Robin van Persie delivered the most persuasive proof yet that he was fully worth his €30m summer transfer from Arsenal FC after firing Manchester United FC six points clear at the Premier League summit in a rollercoaster 3-2 victory at champions Manchester City FC.
City pipped their local rivals to the title on goal difference last term and Red Devils manager Sir Alex Ferguson ended the campaign determined never again to leave his team hostage to such fine details. Hence the move for Van Persie – also a summer target for City – in a big-money deal that was regarded by some as a gamble, given the Dutch striker's history of injury problems and the fact that he was entering the last year of his Arsenal contract.
Those concerns look misplaced now, after Van Persie capped his first Manchester derby with an added-time free-kick winner, his left-footed effort taking a slight deflection off Samir Nasri before finishing in Joe Hart's net. It was a devastating moment, coming just six minutes after Pablo Zabaleta had levelled for the hosts, and further evidence that the 29-year-old can be the man to make the difference for United this year.
"It was obviously a difficult angle, but a player of Robin's ability... we work on that together at the training ground," said fellow United goalscorer Wayne Rooney, who registered twice to give the visitors a 2-0 lead at the break. "I had no doubt he could score from there and thankfully he's won us the game."
Having stayed fit all season so far, Van Persie racked up his 11th league goal in 16 outings with his derby strike, and ended a 37-match unbeaten home run in Premier League games for City. Roberto Mancini's men crucially overcame their neighbours in both championship fixtures last term, but it was Sir Alex who came out of Sunday's meeting feeling that a decisive moment had occurred.
"Today was a special one simply because they haven't lost at home for two years and both of us are contending at the top of the league," he said. "[The free-kick] got a little deflection, but it was a tremendous hit. [Van Persie] kept them on the back foot the whole time."
As for the marksman himself, he was understandably delighted with how the game went. "'Wazza' [Rooney] asked me: 'What are you going to do?' Are you going to shoot or cross it?' I said: 'I think I'll have a shot,'" he explained afterwards. "'It's a really special way to end this game, with the three points in a really dramatic way. To go six points clear, to beat our closest rivals – we're delighted. We're going to celebrate."
© 1998-2015 UEFA. All rights reserved.