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Combined XI: Manchester City vs. Liverpool

Ahead of Thursday's mouth-watering showdown between Manchester City and Liverpool, Sports Mole selects its strongest combined XI from both squads.

Champions Manchester City host unbeaten league leaders Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday knowing that it could be a make-or-break contest for their title hopes despite being their opening match of 2019.

Seven points separate the two sides going into the mouth-watering clash, with Liverpool having taken full advantage of a couple of City slip-ups over the festive period.

The Reds remain unbeaten this season and have won each of their last nine league games, whereas City have lost three of their last five outings - as many defeats as they suffered in their previous 70.

Here, Sports Mole selects a combined XI from the two squads using only players available on Thursday.

Combined XI: MNC vs. LIV

Every position in this team is fiercely contested, and it begins with the gloves. Compatriots Alisson Becker and Ederson are among the league's best goalkeepers, but it is Alisson who usually gets the nod for Brazil, and we are just siding with the Liverpool man too.

Guardiola has preferred Danilo to Kyle Walker at right-back for Man City in recent games, but both are trumped in this team by Trent Alexander-Arnold, who continues to go from strength to strength for Liverpool.

Liverpool dominate the defence having conceded only eight goals all season, with that form largely down to the influence of Virgil van Dijk. The likes of John Stones, Nicolas Otamendi, Vincent Kompany and Dejan Lovren provide stiff competition, but the second centre-back spot goes to Aymeric Laporte, who has established himself as City's number one defender this season.

Left-back is one of the easier positions to choose in this team with Man City missing Benjamin Mendy and Fabian Delph, although even with those two in contention Andrew Robertson would still get the nod having built a reputation as arguably the best in the league in his position.

The importance of Fernandinho was highlighted by City suffering defeats in back-to-back matches which he missed, but he returned last time out and beats the likes of Jordan Henderson, Naby Keita and Fabinho to a place in midfield.

More competition comes from Bernardo Silva, James Milner, Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin De Bruyne, the latter of whom would ordinarily be a sure-fire pick for any combined XI. However, the Belgian is a doubt for Thursday's game and has missed a large chunk of the season so far, opening the door for others.

On current form, Georginio Wijnaldum is Liverpool's most important midfielder - and Jurgen Klopp has plenty to choose from - while David Silva continues to prove his class on a weekly basis and remains one of the league's very best players.

There is plenty of quality to choose from up front too, so much so that Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, Leroy Sane, Riyad Mahrez and Gabriel Jesus are among the players to miss out.

Mohamed Salah simply has to make the team having picked up where he left off last season with 13 goals so far this term, but the presence of Sergio Aguero means that Salah is pushed out wide rather than in the central striking role he has enjoyed in recent weeks.

Former Liverpool man Raheem Sterling makes up the attacking trio having matched Aguero's tally of nine goals in the league so far this season and, while his form has tailed off slightly in recent weeks, he still warrants a spot ahead some of the league's other leading forwards.

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Kevin De Bruyne in action during the EFL Cup quarter-final game between Leicester City and Manchester City on December 18, 2018
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