Raheem Sterling, Jadon Sancho face fight for futures at Man City and Man United

These two are among the best attacking players in the world of football. They are wingers who can score as many goals as they create. After a season in which one was a star at Euro 2020, the other secured an 85 million move into the Premier League, this season should have served as a showcase for Raheem and Jadon Sterling. Both players are on the fringes of their clubs as they prepare to play in Saturday's 186th derby at Old Trafford between Manchester United (Manchester City).
Although there are many reasons why Sterling and Sancho are fighting for form and favour, there are also common factors. Managers trying to create a system that compensates for squad weaknesses and competition from new signings are both significant factors. Both players are finding it difficult to make a case for selection.

Sterling was England's most outstanding player in their run to the Euro 2020 final. Sterling has played six of Man City’s 17 games in all competitions, while Pep Guardiola only gave him three starts in his 10 Premier League fixtures. After a two year transfer chase, Sancho left Borussia Dortmund to join United. However, life has been difficult at Old Trafford. Sterling has played six of the seven games, three in the Premier League. However, Sancho, a 21-year-old, has only managed to score two goals for England. Sancho, however, has not been able to score for United, and it has never looked like he will.

- ESPN+ guide: LaLiga, Bundesliga, MLS, FA Cup, more (U.S.)

Stream ESPN FC Daily on ESPN+ (U.S. Only)

- Do you not have ESPN? Get instant access

Sterling was the fifth highest scoring English player in Champions League, behind Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard. He scored his 22nd goal as a substitute in Wednesday's 4-1 Group A win against Club Brugge. Guardiola was unimpressed when asked if the goal would boost Sterling's confidence.

Guardiola stated, "You have to ask him", before adding that "I expect the very best from my players." We are lucky to be here because we play for an amazing club. I expect the best from them. All of them deserve more. From staff to backroom staff I expect the best. We will have problems if it doesn't work out.

Jadon Sancho and Raheem Sterling are looking in from the outside. Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Sterling had publicly stated that he was open to moving elsewhere for more game time a month prior. Guardiola, who is 26 years old, clearly wasn't impressed by Guardiola's comments -- "I don't know it" and "I think the club neither" -- and suggested that he could leave if so desired.

Guardiola stated, "I don’t know if [he] wants to play more game-time like Riyad Mahrez, who doesn’t play but he doesn’t complain. Like Joao [Cancelo] does not play and he doesn’t complain." "I want Raheem, and all the other players to be happy to be here. They can make the best decisions for their family and the player if that is not the case.

Sterling's contract expires in June 2023. However, it is not the main reason for his declining opportunities under Guardiola. ESPN has been told by sources that Guardiola is now looking towards the future after signing Jack Grealish, Aston Villa's 100m-added manager, this summer. This change in City's game has made Sterling less relevant than it was during Guardiola's early years. Guardiola initially valued Sterling's speed and ability to overcome opposing defenses as a key component of his tactical plan. However, Grealish's arrival has allowed City to play a more technical and possession-based game without having to rely on a central striker at the attacking third, which is less suited to Sterling.

ESPN sources claim that Guardiola and his coaches consider Grealish, Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden more comfortable with the ball, and that Riyad Mahrez is more capable of replicating the quick, short-passing game that was so successful at Barcelona. Sterling has been a valuable asset to Guardiola and City, scoring 116 goals and helping 89 in his 307 appearances. However, he isn't considered as an important player in the next phase. This is why his chances are diminishing.

play 1:41 What should we make of Manchester United’s dramatic comeback Shaka Herlop and Dan Thomas discuss Manchester United's draw with Atalanta, and ask whether the fans should be satisfied with their performance.

United is seeing a completely different story with Sancho. Sterling may have been yesterday's man at Etihad but Sancho was signed in Dortmund with the intention to be both United's present-day and future.

Solskjaer, his coaches and the team had spent two decades trying to sign Sancho. They recognized the need for an attacking player down the right. His Dortmund numbers were impressive, with 64 assists and 50 goals in 137 games. After 12 games at United, there were no goals or assists. United have played 15 matches in all competitions, and Sancho has only logged 520 minutes since the beginning of the season. This is 38 percent of all the available minutes. His 90-minute absence came in the Carabao Cup third round defeat against West Ham. According to Premier League statistics, Sancho has only managed 18 touches in the opposition penalty box all season.

Sancho has been hampered by the unexpected signing of Cristiano Rorazo from Juventus in August. The 36-year old was not part of Solskjaer’s tactical outlook when Sancho was added to his squad this summer. United's game now revolves around Ronaldo's amazing scoring abilities while compensating for his limited defensive skills. Solskjaer has had difficulty finding a spot for Sancho. However, United has played him mainly on the left, despite his remarkable statistics at Dortmund being driven primarily by his ability down to the right.

MARK OGDEN Get the latest news from ESPN FC senior journalist Mark Ogden.

ESPN has been told by sources that Sancho needs to take time to adjust to a new club or league. This could be because he is an English player, even though he did not make a Premier League appearance as a youth at City. History has shown that attacking players who move from the Bundesliga to Premier League struggle in the early months. Shinji Kagawa, Henrikh Mcitaran at United, Timo Werner and Kai Havertz among others -- and Sancho is currently attempting to adapt.

United's performances have been so poor that Sancho's former captain Gary Neville stated last week that he was afraid the player could "end-up like Donny Van de Beek" citing Sancho's miserable time at United since arriving from Ajax in August 2020 for 45m.

ESPN has also been informed by sources that United's coaches worked hard to improve Sancho's physical condition following his arrival at United. This was after a disappointing summer with England at Euro 2020. He was also left out of England's World Cup qualifying matches against San Marino and Albania. Another source claims that Sancho is a difficult character and that United will need time to get to know him.

Solskjaer, United manager, is still willing to support Sancho. Solskjaer stated this week that Jadon would be successful. He is a hard worker and has a positive attitude. He will be a great player for many, many more years."

Sancho must do something right now to help his United career take off. Sterling's focus is on deciding if City is the right place for him and winning over his manager. Both players will likely be allowed to think about their problems more from the bench on Saturday.