It’s been a long time coming but Rafa Benitez has finally been sacked as Everton manager and the fans couldn’t be happier.
The former Liverpool manager was the most unwanted man on Merseyside after being appointed in the summer, with fans unwilling to accept that he had changed allegiances.
But after six-and-a-half months in charge and just one win in 13 Premier League games, his reign at Goodison Park is no more.
Roberto Martinez has been linked as the number one choice to take over on an interim basis until the end of the season, but The Athletic and Liverpool Echo report that is highly unlikely with the Belgian FA unwilling to release him from his contract early.
The next favourite for the role is the club legend and arguably best ever player Wayne Rooney, who is currently cutting his teeth with Derby in the Championship.
On paper, it’s an easy decision for Rooney. Derby were deducted 21 points earlier this season due to entering administration and breaking FFP rules before he was boss.
Their future is still up in the air, with the club unable to sign anyone and even losing Phil Jagielka this month because the club couldn’t provide any sort of plan to the EFL that they would be able to fulfil every game from now until the end of the season.
Compare that to Everton who have a billionaire owner and are desperate to get into Europe once again it seems like an easy decision to make.
But what Rooney has achieved with Derby so far is something far greater than he could possibly achieve at Everton.
Rooney has somehow managed to get Derby off the bottom of the Championship table despite the points deduction and has created a morale in the dressing room and a spirit that has people genuinely believing they could avoid relegation.
If he succeeds, it will arguably be the greatest achievement of his footballing career. If he fails, his stock can only go up with the job he’s done so far despite the circumstances.
If he went to Everton, everything changes. He’ll be expected to lift them from their poor position quickly and if he fails then the money the club have and the ability of his credentials will get questioned.
As it stands Rooney can’t lose. He’s an inexperienced coach in a side that have no right to survive, and yet they have a very real chance of doing so.
He should stay with the Rams and ignore the managerial cemetery that is Goodison Park for now. He will have more opportunities throughout his career and no doubt will be linked with the Everton job at every opportunity.
Wait it out and learn your trade with less pressure at Pride Park, would be my advice to Rooney.
It was announced earlier this week that Barcelona youngster Pedri was the winner of the 19th edition of the coveted ‘Golden Boy’ award.
The award is handed to the best Under-21 player in Europe’s top leagues based on a vote by sports journalists, based on the performances during the calendar year.
Looking through the list of previous winners, there have been some hits and misses as to how their careers ended up. But who is the best? Who is the worst? I’ve ranked them all, starting with the worst.
The Brazilian was one of the most exciting prospects to come out of Brazil when he joined AC Milan but after an impressive couple of years, injuries took their toll and Pato never made the impact he was meant to. It might strike you to realise he is only 32 these days, but plays in the MLS with Orlando.
If you look at Anderson’s CV, there’s an argument that he shouldn’t be this low down. But when you consider that injuries absolutely battered him throughout his career and most of those accolades came due to being part of an amazing squad, he has to be near the bottom.
The Italian broke onto the scene with Inter Milan, but a career that has been clouded in controversy didn’t go without it’s moments. The ‘Why Always Me?’, the fireworks, the fights with the manager are balanced out with the assist for *that* Aguero goal and his Euro 2012 performances get him off the bottom.
The Manchester United man is only 25-years-old as of this writing, but he’s really failed to kick on since winning this award in 2015. He’s lost that X-factor he had when he first moved to Old Trafford and while he’s got time to turn it around still, at his current trajectory he’d be considered a disappointment.
Rafael Van der Vaart
The inaugral winner of the award was a star for Ajax before earning himself a move to Real Madrid via Hamburg. But under the brightest of lights he struggled to really make an impact and the rest of his career was spent as being the best player in relatively mediocre sides.
The star of a young Benfica side who helped Portugal to their first ever international trophy at Euro 2016, Sanches looked destined for greatness. A poor move to Bayern Munich and injuries have stalled his development and while he finally looks to be getting back to a high level, it’s too early to have him above some of these guys in the list.
