City teach Manchester United a painful lesson
Manchester City assembled grim statistical evidence around the feet of Sir Alex Ferguson like rubble - now Manchester United must piece the wreckage back together swiftly to silence talk of a permanent shift in power.
Ferguson did not hold back his emotions as he reflected on the on what United's manager called "our worst ever day - the worst result in my history, ever."
The last time Ferguson, in September 1989, he revealed he went home and buried his head underneath a pillow for hours on end in a bid to make the pain go away.
Ferguson may not have time to seek a similar remedy this time because the speed of City's advance, illustrated by this complete performance and led by the brilliance of David Silva, means they present a present danger to United's title.
The bullet points were blows to the pride of Ferguson and his humiliated players.
It was United's biggest home defeat since 1955, the first time United had conceded six goals at home since 1930 and their first loss at Old Trafford since April 2010.
City scored six in a Manchester derby for the first time since 1926. Photo: Reuters
Mario Balotelli's goals set the platform for the win, helped by Jonny Evans' red card right after the restart and Sergio Aguero's third gave the scoreline a realistic look.
And if Darren Fletcher's goal gave rise to fantasy about a trademark United comeback, brutal reality was restored with two late goals for substitute Edin Dzeko and a deserved strike for the wonderful Silva.
It was an embarrassment inflicted savagely by the club Ferguson dismissed as "noisy neighbours" as they bang at the door of his Old Trafford domain.
The Scot has fought for supremacy in domestic and European competition, but superiority in the city of Manchester has never been seriously challenged until now.
As United were reduced to chaos in the closing minutes in front of a rapidly-emptying and inappropriately-named "Theatre Of Dreams" the questions came almost as fast as the goals, three scored by City in stoppage time.
Was this the most significant result in recent Premier League history? Was this the day the tide finally turned, not just in Manchester but in England?
The significance of result, and the manner of it, must not be questioned. The backdrop to the derby was framed in the context of Roberto Mancini's approach and whether City had the self-belief to flex their growing muscles on their neighbours while coping with the pressure of leading the Premier League.
Mancini and City had this opportunity to make a statement in the toughest environment of all.
It was duly delivered in the most powerful style possible as 20 minutes of United domination gave way to City turning their full power on Ferguson's team in a way even their most wildly optimistic supporter would not have thought possible.
City are the finest and most talented team in the country at this moment. If anyone needs convincing, study Silva's pass for Dzeko's final goal, a thing of beauty and creation from the best player in the Premier League this season.
This does not mean anyone should be emboldened to make definitive long-term predictions based on one afternoon Ferguson and United will be keen to portray as a freak of footballing nature as opposed to a sign of what is to come.
Ferguson will bring measure and experience to this sudden emergency, as should those preparing to announce the crumbling of an empire on the back of one, shock-inducing, result.
Manchester United slumped to their heaviest defeat in the Premier League. Photo: Reuters
Those getting ready to write United's obituaries would do well to hold back as the rest of the season has the capacity to make fools of them all - but the message sent by City simply cannot be ignored.
Mancini and his players did not just take three points away from Old Trafford. They will have taken great reserves of confidence and a concrete-clad belief that they deserve to be league leaders and have the ability to stay there.
City were superior to United in all parts of the pitch. Mancini does not simply have a better first 11, he now has a bench of such strength that it will see him through the long winter and, he hopes, the expectation that will now increase.
The Italian has a squad rich in ability and numbers. It offers him a flexibility that may prove crucial as the season moves into its vital phases after the turn of the year, when United traditionally exert their own power.
If Ferguson missed a trick in the summer it was not investing in an A-List midfield man to replace the Paul Scholes.
City already possessed one in Silva and how sobering it must have been for Ferguson to see the player he coveted almost above all others, Samir Nasri, only a substitute after he was stolen from under his nose by Mancini.
For Mancini there was vindication for his methods, the most powerful proof that he is willing to take the shackles off the varied attacking talents he has assembled at such cost.
And this only 24 hours after his predecessor Mark Hughes proved the old adage that the secret of good comedy will always lie in the timing after he chose to question Mancini's "autocratic" style of management. He may have been wishing he had held his tongue as City's team of temperaments mauled United.
One man currently offering compelling evidence in favour of Mancini's management is the maverick young Italian Mario Balotelli, moving from the ridiculous to the sublime with two goals after showing his more chaotic personal side by igniting part of his own house by setting off fireworks.
He set up the headline writer's dream with his Old Trafford encore, but of greater importance was his contribution to the team effort and even the emergence of an ability to laugh at his own occasional accident-prone nature, lifting up his shirt after opening the scoring to reveal a t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan "Why Always Me?"
And in among the many delights for Mancini, there came crucial contributions from some who could almost be called the undercard behind Silva, Balotelli and Aguero.
Micah Richards recovered from early discomfort against Ashley Young to again raise questions about England coach Fabio Capello's apparent determination to ignore him, while James Milner put in the shift of shifts as he moved from box to box with equal influence.
This result may mark a seminal moment in Premier League history if United cannot respond, while City will be tempted to treat this 90 minutes as the moment the revolution fuelled by Abu Dhabi's petro-dollars finally arrived.
Mancini the pragmatist will not allow complacency to take hold. And he will know that if Ferguson did indeed take refuge underneath his pillow on Sunday evening, his every thought will have been occupied on how to make sure this was not the day he handed over the keys of power in Manchester to City.