In the first of a new series, we look at two sides in similar situations and try to make a combined XI from their squads (on loan players are excluded). Up first are two sides that look to be in transition and are struggling in the league – Manchester United and AC Milan…
This team has been set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation
David De Gea (Manchester United)
A couple of seasons ago this choice would be laughed at. De Gea has improved hugely since his intital mistake-strewn season and it’s a testament to how good he has become that no other keeper was considered for the slot. This season could have been a lot worse for United if they didn’t have De Gea in goals as he has been one of, if not, the best players for the club this season as he has pulled off important save after important save for United.
Ignazio Abate (AC Milan)
The first Milan player in the side is international full back Abate. A constant in the Milan side over the past few seasons, Abate is more experienced and a whole lot better than Rafael, Smalling, Jones and whoever else Manchester United decide to throw at right back. Abate is quick, attack minded and can do a decent enough job defensively to the point that you can feel comfortable he’s there.
Nemanja Vidic & Phil Jones (Manchester United)
This was perhaps the most difficult area to choose as Adil Rami (who would have been a lock for this team) is only on loan at Milan meaning he’s ineligible. Therefore, Jones is the next option to partner his club captain Vidic in this team. Vidic is, on his day, a quality centre back but he would be in this team to provide leadership at the back while Jones offers promise and a hard working attitude. He is also reasonably solid at the back which can’t be said for some of the other options. Philippe Mexes and Cristian Zapata are wildly unreliable, Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling are OK while Rio Ferdinand somehow still manages to convince people he can do a job despite performances on the contrary.
Mattia De Sciglio (AC Milan)
Milan’s young star has been chosen ahead of Patrice Evra for one simple reason – he’s a better defender. De Sciglio is naturally a right back but is comfortable on the left and has already broken into the Italian national side. Unlike Davide Santon before him though, De Sciglio is living up to the hype and consistently impressing for both club and country.
Nigel De Jong & Riccardo Montolivo (AC Milan)
Another tough area to choose was this one because the choices were not large – Michael Carrick is OK but is prone to being totally useless; Tom Cleverley is Tom Cleverley; Michael Essien is not what he used to be; Andrea Poli and Sulley Muntari are a bit ‘meh’; Darren Fletcher has been ill for what seems like an enternity and Marouane Fellaini is just a Belgian battering ram. Therefore, I chose the two best players – De Jong and Montolivo. De Jong has been one of Milan’s better players this season (not hard) and offers great protection to the back four while Montolivo, a man who has struggled to break away from the comparisons to Andrea Pirlo, will provide some class to the midfield and keep the side ticking over.
Juan Mata (Manchester United)
United’s big January signing was always a lock for this team. Chelsea’s Player of the Year for the last two seasons is unplayable at his best. He would start out on the right in this team to fit him in but would have licence to move inside and wreak havoc in the inside right channel as well as creating space for Abate to overlap. The other options were not highly thought of again – Nani is way too inconsistent; Antonio Valencia has seemingly lost all knowledge of what contributing on the pitch is and Keisuke Honda has done literally nothing for Milan.
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
Another lock for this side, Rooney has been much derided by the media for his outlandish wages and apparent wish to be treated like a king by United. That’s not to say that Rooney is not a fantastic player. He’s been the face of United for almost a decade and been in the side consistently. On his day there are few who can touch him and his knack for selflessly working himself into the ground makes him a valuable asset.
Kaka (AC Milan)
A former World Player of the Year, Kaka has enjoyed something of renaissance after returning to Milan. Generally considered to be finished, he has shown some of the old magic that terrorised Serie A defences as well as proving to be a leader and experienced head when Milan have needed him most. He narrowly beats Stephan El Shaarawy to this spot as El Shaarawy has been a non-factor for most of the season. He was considerably ahead of Ashley Young and Adnan Januzaj for the simple reason that both of those players are not that great.
Mario Balotelli (AC Milan)
The enigma that is Mario will lead the line. He is perhaps more notorious for his behaviour off the field but Balotelli is undoubtedly a world class striker. He almost singled handedly carried Milan into the Champions League last season and, despite copping some flak from fans this season, has already equalled his best goal tally with a number of games still to go. He gets the nod ahead of van Persie for his ability to bully defenders and cause them constant worry. Other options were swiftly rejected too – Javier Hernandez does not offer much in all-round play; Danny Welbeck is horrible; Robinho is even worse than that and Giampaolo Pazzini is average at best.
This is how the team shapes up:
That is the Manchester United/AC Milan Combined XI. Of course, if you have your own suggestions for this side then feel free to share them here or on Twitter (@LongBallFoot).