but went under the radar thanks to the brilliant Luka Modric, and often goes under the radar at club level as well. To say he is better than Jude Bellingham would be bold, but he is a similar player when it comes to his ball-carrying style, though it is the Englishman who receives widespread praise from fans, and rarely Kovacic.

Kevin De Bruyne obviously makes this team as the other central midfielder. Sorry for the horrible spoiler. So Kovacic gets in as my first CM at the expense of Bernardo Silva, Ilkay Gundogan and Kalvin Phillips. His Chelsea teammates who had to be considered – I say very, very loosely – were Jorginho, Mason Mount, Denis Zakaria, Conor Gallagher and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. N’Golo Kante – like James – is injured.

 

CM: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)
What a surprise this is, a real turn-up for the books.

You might think you are a bit old now Kevin, but you are brilliant, and don’t you ever forget it, mate.

 

RW: Bernardo Silva (Manchester City)
If you lost your sh*t after seeing Silva not make it as a central midfielder, it is time to take a deep breath and a sip of water, or absinthe, whatever floats your boat.

The Portuguese workhorse usually plays a more central role these days but has often played as a right-winger, and that is where I would want him to play if both of these teams were randomly combined for a match. I am a huge fan of Riyad Mahrez and have been since Leicester’s title-winning season in 15/16, but I think the second Silva here is slightly better, even out of position.

 

ST: Erling Haaland (Manchester City)
This was a really, really tough decision. Haaland joined City last summer and has performed in fits and starts. He has not quite found his feet yet and his scoring record leaves a lot to be desired, but I think the Norwegian is a smidgen better than Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Kai Havertz.

In all seriousness, nobody else stood a chance here, not even Haaland’s brilliant team-mate Julian Alvarez.

 

LW: Phil Foden (Manchester City)
I am a big fan of Raheem Sterling, but it would make literally no sense to start him here when City sold him last summer.

Sterling is a bigger goal threat than Foden and Grealish, but those two are arguably better players, with the latter yet to show why the Citizens paid £100m to sign him in 2021.

Anyway, less about two players I haven’t selected and more about Foden, who is my left-winger in this team. The 22-year-old recently said he sees himself as a No. 10 and England fans are desperate to see him play there under Gareth Southgate. Will it happen at Euro 2024? Probably not. But you never know.

Many were concerned about Foden’s development under heavy-spending Guardiola, none more than Mediawatch regular Neil Custis, who tweeted in October 2018 after the player signed a new contract: ‘Phil Foden agrees to sit on the bench for six years’. There was no need to be concerned, though. It is almost as if the best manager in the world knows what he is doing and can identify a future world-class footballer.

 

Manager: Pep Guardiola (Manchester City)
Well, this was probably the easiest decision to make.

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