All eyes were on the two managers as they emerged from the tunnel before kick-off, but there were no fireworks between José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola, as the two exchanged a friendly handshake. And it was the City manager who came out victorious in a thrilling and tense, back-and-forth Manchester derby.
Guardiola elected to start with youngster Kelechi Iheanacho in place of the suspended Sergio Agüero in attack, while Mourinho handed first league starts of the season to Jesse Lingard and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, with Anthony Martial and Juan Mata dropped to the bench.
United seemed happy to cede the majority of possession in the opening stages, while attempting to hit City on the break. And that plan showed early promise when Wayne Rooney and Mkhitaryan combined to allow Paul Pogba to strike from 25 yards, but the Frenchman’s shot looped just over the bar.
City were trying to exploit a perceived weakness in the right side of United’s back line, where Antonio Valencia -- a winger by trade -- was starting at right-back. In the 11th minute, Kevin De Bruyne slid a delightful ball through to Iheanacho between Valencia and Eric Bailly, but the Ecuadorian did well to snuff out the danger.
The visitors continued to monopolise possession, with United falling back into their 4-4-1-1 defensive shape, and in the 15th minute, De Bruyne out-foxed Daley Blind to engineer a chance, which he then calmly took, slotting beyong David de Gea to put City ahead.
United’s frustration grew as they struggled to get a foothold in the game, and when the ball ran out of play for a throw-in in the 23rd minute, Wayne Rooney shoved Pep Guardiola as he tried to take the ball out of the Catalan coach’s hands.
Rooney then launched a counter-attack with a brilliant turn in the centre-circle before releasing Mkhitaryan down the right, but the Armenian’s cross was poor.
On the half hour mark, Fellaini won the ball from Nolito inside the area and hacked a clearace to the edge of the box, where city full-back Bacary Sagna met the falling ball with a rasping volley which flew just over the bar.
Whenever City had the ball near their own goal, United were pressing high to try and prevent Guardiola’s men playing out from the back, but City were unhurried and utilised passing triangles to evade the press.
And that’s exactly how the away side crafted their second goal, as they played their way out of defence and opened United up in the final third, allowing De Bruyne — who was continually finding space in the central atacking midfield zone — room to shoot. When the Belgian’s shot cannoned back off the post, Iheanacho was in the right place to tap the ball in from six yards to make it 2-0.
Then, against the run of play, a mistake from debutant Claudio Bravo in the City goal let United back into the game two minutes before the break. The former Barcelona goalkeeper dropped a free-kick that had been pumped into the box from deep by Rooney, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic expertly volled the loose ball into the unguarded net from 18 yards.
And United almost equalised in stoppage time at the end of the first half, when some slack defending from John Stones presented Rooney with the ball. The United skipper crossed to the back post for Ibrahimovic, but Bravo saved the Swede’s header.
Seconds later another defensive mix-up saw United come close to equalising but, with Bravo out of position, Ibrahimovic’s shot was too tame to beat the covering defender.
At half time, Mourinho withdrew Mkhitaryan and Lingard and brought on Ander Herrera and Marcus Rashford, as United switched to a 4-3-3 formation.
And Rashford had an immidiate impact, as he broke away down the left and crossed for Ibrahimovic, but the former Paris Saint Germain striker volleyed over.
United’s high press began to have the desired effect early in the second half, forcing City to go long or make errors under pressure; the momentum had shifted to the home side.
In the 56th minute, Bravo took a heavy touch when closed down, and the goalkeeper made a lunging tackle with raised studs to prevent Rooney knicking possession in the penalty area; the referee saw no infringement — file this one under the "seen them given" category.
Two minutes later the Red Devils appealed for a penalty when Rooney’s cross appeared to strike Nicolas Otamendi’s arm; again, no penalty said Mark Clattenburg — the correct decision on this occasion.
With half an hour to play, German winger Leroy Sané replaced Raheem Sterling to make his City debut. Soon after, De Bruyne beat Herrera and got a shot away, but it was easily saved by de Gea.
With Herrera playing deep, Fellaini was able to get forward more, and his knock-down presented Ibrahimovic with a half chance 20 yards out, but United’s number nine couldn’t direct his volley on target.
In the 70th minute, the Old Trafford crowd thought their team had equalised when Rashford raced onto a fantastic pass from Blind and shot for goal. The ball found the net thanks to a deflection off Ibrahimovic, who was stood in an offside position.
Seconds later, de Gea made an outstanding save to prevent Fernandinho from scoring City’s third, when the Brazilian sent a volley towards the bottom corner. The Spanish stopper again denied Fernandinho seconds later, when he caught the midfielder’s header from a corner.
De Gea then released Rashford away on a counter attack, but his cross was headed out for a corner before it reached Ibrahimovic. As City broke from the resulting corner, Sané released De Bruyne in the penalty area, whose shot struck the inside of de Gea’s near post.
At this point, with the game stretched, both sides were finding space in attacking areas. De Bruyne picked David Silva out on the edge of the box, but the Spaniard’s curling effort sailed over the bar.
In the 78th minute, Rooney fouled Fernandinho 20 yards from the United goal. De Bruyne fancied the free-kick, but he couldn’t find the target.
With 10 minutes to play, Mourinho made his final change, and it was an especially attacking one, as he brought Anthony Martial on for left-back Luke Shaw.
Fernandinho almost exposed United’s back three when he nutmegged Herrera and ran towards goal, but Bailly halted him with a superbly timed challenge.
As time wound down, United started to play long balls up to Fellaini and Ibrahimovic. In the third minute of stoppage time, the Swede unleashed a volley from 18 yards out which was deflected narrowly wide.
In the final seconds, Rooney launched a free-kick into the box and Pogba beat Bravo to the falling ball, turning it goalwards, but the Frenchman’s effort was cleared from the goalmouth; the full-time whistle blew seconds later, handing United their first defeat of the season, and keeping City’s 100 percent record intact.