Manchester City's optimum style of play is a bit like the United States Supreme Court's infamous definition of pornography—difficult to define, but you know it when you see it.
In the most recent installment of derby drama at the Theater of Dreams, against Sir Alex Ferguson and his once and future Premier League kings, Manchester City put on a display of its best stuff.
It was a victory that showed why the Sky Blues will be a real threat for the Premier League crown next season.
Nothing about City's 2-1 victory suggested a waning championship side 15 points adrift of the league leaders and heading nowhere.
Rather, City played like a team finally healthy enough to put its best 11 men on the pitch for a big match with the knowledge that the whole would equal the tally of the parts.
Only Sergio Aguero was a notable miss from the starting lineup, but his absence was covered over by tireless work from Carlos Tevez and industry in the midfield. Plus, per news.com.au, Aguero showed up eventually.
Even Samir Nasri seemed up for the battle in this one.
Among the many great derby takeaways for City are that they scored first and last. Perhaps more impressively, they did not shrink when United scored its only goal—an equalizer, no less—off captain Vincent Kompany's back.
At that point, despite its new-found reputation as an upscale cocktail party around a famous football pitch (per ESPN.com), Old Trafford was buzzing with lust for a winner.
And they got it. It was just the wrong color.
City's victory reminded the rest of the Premiership that despite an uneven title defense, the Sky Blues have weapons aplenty.
City answers Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie with Tevez and Aguero. Joe Hart is widely viewed as a better keeper than David de Gea.
City's back line has conceded the fewest goals in the league despite the sporadic absence of Kompany.
In a related story, at least in England, City consistently makes its opposition grind out results.
For all the loose talk about losing at Southampton and at Sunderland, the fact of the matter is that City far more often shows up for its spotlight games. Ask Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur for details.
Of course one derby victory at Old Trafford does not erase or even much blemish what has been a dominant and decisive reclamation of the Premier League title by United. There are no 15-point games in the Prem.
But seeing visiting City press United all over the lot, with statistical edges in possession, fouls and tackles (per ESPN.com) served notice all over again that City is still a young, deep side with quality everywhere. A lot of experience, too.
"If you play strong against United, you can beat them," Mancini told the press this week. (H/T sportsillustrated.com.)
So it was written, so it was done.
This ought to be some battle at the top between these two teams again next season.
Particularly if Mancini's men stop conceding free kicks to van Persie from the right side.