The narrative of the game focused on the strikers. Those who were picked, those who were not, those who were brought and the number of them that played.
Both teams showed attacking intent from the start, playing 4-4-2 with attacking players out wide and full backs who like to get forward.
United’s front two picked themselves. Rooney and Van Persie are as close to automatic picks as it is possible to get under Sir Alex Ferguson. His counterpart, Roberto Mancini, on the other hand, threw his wild card into the mix. He gambled on the mercurial Mario Balotelli, and without wishing to put too fine a point on it, lost.
Despite only scoring one league goal this season, Mario got the nod ahead of Carlos Tevez, who has seven goals. He was, frankly, awful and was withdrawn very early in the second half after trying an unnecessary and unsuccessful back-heel.
Tevez’ s arrival gave some much needed directness, willingness and endeavor to City’s attack, but it was at the other end that the game was decided.
United’s long term servant, Wayne Rooney, notched two (scuffed) goals to become the youngest player to reach 150 EPL goals. But it was his strike partner, the man who City had tried to sign in the summer, who snatched the win in dramatic contest.
Robin Van Persie’s injury-time free-kick gave United a six point lead over their rivals. Having lost the title last season on goal difference, United are hoping that Van Persie’s extra goals will prove to be a factor in deciding the destination of silverware come May. His 90th minute free kick has gone a long way to ensure that they will.
United are clearly now in pole position.
Last season, City won both derbies (including a 6-1 humiliation at Old Trafford) and still only won the title on goal difference. They were, however, eight points behind with only six games remaining last season. So trailing by six with 22 games still to play puts them in a much better position then last year.
A decent return from a busy Christmas schedule is now not a luxury, but a necessity.
Ferguson will be able to sit contently at the top of the table knowing that the work rate of their front two and beyond was placed in stark contrast to the individualistic approach of Mario Balotelli et al. Mancini’s gamble didn't pay off; they have now limped out of the Champions League, lost to their main league rival and suffered an injury to their captain all on one week.
United will need to get their get their heads down and continue looking forward towards the new year, traditionally their strongest period of the season. City, on the other hand, have got some serious thinking to do.