The greatest combined Man Utd and Liverpool XI of the 21st century - including big Giggs and Torres calls

As Liverpool v Manchester United looms, who will make our combined XI from both clubs' best players of the century?
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One of English football’s greatest rivalries returns this Sunday when Liverpool welcome Manchester United to Anfield for a battle between the two most successful clubs in the country’s history. Regardless of how well both teams are doing at the time, it’s one of those games that always has a big match feel to it – and United’s travails under Erik ten Hag won’t change that this weekend, even if the two teams’ ambitions are slightly different right now. For Liverpool, it’s about the title. For United, it’s about desperately scraping a couple of coherent performances together and getting back into the top four by any means necessary. A defeat for either will be a pretty big blow to their ambitions.

But never mind all that, because if nothing else Liverpool v United is always a great excuse to compare the many, many great players both sides have had and start a good old-fashioned argument about it. So with that in mind, the 3 Added Minutes team – all neutrals in this affair, we should note – have had a lively debate and come up with their greatest combined XI from both sides made up of players who graced the turf of Anfield and Old Trafford since the turn of the century. Perfect fodder for a pre-match argument, we’re sure you’ll agree.

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We’ve cobbled this together in a somewhat aggressive but probably not completely imbalanced 4-2-3-1 formation, and while raw stats have played some part in our selection, a fair amount of this team has been selected on vibes as much as anything else. We so look forward to the angry e-mails.

Goalkeeper – Alisson

For all that everyone knows that he’s a damned good goalkeeper, we still don’t think Alisson quite gets his due. After all, some people still insists on comparing him to Ederson despite being miles ahead of his Brazilian rival on practically every statistical metric. Well, except trophies won, admittedly.

He’s got a better save percentage that David de Gea while being much better with the ball at his feet, is a more commanding figure than Pepe Reina ever was, and is generally simply one of the best goalkeepers ever to have played in the Premier League. Had Peter Schmeichel played for United past 1999, we might have had the fuel for a proper debate, but we think Alisson is pretty clearly the best glovesman to have played for either side since.

Left-back – Patrice Evra

The left-back slot basically boils down to a battle between Evra and Andrew Robertson, and as good a player as the Scotsman is, Evra was simply the best left-back in the world for a few years – years which happened to coincide with one of United’s many periods of domination.

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Robertson can probably claim to be more dangerous in the final third, but Evra’s all-round game is unmatched and he offered plenty going forward while remaining exceptionally tight at the back, with brilliant positional sense and rock solid judgement in the tackle. Few left-backs have been able to control their side of the field from one end of the pitch to the other with the kind of assurance that Evra did in his pomp.

Centre-back – Rio Ferdinand

A pioneering defender in some ways, Ferdinand laid the blueprint for the modern ball-playing centre-half who was just as happy dribbling the ball past opposing players and into midfield as he was heading crosses out of the box for days on end.

Ferdinand was one of the great all-round defenders of his time, with cracking technique and immaculate judgement in the tackle – his famously low tally of yellow cards was testament to how rarely he set a foot wrong when he was put one-on-one. Trying to find weaknesses in prime Rio is a bit like trying to find faults with the Mona Lisa. A truly great player who probably makes an all-time Premier League XI fairly comfortably.

Centre-back – Virgil van Dijk

Yes, United fans, we know you’re angry that this isn’t Nemanja Vidic. That’s tough, because as rugged as the Serbian was, we don’t think he quite hit the heights Van Dijk did during Liverpool’s Premier League and Champions League runs, a time at which the Dutchman was arguably the best defender in the world.

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Immense in the air, faultless on the ground and famously impossible to dribble past, Van Dijk was an absolutely colossal figure for a couple of years, without whom Liverpool would surely not have won as many major trophies as they did. Arguably the single most important man in either team at any point since the turn of the millennium – everyone else might have been replaceable, but the Reds would have been nothing without Van Dijk.

Right-back – Gary Neville

Another two-way contest, this one, and it comes down to whether you value Neville’s defensive nous or Trent Alexander-Arnold’s gung-ho attacking contributions more highly. We’ve decided to go all Gareth Southgate on this one and say that we’d like our defenders to be able to make a tackle nine times out of ten rather than have them pinging the ball around in the opponents’ half.

