A local bragging rights decider, a case of what might have been for City, a statement of intent for next season, confirmation of United’s title triumph…
This thrilling Old Trafford derby had plenty of sub-plots if not the edge of the seat, winner-takes-all feel of the Etihad showdown towards the end of last season.
United’s 15-point lead at the top of the Premier League and Roberto Mancini’s early concession of the crown, meant the more visceral intensity of the evening’s festivities at Old Trafford was not so much in evidence – at least until the Blues twice took the lead!
These two sides are, according to the formbook and the league table for the past two seasons, the best teams in English football and with the eyes of the nation upon them for ninety minutes both wanted to come out on top in the arm wrestle.
United still smarting from the 6-1 defeat in their home derby last season wanted revenge and to move within a point of title number 20, whilst City were keen to show that they were unlucky to lose 3-2 to their neighbours back in December and that the chasm as the top in terms of points in no way accurately represents the ability or class of the two outfits.
There was no nod toward the forthcoming semi-final outing at Wembley in Mancini’s team selection. All the big guns apart from the not fully match fit Sergio Aguero were primed and aimed at United from the start rather than wrapped in mothballs for the weekend trip south.
United restored Wayne Rooney to their side and fielded Danny Welbeck and Robin Van Persie too.
What followed was a frantic opening 45 minutes, high on energy but for all the fire and brimstone and promise of goals aplenty none arrived.
Neither goalkeeper had a save of any note to make in the opening half with both sides lacking precision and poise when it came to the final, vital pass.
The reigning champions dominated possession and looked composed but United always threatened on the break. It was a fascinating rather than exhilarating opening half.
Goals though seemed certain to come and so they did. James Milner fired the Blues in front in the 52nd minute collecting Nasri’s pass and then firing in a shot from the edge of the box that clipped Phil Jones as it sped into the net.
The goal stemmed from a bad back heel from Giggs on half way and it was another of the game’s most experienced players Yaya Toure who conceded the free kick from which United leveled seven minutes later.
Van Persie swung in the award from the right and Jones header found the net via an unsuspecting Vincent Kompany.
There were no deflections on the night’s third goal though a special driving, thrusting effort from substitute Sergio Aguero who turn on the afterburners on a diagonal run before finishing high into the net and sending the visiting 3,000 into raptures.
The win closed the gap at the top to twelve points and made a mockery of the performances at Sunderland, Southampton and Everton that ultimately may make the difference at the end of the season.
There are still tickets available to see the champions in action in their next home game on Wednesday 17 April, when Wigan Athletic will provide the opposition.
Tickets are on general sale now at www.mcfc.co.uk/tickets, by telephone on 0161 444 1894 (option 1, option 1, option 2)* and to personal callers at the Ticket Office above the City Store at the Etihad Stadium.