Which Man United players would get into Man City’s squad?

New minority owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe has a three-year plan to restore Manchester United to a position of dominance over Manchester City. There’s nothing wrong with ambition and bold targets, but reality sometimes gets in the way. Sunday’s 3-1 derby defeat against Pep Guardiola’s team showed the Everest-sized mountain United must climb to do so.

United are not even a genuine rival to City right now. Since last winning the Premier League title in 2013, United have failed to finish above their neighbours in the league and while City have won 15 major honours in that time, including the Champions League, United have mustered just four by winning two EFL Cups, an FA Cup and Europa League.

This season alone, United sit a full 18 points behind City in the league, while suffering 11 defeats to City’s three. City have scored 62 goals; United have 37. Embarrassingly for Erik ten Hag’s side, they also have a goal difference of -2, despite the apparent wealth of attacking talent in the Old Trafford squad.

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Yet if you turn back the clock to 2008, when Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan completed his takeover of City with promises to transform a club that had suffered more relegations (five) than trophies won (zero) since lifting the EFL Cup in 1976, the picture was even bleaker for City. They were dismissed as a “small club with a small mentality” by Sir Alex Ferguson and mocked as “noisy neighbours” by the United manager, who also said “not in my lifetime” when asked whether City could ever topple his club to become the top team in Manchester.

Back then, not a single City player would be deemed good enough to merit a place in United’s matchday squad. The gulf was that big. But times have changed in Manchester, emphatically so, and the challenge facing Ratcliffe — whose Ineos group has now taken charge of football operations at Old Trafford after buying a 27.7% stake in the club from majority owners, the Glazer family — is to affect a shift in the balance of power that makes United competitive again.

The first challenge, despite the moves to appoint a new CEO (City’s chief football operations officer Omar Berrada) and director of football (Newcastle sporting director Dan Ashworth), is to create a stronger team and Sunday’s defeat against City illustrated the task ahead.

If none of City’s players would have made it into Ferguson’s United squad in 2008, how many of Ten Hag’s team have the attributes to make it into the squad at the Etihad now?

The painful truth for United is that you can really only argue the case for one of their players: 18-year-old midfielder Kobbie Mainoo

He has been a rare success story at United this season, establishing himself in the team as a midfielder with composure, vision and maturity beyond his years. Guardiola loves players in the Mainoo mould and, despite the teenager’s youth and inexperience, would embrace the opportunity to work with him.

But beyond Mainoo, who else could make the transition from United to City right now? Forward Marcus Rashford and midfielder Bruno Fernandes would be classed as “maybes” because they both have outstanding talent. Yet neither has been able to deliver consistently.

Rashford, having scored just six goals all season, is an enigma. His stunning opening goal against City on Sunday showcased his devastating ability, but his subsequent performance also highlighted the negative elements of his game in terms of poor pressing, decision-making and half-hearted defending.

Guardiola demands high intensity and work rate from all his players, so Rashford would infuriate him. Though the City manager would also back himself to drill that out of him and get the best out of the United forward, as he has done with so many other players throughout his career.

But while Rashford might just get into Guardiola’s squad because of what he could deliver from the left flank alongside Erling Haaland or Phil Foden, Fernandes is too wasteful in possession to make the grade at City and it is difficult to envisage him being regarded as better than the options already available to Guardiola in central midfield, such as Kevin De Bruyne, Rodri, Bernardo Silva, Mateo Kovacic and Julián Álvarez.

United winger Alejandro Garnacho might catch Guardiola’s eye and the City manager would be impressed by 21-year-old striker Rasmus Hojlund’s tenacity and desire but, like Fernandes, neither would yet meet the criteria to get into the City squad yet.

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As for the rest of United’s squad, they wouldn’t come close to being considered good enough for City. Many aren’t even good enough for United. And the same could be argued for coach Ten Hag, whose limitations have been exposed repeatedly this season, and once again by Guardiola this weekend.

Ask Guardiola about Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side, or the players at Mikel Arteta’s disposal with Arsenal, and the City manager would reach double figures in terms of players who would be good enough for his squad. But the dearth of quality means that only Mainoo would genuinely attract the attention of Guardiola at United.

Ratcliffe and his team of advisers are right to make it clear that there can be no quick fix at Old Trafford. City are ahead of United in every aspect on the pitch and, aside from global support and history, they are beating them in all areas off it too.

But until City start casting envious glances at the players in United’s squad, the red half of Manchester will continue to be in a shadow cast from the blue side. It is a long way back for United and three years seems an optimistic timescale in which to turn the tide.