And lest we forget, Neville was pretty handy going forward too, and in particular had a wicked deep cross on him. He was England’s uncontested first-choice right-back for what felt like an eternity for a very good reason, after all, and even if you find him a little insufferable on Sky Sports at times that doesn’t change the fact that he was the best all-round full-back in the league for quite some time.

Central midfield – Roy Keane

Absolutely no question about this one – Keane’s best years may have come in the nineties but he was still an indomitable presence in United’s midfield through to 2005 and never seemed to let his standards slip for one moment. If Keane can seem like a rather difficult man to impress now he’s in the punditry game, we can at least say that he always held himself to the same high standards.

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An excellent passer, a superb reader of the game and lethal in the tackle (almost literally if you were Alf-Inge Haaland), Keane gave nothing up game after game and was one of very few players who put the fear of god into his opponents, winning midfield battles via psychological warfare almost as often as he did by virtue of his skills. You can have an argument about whether Patrick Vieira was better, if you like, but Liverpool haven’t had a player who can seriously be argued as better than Keane was.

Central midfield – Steven Gerrard

Liverpool’s midfield general and their finest player in the first decade of the century, and arguably beyond – their 2005 Champions League-winning captain is a shoe-in for the team not just for his quality but also for his ability to link midfield and attack with maximum effort and minimal fuss.

Whether he was producing turnovers, pinging inch-perfect cross-field balls 40 yards or more, or just smashing the ball into the roof of the net with the kind of punishing force that made it seem like he had a vendetta against the football, he was seldom less than brilliant. Except for that one time he slipped, of course. Nobody’s perfect.

Left wing – Sadio Mané

You know how we said this team was selected partly on vibes? Well, that’s why we didn’t pick Ryan Giggs. Yes, he was brilliant. No, we wouldn’t particularly want him in our dressing room. Instead, we’ll take Mané, who combined guile and goals with being a very nice bloke indeed.

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It’s also fair to point out that he scored more than Giggs and will offer our team a bit of extra lethality in the box, while his dribbling skills hardly left too much to be desired. His knack for setting up lightning-fast give-and-goes in the area was also ridiculously effective, so this isn’t a selection based purely on our distaste for the Welsh winger as a person – Mané was a brilliant player whose best years all came at Anfield.

Number ten – Wayne Rooney

You can argue over whether Rooney was at his best in a deeper role or as an out-and-out striker, but there’s no question that he deserves a place in our combined team. One of the most audacious and skilful forwards ever to grace the Premier League, a talisman for United for many years, and a great goalscorer – as well as a scorer of truly great goals.

Even if Liverpool had a player with a similar profile who could hold a candle to him – and they don’t, partly because Jürgen Klopp doesn’t really go in for traditional number tens – they certainly don’t have anyone in their history who can hold a candle to Rooney’s Twitter game. To any Liverpool fans who don’t think he should be in this team, we can only say “shut it you egg.”

Right wing – Mohamed Salah

The Egyptian is arguably the best player from the last decade or so of English top-flight football, and his endless stream of goals and assists, most of which have come with a bamboozled defender or two trailing in his wake, have made him one of the most feared players in the Premier League. There was no way he wasn’t making this team.

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Lightning fast, with a brilliant first touch and unerring finishing, there’s almost nothing negative you can say about Salah’s game – “he didn’t deserve to win the Puskas Award back in 2018” is just about the nastiest accurate comment you could make. A great player who will leave the league a slightly less exciting place when his time at Liverpool comes to an end.

Centre-forward – Ruud van Nistelrooy

This was probably the toughest pick of the lot. Both sides have had so many great strikers down the years – how do you split hairs between Michael Owen and Robin van Persie, or decide whether Fernando Torres or Luis Suárez was Liverpool’s best forward in their prime? The answer is that you don’t bother. You just count up the goals.

Van Nistelrooy broke several scoring records during his time at Old Trafford and surged past 20 goals in all four of the seasons in which he was fully fit and able to play at his best. His 95 league goals in 150 games is a ridiculous mark, and none of the obvious rivals for this role scored as many, as consistently. Owen can come on a super-sub when the Dutchman gets a little tired, if that makes any Liverpool fans feel a little better about it.

So there we have it – seven United players, four from Liverpool. We can only promise that nobody involved in the making of this team has any biases, except perhaps for a distaste for a certain Welsh wideman. If you still want to send us some rude messages, the contact details are on the website somewhere… feel free, the replies will give us a good giggle over Christmas.