There may not be a more iconic career moment from anyone on this list than Gotze scoring the winning goal in the World Cup final during extra-time in 2014. Since then though it’s been downhill, with injuries and a loss of form seeing him become a shadow of his former self. He’s only 29 now, but he plays for PSV in the Eredivisie.
2021’s winner gets into this list at this height simply because it’s far too early to put him any higher or lower. His career has been strictly high points thus far, becoming a key member of the Barcelona team and putting in amazing performances during Euro 2020 to help Spain to the semi-finals. If he continues at this level, he will be one of the best in the world without a doubt.
Matthijs De Ligt
The only defender to win the award, De Ligt is still considered one of the best young defenders in the world. After helping Ajax to the Champions League semi-finals as their teenage captain, he earned a move to Juventus where he’s failed to rip up any trees but has maintained a steady level of performances. There’s definitely more to come from the Dutchman.
Felix blew up with his performances for Benfica in the Europa League and earned a nine-figure move to Atletico Madrid. Since moving though, injuries and a style of play that doesn’t really suit him have seen him stagnate. We’ve seen some top level performances in that time though, so we know the talent is still there.
The Spanish playmaker was a superstar in the making and was a key member of the Spain and Real Madrid side for years, with his brilliant guile and technical ability on show regularly. He’s won it all but the last few years have seen him barely touch the pitch and that will affect his legacy somewhat. A top player though, without doubt.
2020’s winner is currently regarded as one of the best strikers in the world despite being just the tender age of 21. His phenomenal goalscoring record has got everyone’s attention and the ease with which he’s taken to top level football is a sight to behold. He has got a long and successful career ahead of him, without a doubt.
The Manchester City and England winger won the award during his time at Anfield as a Liverpool player and hasn’t looked back since. He is the City player with the most goals under Pep Guardiola, has won everything at club level except the Champions League and even helped England to their best tournament finish since 1966 at Euro 2020. A superstar.
Despite his time in England since returning to Manchester United splitting opinions on him, Pogba’s talent is and always has been undeniable. He broke into a title winning Juventus team, is a leader at international level and scored in a World Cup final. His United stint may be up for debate, but his career is not.
Fabregas has had success everywhere he has been until he moved to Monaco, but the levels he reached during his prime have him down as one of the best midfielders of his generation. He won everything there is to win at club level and international level, while being a key player in every success and will be remembered greatly despite the winding down of his career at a relatively young age.
The man with the most iconic moment in Premier League history, Aguero’s legacy as a world class footballer is undeniable. He is the player with the most hat-tricks in Premier League history, the most goals in Man City history, the most goals by a foreign player in Premier League history and he’s top three goalscorers in Argentinian national team history. Unfortunately forced to retire early due to heart problems, but he will go down as a great.
Mbappe is only 22-years-old at the time of writing this, but his legacy is already solidified. He won the league with Monaco as a teenager against a dominant PSG side, then switched to Paris to become a cornerstone of their recent success. He’s won golden boots, trophies and even became the youngest player since Pele to score in a World Cup final. The scary thing is, he’s only getting better too.
It’s crazy to think that some people believe Wayne Rooney never fulfilled his potential despite ending his career as the all-time top goalscorer for Manchester United and England. He won it all at club level, playing several positions and is the owner of several iconic moments. A world class footballer and one of the best his country has ever produced, he was a true golden boy.
There was no other option for the number one ranking of this award, because the greatest player of all-time won it back in 2005. The only ‘Golden Boy’ to go on to win the Ballon d’Or, he has gone on to do everything except win a World Cup and his legacy will transcend generations. Without a doubt the greatest I’ve ever seen, it’s a no brainer that he sits at number one on this list.
Phil Foden put in a performance worthy of all the superlatives as Manchester City ended their Anfield hoodoo with a 4-1 thrashing over Liverpool on Sunday night.
The champions hosted the current league leaders and the opening half was a tight affair, with Ilkay Gundogan missing a penalty to put the visitors ahead. Just four minutes into the second half though the German did score, tapping the rebound from Foden’s well saved shot.
