Manchester City achieved one of their greatest ever victories when they crushed Manchester United 6-1 at Old Trafford on Sunday to announce themselves as the team most likely to succeed United as champions by the end of the season.
The stunning success -- their biggest at Old Trafford since a 5-0 win in 1955 -- saw Mario Balotelli and late substitute Edin Dzeko score twice each with Sergio Aguero and David Silva adding the others.
Three of City’s goals came in the last four minutes of the match and they could have had even more.
United played for most of the second half with 10 men after defender Jonny Evans was sent off for trying to haul down Balotelli on a break, and were powerless to prevent City becoming the first team to beat them at home since April 2010.
It also ended United’s run of 19 successive home league wins and lifted City on to 25 points from nine matches, five clear of second-placed United, whose consolation came from Darren Fletcher nine minutes from time.
Fletcher’s goal made the score 3-1, but then City crashed in three more goals as United caved in at the back to concede six goals at home in a league match for the first time since a 7-4 defeat to Newcastle United in September 1930.
In the other early matches, Arsenal continued their improvement after their poor start to the season with a 3-1 win over Stoke City at the Emirates with goals from Gervinho and two from substitute Robin van Persie after Peter Crouch equalised for the visitors.
Everton scored two late goals through Louis Saha and Jack Rodwell to win 3-1 at Fulham while Blackburn Rovers were playing Tottenham Hotspur and Queens Park Rangers were playing Chelsea in later action.
City manager Roberto Mancini kept the result in perspective when he told Sky Sports afterwards: “We played very well and for me the three points are more important than the scoreline.”
He said he was delighted for Balotelli, who escaped a blaze at his house in the early hours of Saturday morning after a firework was let off in his bathroom.
After scoring the opening goal in the 22nd minute, the 21-year-old Italian lifted his shirt to reveal a message underneath reading “Why Always Me ?” before making it 2-0 in the 60th minute to lay the foundations for the win.
Mancini added: “I am happy for him because he scored another two important goals and because he played well.”
United manager Alex Ferguson said the defeat was the biggest he had ever suffered in his career as either a player or manager.
“It was my worst ever day, we will come back from that, but the thing that concerns me most is the goals. That was a big blow for us, and you never know, goal difference may count. Most years it’s in our favour, but right now it’s not.
“There’s a lot of embarrasment in the dressing room right now and we will react. That’s the worse defeat in my history ever, I don’t think I have ever lost a match 6-1 in my life, even as a player, so its a challenge for me too.”
While United were crashing at home, Arsenal were relishing a fine cameo from Van Persie who came off the bench and scored twice as the Gunners continued their climb up the table.
Gervinho fired Arsenal ahead after 27 minutes before Crouch equalised with a close range effort seven minutes later.
Van Persie came on for Marouane Chamakh after 66 minutes and scored six minutes later when he converted a cross from Gervinho before adding the third eight minutes from time after another Gervinho cross.
Everton, who lost 3-1 in west London to Chelsea last week, returned to the same neck of the woods to beat Fulham with Saha scoring against his former club and Rodwell adding the third with a volley from the edge of the box in the third minute of stoppage time.
Royston Drenthe had put Everton ahead after only three minutes before Bryan Ruiz gave the home side some hope with a 67th minute equaliser.