MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 23: David Silva of Manchester City celebrates scoring his team's fifth goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on October 23, 2011 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
The late flourish against a United side that ended in disarray added the emphasis but what shouldn't be forgotten in the context of the game is what a controlled and confident performance that was for the entire game. The stats heading into the game did not lie: United possessing a daunting home record, Roberto Mancini yet to beat United in the Premier League and Old Trafford historically being a graveyard of crushed hopes for City. Yet, after a bright start by United (to be expected of course) City settled into their game. At the point of the sending off they looked to be comfortable, but once the second was added the confidence in their game visibly grew.
You have to credit Mancini for a large part of today. It is impossible to predict the side he sends out but selection and tactics were spot on. Eyebrows were raised when Nigel de Jong was named on the bench, with the consensus being that you needed two 'holding' midfielders against United. However, something I've noticed in the numbers this season is that United play a larger percentage of longer passes than other sides around the top end of the Premier League and with two wide men it only left the central pairing of Anderson and Darren Fletcher. This allowed Mancini to go with Yaya Toure, James Milner, David Silva and Sergio Aguero, shifting more emphasis onto an attacking game and safer in the knowledge that they could control the midfield areas.
Three players in particular deserve plenty of credit today: James Milner, David Silva and Mario Balotelli. Milner's play of late has been such that it was widely anticipated that he would get the start over Samir Nasri and his performance was symptomatic of the season he is having and once again (just like Tuesday against Villarreal) he was involved in key goals. I've questioned Mario Balotelli previously; not for any perceived attitude issues but in quite how he fits into the side but of late, he has come into the side and led the line impressively. He is able to finish with ease and I'm certain that with the goals he has scored of late Mancini will continue to ride the hot hand. Mentions too should go to Micah Richards for his strong performance and Edin Dzeko, who importantly got back amongst the goals.
No doubt the win - and in particular the manner of it - will result in talk of power shifts (City have now been made favourites for the title) and having laid down a marker. Heading into the season I wrote that it was hard to tag City as genuine challengers as they have no history of being that, let alone evidenced they can sustain a challenge deep into the season. City have countered that with the start they have had the win today quietened talk of having profited from an easy start to the season. When you strip the game down to its most base level it was just three points that were won and it is true that titles are won in April and May, City do look to have the belief about them of a side whocan win the Premier League and in Roberto Mancini, a manager who transmits this and looks to be able to keep his players focussed on the ultimate prize.
In terms of the title race, what will be telling for United is not this result (or performance) per se but in how they respond. They have suffered crucial defeats before of course, but have that innate ability to be able to bounce back from setbacks and come back stronger. There is no questioning that their attack is strong and is enough to beat the majority of sides in the Premier League, but as I focussed on in this piece for EPL Index, there are legitimate concerns in defence with the number of chances they are conceding. As to precisely why this is, there are no easy answers (although many do point to the central midfield area) but what is clear is that you cannot sustain conceding the number of chances they do (average almost 20 per game heading into today) over a consistent period of time. The clincial nature and ruthlessness of City's attack has been to the fore this season and once Jonny Evans was sent off they couldn't stem the tide. Could this be an area that will be their achilees heel over the course of the season?