Liverpool pulled one back from the penalty spot through Mohamed Salah’s 16th league goal of the season, before Foden really took over. A mistake from goalkeeper Alisson saw the ball land at the feet of Foden on the edge of the box, before he dribbled through challenges from Jordan Henderson and Andrew Robertson before cutting it back for Gundogan to get his second.
Raheem Sterling scored a third from close range after another Alisson error allowed Bernardo Silva to set up a tap in for him, before Foden put the exclamation point on the result with a stunning solo goal. The 20-year-old picked up the ball on the right wing, drove at Robertson and dropped his shoulder to shift the ball onto his left foot before rocketing a strike into the top corner.
It was a man of the match performance from the City academy graduate, who has really come into his own this season since the departure of David Silva. His strike in this game made it 10 for the season for City, the best return of his career so far and his dazzling form means the club are barely noticing that Kevin De Bruyne is currently unavailable through injury.
Whether it be in central positions as it was for most of this game, or from either wing, or even from a midfield position, Foden has shown a maturity to his game at 20 that many don’t possess even in their 30’s. He seems to make the right decisions all the time, is productive in the final third but also has even more to give.
We’ve seen him work hard for the team defensively, as he showed at Anfield late on tracking back on a counter before winning the ball back and being fouled. We’ve seen him hold the ball up to earn fouls as he did in the second half to get Fabinho booked. We’ve seen him assist, score and be involved in goals all season long too.
Despite being only 5ft 7′, he is able to physically hold his own in duels and despite not being blessed with rapid speed he can beat defenders in one on one situations.
Considering he has over 100 appearances for Manchester City to his name already and is capped by England despite not establishing himself as a regular in the team until this season, calling Foden special is not out of the question.
Despite the likes of Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and more recently Mason Greenwood coming through and showing an insanely high level of skill and quality, for me Foden is the best England have produced since Wayne Rooney.
Before we get too far into it, “all-time” is defined by the life span of the Premier League in this instance to try and keep it as fair as possible. Anyone who played in Serie A or the Premier League between August 1992 and today was eligible to be selected, but I selected the players I saw most of and believe were the best.
I think it’s widely accepted that in the 1990’s, Serie A was the place to be if you were a world class footballer.
Italy started the decade by hosting the World Cup and losing in the semi-finals to Argentina in extra-time. It was the end of an era but also the start of one, as they began to bring through incredible youth players all over the pitch that would go on to become world champions in 2006.
Their domestic league was as competitive as always too. There have been five different winners since the 1992/93 season but a huge 12 clubs have finished in the top 3 positions since then too.
They have been blessed with some of the greatest talent of all time, and yet the majority of them won’t make it into this team.
The likes of Cafu, Chiellini, Thuram, Davids, De Rossi, Gattuso, Zidane, Kaka, Ibrahimovic, Shevchenko and Baggio all saw their primes in Serie A and yet they won’t make it into this lineup for me. I’m aware you’ll all shout at me in the comments or on Twitter, but it is what it is.
The Premier League on the other hand has managed to grab the tag-line “best league in the world” over the last 20 odd years and it’s hard to argue sometimes. Some of the all-time great players plied their trade in England, while some of the greatest teams in recent history have also come from England.
Much like Serie A, some superstar names will miss out in this team too. Players like Schmeichel, Irwin, Lauren, Campbell, Van Dijk, Carvalho, Evra, Vieira, Giggs, Gerrard, Lampard, Yaya Toure, David Silva, De Bruyne, Fabregas, Beckham, Owen, Fowler, van Nistelrooy, Cantona, Bergkamp, Suarez, Hazard and Salah won’t be involved.
So lets take a look at who is involved, shall we?
In goal, it’s a battle between two legends. Gianluigi Buffon was the only logical pick for Serie A’s team, with over 650 appearances. He has won the title a record ten titles too, making him the only possible option.
For the Premier League, Petr Cech gets the nod. The former Chelsea and Arsenal stopper’s prime was one of the most unreal things I ever witnessed, with Cech conceding just 15 goals in his first Premier League season followed by just 22 the following year and won the title four times.
