There has been a theory espoused by some writers and online commentators in the build-up to Saturday’s Manchester derby that, because the game is taking place so early in the season, it will surely be a cagey, overly-cautious affair, as neither side has fully reached their stride just yet, and neither manager will want to risk defeat.
It’s a theory grounded in some pretty sound logic, but an obvious exception to the "early-season derbies are rubbish" line of thinking springs to mind in the shape of Manchester United’s classic 4-3 victory over City on 20 September 2009.
It was the sixth Premier League game of the season for United, while only the fifth for City. Both sides had undergone a summer of change too, with the Red Devils losing Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid and bringing in Antonio Valencia and Michael Owen; while City, with the recent Emerati investment, had signed Carlos Tevez -- who had been on loan at Old Trafford for the previous two seasons — as well as Nigel de Jong, Gareth Barry and Joleon Lescott.
So both teams could have been forgiven for producing a below-par display while they were bedding in their newcomers, but no such concern was necessary.
United drew first blood in just the second minute of the match, as Wayne Rooney emerged from a web of flailing bodies in the penalty area to poke the ball through Shay Given’s legs.
As United’s flying start continued, Tevez was the architect of a City equaliser against the run of play, capitalising on some errant goalkeeping from Ben Foster and passing to Barry. The England midfielder calmly rolled the ball into the unguarded net from 20 yards.
United’s momentum had been halted, and Tevez, who was booked for a late challenge on Rio Ferdinand, should have put the away side ahead on the stroke of half time, but the Argentinian striker struck the outside of the post when through on goal.
The home side wrestled the impetus back soon after the break, and Darren Fletcher rose highest to meet Ryan Giggs’ cross, powering his header beyond Given.
But City were level again within three minutes; Craig Bellamy’s stinging right-footed drive beat Foster from 25 yards.
United unleashed the full force of their attacking fury in an effort to restore their lead, but Shay given was on form, twice thwarting Dimitar Berbatov before acrobatically tipping over a seemingly goal-bound Ryan Giggs shot.
Sir Alex Ferguson, evidently frustrated at his side’s inability to make the breakthrough, hauled off Berbatov and threw Michael Owen into the fray after 77 minutes.
But it was again the unlikely source of Fletcher who bagged United’s third, heading home Giggs’ crossed free-kick with 10 minutes to play.
Ferguson urged his men to kill the tempo of the game and cautiously see the result through. But Ferdinand’s attempt to elaborately chip a pass over Martin Petrov’s head near the halfway line ended in disaster: the England defender failed to clear the Bulgarian, who set Bellamy racing toward goal.
The Welsh striker burst clear of the chasing Ferdinand and beat Foster at his near post in the 90th minute.
It looked like United had blown it, but what City didn’t account for was the fact that their lengthy goal celebrations would see the amount of injury time played stretch beyond the previously indicated four minutes.
United continued to plug away, trying to find a hole in the City rearguard. And when the ball broke to Giggs 30 yards from goal, the Welsh veteran slid a perfectly weighted pass into Owen’s path.
The England striker’s best days were far behind him by this point of his career, but he still new how to recognise a chance when he saw one.
Taking the ball in stride, Owen neatly slotted home a 96th minute winner with the outside of his right boot.
City manager Mark Hughes complained to the fourth official about the amount of injury time played as Old Trafford was sent into rapturous celebrations; United fans love nothing more than a "Fergie-time" winner.