The title race turned into a trot weeks ago, and Manchester City's 2-1 win over Manchester United on Monday at Old Trafford settled little that the English Premier League table hadn't already.
Even so, a few points need making, and the list starts with Aguero's magical brilliance in front of goal. A second successive home loss to City will dampen United's inevitable title win, if only slightly. And considering the dreariness of their current campaign, City will surely view Monday as a potential building block in their quest to retake supremacy over their crosstown rivals.
#MCFC's Vincent Kompany: "How we finish this season is going to have an impact on next season. This is a good win to have under our belt"— Premier League (@premierleague) April 8, 2013
Most important of all, though, in light of the 15-point gap between the teams at kickoff, it was a rollicking, rugged full-contact contest that hardly could have been more absorbing. That's just how it is when the red and blue halves of Manchester meet.
Some have suggested this is a less-than-vintage United side, yet Sir Alex Ferguson's men entered Monday's derby having won 25 of their first 30 league matches this season. No team in English football's top flight had done so before, and in truth, few have matched the assured, easy confidence with which United have marched to what will surely be a 20th title this campaign.
That said, City haven't been the best of challengers. Even if Roberto Mancini's team were to win all their remaining matches, they would not match last season's title-winning haul of 89 points. Similarly, City were unlikely to reproduce their 6-1 victory from the last league fixture between these teams at Old Trafford.
25 - Man Utd have become the 1st club in English top-flight history to win 25 of their opening 30 matches of a season.— Premier League (@EPLStuff) March 30, 2013
Whether it is because City have regressed or United are resurgent, Manchester's balance of power has clearly regained its familiar red tint.
On Monday, though, City reclaimed a bit of pride that could go further than any potential boost in the table. Even in victory, City remain 12 points behind United, but with momentum on their side, this weekend's FA Cup semifinal with Chelsea is looking more winnable.
City will run out of games as far as this season goes but they showed today they're capable of top performances when it most counts.— PATRICK SNELL (@PATRICKCNN) April 8, 2013
Not surprisingly, the teams sprinted out of the blocks. Danny Welbeck flicked a header on City's goal in the second minute, and at the other end, as Carlos Tevez created constant havoc in the box, James Milner tested David de Gea with an angled drive from the right side. Robin van Persie then flashed a shot just wide of the far post in the ninth minute, set up by Wayne Rooney.
City pushed back and threatened through David Silva in the 21st minute. The Spaniard pulled down a long ball into the box, teeing up a shot across the middle before Phil Jones raced across to clear. Five minutes later, Samir Nasri sliced a shot high and wide of the near post from 15 yards.
The visitors continued to build possession, with United attacking mostly on the counter for the rest of the half. But for all the entertainment—and all of City's menace on their left flank (see image below)—the first 45 minutes failed to produce a goal.
The second half produced the breakthrough goal quickly. Gareth Barry dispossessed Ryan Giggs and drove down the left flank before crossing to Nasri in the middle. Nasri laid off for Milner, whose deflected shot beat De Gea at the near post, marking the first goal United had allowed in the league since Jan. 30 against Southampton.
City's lead was short-lived. Van Persie cranked a picture-perfect free kick into the box from the right, and Jones' point-blank header bounced into the net off City captain Vincent Kompany's back.
A moment of magic decided this one, and it came from the foot that delivered City's title last spring. Yaya Toure fed substitute Sergio Aguero on the edge of the box and, angling toward the United goal, the Argentine held off three United defenders before blasting the ball past De Gea high at the near post.
It was a great goal worthy of a proper title race, and it capped a performance that will leave City's fans wondering why their team hasn't fared so well all season.
Unfortunately for Manchester's blue half, however, that's all it will be.