In front of them will be two of the greatest defences you could possibly build from that generation.
Javier Zanetti and Gary Neville are two long-serving, former captains of their respective clubs where they spent almost their entire careers. Zanetti is the Inter Milan player with the most appearances for the club in history, while Gary Neville came through the academy and retired at Manchester United. Both were excellent defenders in their prime, too. Zanetti was an athletic, strong full-back who’s technical quality allowed him to move into midfield for a spell in his career. Neville was a bit more basic without the athleticism, but had a wicked delivery and was a solid one on one defender.
On the left, you have two of the best defenders in history. While Paolo Maldini is most often referred to as a centre-back, I saw him mostly at left back for Milan and he was incredible. Strong in the tackle, an excellent reader of the game, perfect timing and great technically. He’s only bettered in that role in history to me by the Premier League’s pick – Ashley Cole. The former Arsenal and Chelsea man had a very short spell in Serie A with Roma, but his peak came in the Premier League as part of Arsenal’s Invincibles and then with Chelsea’s Champions League winning side.
In the middle, I can’t think of two more complete central defender pairings you could make in my lifetime. Alessandro Nesta and Rio Ferdinand are, to me, the two best centre backs I’ve ever seen. Alongside them you’d have Fabio Cannavao, the 2006 Ballon d’Or winner and World Cup winning captain, and John Terry. Terry was incredibly underrated for his ability on the ball with both feet, but was also imperious in the air in both boxes and willing to put his body on the line to block a shot like any Italian defender would be proud to do.
Central midfield was probably the hardest decision I had to make for the Premier League team. So many world class options, but in the end I opted for a duo that won more Premier League titles together than any other.
Roy Keane and Paul Scholes were the perfect blend of force, finesse, intensity and goal threat that you’d need in a side. Keane was a stud of a ball winner, but also had energy to go box-to-box, while Scholes was able to be a threat in the final third or dictate play from a deeper position if necessary.
For Serie A it’s a mixture of finesse and technique, as Andrea Pirlo and Clarence Seedorf reunite. The two played together for both Milan sides, but most notably in the red half for AC. Seedorf was the total package and could play any midfield role to perfection, much like Scholes, while Pirlo was more about keeping the ball moving and using his technique rather than physical attributes in comparison to Keane.
Attack for the Premier League was probably quite easy in the end. While some top stars missed out, there were no four players who deserved their spot more than these.
Recently retired Wayne Rooney was the ultimate number ten in the Premier League and to this day is the only player to have ever scored over 200 goals AND assisted over 100 goals. Around him, are the three of the best to ever touch the league. Cristiano Ronaldo started his career on the right but moved to the left and became a goalscoring demon before joining La Liga and eventually Serie A.
His ability to go either way while also being a threat aerially and from range mean he can play anywhere along the front line and still produce, so he slots in there. On the left is arguably the most complete striker of his generation in Thierry Henry.
Normally I’d put Henry up front because that’s where he became Arsenal and France’s all-time top goalscorer from, but he had a preference of drifting out wide and using his lightning pace to get in behind defences. That also allows me to put Alan Shearer up front.
The all-time top goalscorer in the division with 260 goals, nobody has come close to matching that number. He holds almost all the goalscoring records you can think of in England’s top flight and in his prime, was one of the best strikers in the world.
For Serie A, the conversation is much the same. Two of Italy’s golden attackers of all-time will sit just behind the strikers, with Alessandro Del Piero and Francesco Totti taking the creative mantles in the side. Agility, skill, vision, technique, power and finesse, between them they had it all.
Ahead of them are probably my two favourite strikers ever. Batigol, Gabriel Batistuta, who made a name for himself by trying to rip nets when he scored goals because of the pure power he could hit a ball with, had everything in his game to trouble a top defence on his own. Now pair him up with the GOAT, Ronaldo Nazario. El Fenomeno. R9.
