Sir Alex Ferguson lost his first derby game away to Manchester City too, in September 1989, by a humiliating 5-1 scoreline that later prompted him to make a rare confession of vulnerability. He said that afterwards he went home to bed and felt, as he walked the streets of Manchester over the next few days, “like a criminal”.
If Ferguson had chosen to look on the bright side back then it would be that at least he was not following a United manager who had swept all before him and, for long periods of his reign, had relegated City to an after-thought in Manchester football. David Moyes, of course, has no such consolation, but whether he should assume the same level of responsibility depends on how you look at the way his players performed on Sunday.
In September 1989, Ferguson had already been in charge of United for almost three years. Moyes has not had four months at Old Trafford but in recent weeks the deficiencies of the squad he has inherited have been made painfully obvious and never more so than this weekend. Without Robin Van Persie, out with a thigh injury, United's only credible performer was the man who spent all summer trying to leave, Wayne Rooney.
City's rich collection of talent has been less than the sum of their parts on too many occasions but here, for the first 50 minutes at least, they played like the dream-team that their Abu Dhabi masters always hoped they would be. Yaya Toure was the key man for most of that, bossing the midfield like a strapping 15-year-old let loose among the Under-11s. Samir Nasri and Jesus Navas raided the wings and Sergio Aguero was lethal in the area.
City blitzed United with three goals in four minutes either side of half-time, demolishing United as soon as they spotted the weaknesses. It was a gloriously ruthless burst and it left the away team marooned. There was a moment on 53 minutes, Nemanja Vidic only just managed to get the ball away from Alvaro Negredo in the area, when it looked like the margin of victory could exceed the 6-1 win at Old Trafford in October 2011.
Much of the frustration from United's side will fall on Ashley Young who undoubtedly gave the ball away far too much and, at times, looked simply unable to cope with the intense approach of City in their best periods. Young, substituted on 51 minutes, was woefully ineffective. Moyes' faith in the Englishman is, for the time being at least, proving unfounded. He left Nani and Shinji Kagawa on the bench too and made just one substitution, Tom Cleverley for Young.
"Every manager has bad days and bad results," Moyes said, "and I'm no different". And while he will have to accept some of the blame, the United manager will also look with concern at his defence and in particular Rio Ferdinand and Vidic, who found themselves swamped.
These two, along with Patrice Evra at left-back, will be remembered as three parts of the last great defence built by Ferguson. On the basis of this performance they could be the first great liability of the Moyes reign. They went missing when City put the decisive balls into the box. Vidic was turned by Negredo for the third goal in a way that would have once been considered unthinkable.
It was a sobering afternoon for Marouane Fellaini who was unable to exert the kind of influence he was bought to bring to the side. He was picked out by the television pundits for his failure to track Aguero's run into the box in the immediate aftermath of half-time when the striker scored his side's third goal.
The contrast with City was stark. There was no such sloppiness from the likes of Pablo Zabaleta, Matija Nastasic and Vincent Kompany, the latter of whom dealt effectively with the Rooney threat in the first half. He even knocked his protective headband off at one point.
It would have been easy for Rooney to go missing with the rest of his side, especially when he got booked relatively early on for kicking Kompany - not his first wayward challenge - and from then on had to watch his step. Yet in the second half, it was Rooney who held the fort as United faced a four goal deficit and 40 minutes to play, finally scoring a brilliant free-kick with three minutes left.
Moyes clung grimly to that Rooney performance, advancing the view that his striker had been the best player on the pitch. How the destiny of a football career changes. Left out of the side against Real Madrid on 5 March, as Moyes watched from the press-box, alienated in the trophy presentation at Old Trafford six weeks later, Rooney now finds himself the one of the few certainties in a world of pain for United.
It was a beautiful afternoon for Manuel Pellegrini who marshalled his resources admirably. City went on the attack from the start, scoring after 16 minutes when Nasri set Aleksandar Kolarov off on the overlap and his cross was allowed to travel across the area to Aguero to volley in. United barely created a chance worthy of the name in the half but they hung on until Toure forced in Negredo's header from Nasri's corner.
That was the beginning of the end. First Aguero scored within a minute of half-time having run off Fellaini after Negredo had turned Vidic to cross. Then four minutes later Navas broke down the right and picked out Nasri to volley the ball at the back post. If Vidic had not made that clearing tackle on Negredo minutes later then it could have been much worse for United.
Moyes did not leave his seat for much of the second half, leaving his assistant Steve Round to stand enigmatically on the edge of the technical area. The City fans sang: "There's only one David Moyes". Joe Hart made a good save from Fellaini and then Evra's header struck the post. Finally Rooney's free-kick, whipped past Hart, who got a hand on it, earned United a brief moment of silence from the home fans.
First Liverpool. Now City. Liverpool in the Capital One Cup await on Wednesday. United are eighth in the Premier League, one point behind Southampton and the one crumb of comfort that can be offered for now is that these are still early days.
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Nastasic, Kolarov; Fernandinho, Toure; Navas (Milner, 71), Aguero (Garcia, 86), Nasri; Negredo (Dzeko, 75).
Substitutes not used: Pantilimon (gk), Lescott, Richards, Jovetic.
Manchester United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Smalling, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Fellaini, Young (Cleverley, 51); Rooney; Welbeck.
Substitutes not used: Evans, Hernandez, Nani, Kagawa, Buttner, Amos (gk).
Referee: H Webb (South Yorkshire)
Booked: Manchester City Nastasic Manchester United Rooney, Valencia
Man of the match: Toure
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