The Manchester Derby has become one of world football's marquee fixtures since Manchester City's new ownership took over, but Sunday afternoon's match might go down in history as the most spectacular of this era.
Wayne Rooney put Manchester United ahead by two goals early, but the Citizens put in an incredible fight to claw back level. In the closing minutes, Robin van Persie rescued United with a stellar free kick, and the Red Devils lead the Premier League by six points after their 3-2 derby win.
Hopefully, the biggest post-match talking points have nothing to do with the late-game antics by some of the less civilized Manchester City fans in attendance. After the van Persie goal, Rio Ferdinand was hit with an object thrown from the stands and was visibly cut. A fan also ran onto the pitch and attempted to confront referee Martin Atkinson. Until those stoppage-time shenanigans, the match was the story, and was spectacular from start to finish.
Rooney's first goal was a bit of a gift, handed to him by Joe Hart, whose lack of alertness in the situation was inexplicable. David De Gea started the attack with a great toss out wide to Antonio Valencia, and Rooney finished it with a bit of a scuffed shot. As the ball rolled slowly into the net, Hart just stood still and watched it pass him by.
Vincent Kompany went off injured in the 21st minute, which might have had some bearing on United's second goal of the match. Yaya Toure failed to step up and close down Rooney on a cutback cross from Rafael, and the Red Devils forward stepped up to complete a brace with much better technique and much more power than his first goal of the match.
Just after halftime, Jonny Evans went down with an injury and was replaced by Chris Smalling. Around the same time, Mario Balotelli got himself removed by his manager with a Balotelli special, trying a cheeky backheel when a more simple kick of the ball would have done. Mancini was livid, and reacted by instantly substituting in Carlos Tevez.
The match's biggest turning point came between the 59th and 60th minutes, when a should-have-been 3-0 United lead turned into their advantage getting cut to 2-1. Van Persie hit the post with a spectacular shot and Ashley Young poked in the rebound, but he was flagged for offside incorrectly. Just seconds later, City stormed back and scored their first goal of the match. De Gea made brilliant back-to-back saves on Tevez and David Silva, but couldn't keep out City's third effort, from Toure.
Atkinson had an absolute shocker in the middle on the day, and had a serious of badly missed calls shortly after that Toure goal. He waved play on on a bad tackle by Kolo Toure on Patrice Evra in the box, then missed Smalling handling the ball just outside of the penalty area in the 65th minute. In the 73rd, he blew play dead to show Rooney a yellow card for a tackle on Toure when the City midfielder was off to the races, running through on goal uncontested.
City nearly leveled things up in the 79th minute on a spectacular play by Silva, but United got off lucky. The Spanish playmaker's cutback shot from a narrow angle hit the shoulder of De Gea, then bounced off the crossbar. United's luck wouldn't last long, as they eventually conceded an equalizer. Pablo Zabaleta netted in the 86th minute, hitting a great half-volley from the edge of the 18 after a corner kick deflected out to the edge of the box.
It appeared that a draw was on the cards until the third minute of stoppage time, when Tevez took down Rafael on the edge of the box to give United a free kick from 25 yards out. Van Persie stepped up and took a shot that took a slight deflection, which made a save nearly impossible for Hart. The ball curled perfectly inside of the far post, sending the United section of the crowd into raptures.
Ferdinand was hit with a projectile, while Atkinson was attacked by a pitch invader during United's celebration of their game-winning goal. Another two minutes of stoppage time were played when the match eventually resumed, but City failed to do anything with their last chance, and now find themselves in a tough position in the league.