The man was at his absolute best for Inter Milan during the 90’s before a knee injury took away his explosiveness. Even after that he scored goals for fun wherever he went and his inclusion was a no brainer.
The career of the greatest English player of all-time has come to an end, as Wayne Rooney officially retired from playing to become the permanent manager of Derby County.
Rooney has been in caretaker charge of the Rams since mid-Novemeber when Philip Cocu was sacked, but he’s now signed a new two-and-a-half year contract to take charge permanently. This has made his call time on a playing career that saw him become the all-time top goalscorer of both Manchester United and England.
The Red Devils saw the best of Rooney’s career, as he spent 13 years at the club before eventually moving on. He also represented Everton, his boyhood club, twice as well as DC United in the MLS and Derby as a player.
He is the only player in Premier League history to have scored over 200 goals and registered over 100 assists, putting him in the conversation with the best players the league has ever seen.
Overall, Rooney scored over 350 career goals for club and country. But which were his best? Here’s my top five* Wayne Rooney goals..
*I’ve left out my personal favourite Wayne Rooney goal because while I love a cheeky dinked finish, it doesn’t quite match up to the outright, undeniable quality of the five selected.
5. Halfway line (again) – Everton 3-0 West Ham, 2017
Not many players can say they scored from the halfway line during their career. Rooney can say he did it three times, once for each club he played for, and twice against West Ham.
This one was the best of the bunch though, as he struck a moving ball low and hard into the back of the net. He kept the ball relatively low, but still got it over the heads of two defenders and with enough pace on it to beat the keeper.
Oh, and it completed his hat-trick in the game too for added measure.
4. Naughty chip – Manchester United 2-0 Portsmouth (FA Cup), 2007
Rooney was a losing FA Cup finalist twice during his time at Manchester United, before finally winning the competition as captain under Louis van Gaal.
That didn’t stop him scoring some memorable goals in the competition though, including this absolute beauty against Portsmouth in 2007. As United led into the final ten minutes and were looking to see the game out, Rooney collected the ball outside the box and just delicately lifted a chip over the head of David James and in off the crossbar to seal progression into the next round. Eric Cantona-esque.
3. “Remember the name.. Wayne Rooney!” – Everton 2-1 Arsenal, 2002
The goal that started it all.
Five days short of his 17th birthday Rooney stepped onto the Goodison Park pitch as a substitute against the mighty Arsenal, who were in the midst of a 30 game unbeaten run in the Premier League. The Gunners took the lead before Everton equalised and then Rooney had the final say on the day.
He controlled a pass that dropped over his shoulder, before shifting the ball out of his feet and then curling a stunning 25-yard strike into the top corner off the crossbar. The commentary said it all, “remember the name.. Wayne Rooney!”
2. Angry volley – Manchester United 2-1 Newcastle United, 2005
During Wayne Rooney’s early years at Old Trafford, there was nothing scarier as a defender than when he got wound up.
Newcastle found that out first hand when calls kept going against him during this game. He was in the middle of an argument with the referee about not getting a decision when the ball got sent forward defence, only for the Newcastle defender to try and head it away straight into his path. Rooney ran onto the ball and tried to put it through the net with a scorching volley, which swerved from wide of the post to into the top corner for an absolutely stunning goal.
We still see repeats to this day, and we watch every time.
1. You know the one.. – Manchester United 2-1 Manchester City, 2012
Not much to say about this goal really, is there?
A Manchester derby against the noisy neighbours who were really starting to stir things up, Rooney took it upon himself to win this game with a moment of magic that just defined his career.
Paul Scholes switched the play out to Nani, who delivered a cross behind Rooney who was rushing in on goal. Instead of letting it go behind him, Rooney stopped and swung his feet above his head and struck a bicycle kick so purely into the top corner that Joe Hart could only stand and watch.
The greatest goal in Premier League history, by one of the most complete players in Premier League history.
It was another name who made the most impact in England’s 4-0 win over Iceland on Wednesday night, as Manchester City youngster Phil Foden scored his first two international goals to take the limelight.
Foden is seen as part of the next generation by many but to me he is already good enough to be the centrepiece of this current side.
Since 2017 when he first broke into the Manchester City senior squad, he has impressed every time he’s played. He is tidy technically, wise beyond his years on and off the ball and a fantastic decision maker when placed in a scenario where he needs to think quickly.
At 20 years old he is now starting to feature more regularly for Man City and is becoming a regular in the England squad, having been picked in two of the last three squads – his only absence being through punishment.
Despite world class talent like Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling in the squad, Foden has the versatility to play in several positions and using him as the centrepiece wouldn’t necessarily mean he has to knock one of them out of the side.
Foden’s international career is likely to last beyond another decade so why not start the process now as he gets better and better?
Much like Wayne Rooney at Euro 2004, he wasn’t the top figure in the side but he took the burden on his shoulders and ran with it. Foden is more than capable of doing the same thing.
Put Foden into a central position in the team, where his creative and technical qualities can shine the most and watch him thrive. Don’t put him out wide and waste those incredible qualities in the way England did with someone like Joe Cole.
He’s good enough to be involved and will be good enough to be the man. Don’t wait, pull the trigger. Build the England national team around Phil Foden. Now.
England’s ‘golden generation’ is said to be from World Cup 2002 up until their failure to qualify for Euro 2008.
Some world class footballers represented their nation during that period of time, but they failed to make it past a quarter-final stage of any major tournament during that time under Sven-Goran Eriksson and Steve McClaren.
The current England side managed by Gareth Southgate finished fourth at their only World Cup together so far, finished third in the UEFA Nations League and are one of the favourites going into Euro 2020 next summer with a new golden generation on their way through the ranks.
So who would win if they were to face off in a one-off game today?
For the ‘golden generation’ the starting line-up essentially picked itself back then. There were the odd changes, with Sol Campbell involved at centre-back and left midfield often chopped and changed too. Central midfield had options like Owen Hargreaves, Michael Carrick and even Paul Scholes at one point all vying but it was Lampard and Gerrard who were more often than not selected together. A young, dynamic and fearless Wayne Rooney was up front alongside the legendary Michael Owen too to provide a huge goal threat.
These days, England’s biggest weakness is central midfield which was arguably the older teams’ greatest strength. The likes of Henderson and Winks have plenty of big-game experience, with Henderson having won the Premier League and Champions League in the last two years. Going forward, Harry Kane is on course to smash Wayne Rooney’s record as all-time top goalscorer for the national team, while Raheem Sterling and Jadon Sancho are among the best wide players in the game today. The depth in attack is fantastic too, with Marcus Rashford and youngsters such as Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood making the breakthrough to regulars in the international setup. Defensively though, they’re a shambles. Ben Chilwell is the only left-back with any shred of quality even close to being ready for international football at the moment, while Harry Maguire is a guaranteed starter despite his obvious flaws. At right-back, there is plenty of depth but only one man can play and Kyle Walker has proven to be the regular pick for Southgate, despite the emergence of Trent Alexander-Arnold over the last two-and-a-half years.
In goal, both sides have mediocre No.1’s with Paul Robinson and Jordan Pickford. Overall, both squads have holes but they’re very different.
The current side’s biggest issues are all personnel wise and just a lack of quality or experience for the level. The 02-08 sides biggest issues are the managers and formations deployed instead. In this day and age, it’s so difficult to play 442 without being overrun in midfield. Even with the lack of quality in the current England side, they would likely be able to hold onto the ball much better and look to cause problems with a sheer volume of control.
Defensively, individually, England’s defence was absolutely world-class and club partnerships were able to be re-made. Despite this, Robinson’s presence behind them was poor and the lack of midfield structure often saw them well beaten against the better sides.
It would be a fascinating tie in all honesty, with the pace and energy of the new school able to get at the 02-08 defence several times, but the sheer quality of the team back then would likely be able to edge a win. Wayne Rooney in that time period was one of the best footballers in the world and Michael Owen was lethal, while David Beckham was also at the peak of his powers.
When systems get cancelled out it tends to come down to the individual quality of the players on the pitch and for that reason I think the ‘golden generation’ would be able to scrape a win in a very tightly contested fixture.
Since the turn of the century, the English Premier League has largely been dominated by the two giants in the north – and we’re not talking about Liverpool.
Manchester, red or blue, have been responsible for 11 title wins since the beginning of the 2000/01 season – more than any other city in the country. Both clubs have dominant dominant eras, with Sir Alex Ferguson leading the charge between 2006-2009, winning three Premier League titles in a row and adding in a Champions League triumph for Manchester United. The Citizens’ dominant era was much more recently though, when Pep Guardiola led his side to back-to-back Premier League titles – smashing the 100pts barrier in the process.
Both sides are deemed as one of the greatest the Premier League has ever seen. Fans and pundits are constantly arguing about which side was better and who would win in a one-off match. So we broke it down.
The Red Devils were such a versatile outfit that it’s hard to pin down how they’d line-up for a game like this, unlike when we broke down Arsenal’s Invincibles vs Liverpool’s 19/20 Champions. I expect they’d go with their trusted 4-3-3 formation that brought them so much joy in big games. United’s defence was very solid throughout the campaign, which showed as they started over 30 games together that season. In midfield the English trio of Owen Hargreaves, Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes brought control, energy, bite and creativity as they were able to adapt their aim in the game depending on the opponent. Up front, arguably the best trio in Premier League history as Cristiano Ronaldo was partnered by the two world class work-horses Carlos Tevez and Wayne Rooney.
This set-up allowed the front three to roam about at their own free will in attack but assured they were always covered if they lost the ball. Ronaldo would often find himself in the centre forward role despite starting on the left, while traditional central players Rooney and Tevez would use their tremendous conditioning to cover him out wide. It got the best out of Ronaldo, with the Portuguese equalling the record of 31 league goals in a 38 game season, which would stand until Mo Salah broke the record for Liverpool in 2017/18.
Man City’s team was a similar shape, but much more focused on possession play and just completely overwhelming their opponents. Full-backs Kyle Walker and Fabian Delph would tuck into “inverted” roles to allow the wingers to stay high and wide, while giving space to the two midfield playmakers Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva in advanced positions. Fernandinho would often slot in between the two centre-backs and City would form a block in the opposition’s final third in an attempt to prevent counter attacks. Any time a counter would break through, they would usually take a ‘tactical foul’ approach to bring it to an immediate halt and start the process all over again.
While Man City would almost certainly hog the ball in this fixture, it’s nothing Fergie’s side wouldn’t be used to. En route to their Champions League triumph, they took on the mighty Barcelona. Frank Rijkaard’s side employed a similar style and had similar levels of talent in their squad at the time with the likes of Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o, Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta all regulars. Just a year before Pep’s Barcelona beat United with a very similar core side in the following Champions League final, the Old Trafford side kept back-to-back clean sheets in the two-legged semi-final clash beating them 1-0 on aggregate thanks to a Paul Scholes wonder strike.
This shows they’re more than capable of defending against the best, while still maintaining a threat on the counter attack. Ronaldo, Rooney and co. ripped Arsenal apart on the counter the following season, famously thrashing them in their own Emirates back yard.
Man City are no pushovers though. En route to their unprecedented century, they beat Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea home and away. They also beat Liverpool 5-0 at home and Man Utd at Old Trafford. They smashed the record for most goals scored in a season, with 106 in 38 games and conceded just 29 times. The front three of Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane banded together for a combined 49 goals and 32 assists in the league, while Kevin De Bruyne led the assists charts with 16 of his.
It would be the ultimate tactical clash and while Guardiola has gotten the better of Sir Alex Ferguson on every occasion they’ve met as managers, this would be a different encounter. This United side was so versatile and capable of controlling a game or soaking up pressure and countering. While Man City were phenomenal going forward, defensively they were always a little bit exposed. With three top forwards and a genuinely fantastic midfield, United would have the perfect remedy to City’s possession game and I expect they’d take the win based on that.