Blackburn Rovers never showed up and Wayne Rooney's rehabilitation is not complete despite a tireless display of improved touch and vision. But enough of the negatives from a day when even Dimitar Berbatov felt compelled to celebrate a goal by throwing himself to the floor in hysterics.

Manchester United ascended the Premier League summit for the first time this season with a performance that challenged perceptions. They are now unbeaten in 29 matches in all competitions and yet, having previously been "searching for that consistency of performance and rhythm in our game", according to Sir Alex Ferguson, the United manager had asked in his programme notes: "Is the glass half full or half empty at Old Trafford?" The response was to obliterate and embarrass Sam Allardyce's side and to discourage debate.

In midfield Anderson undermined his reputation as an expensive purchase unable to dictate the flow of a game with a dynamic, destructive and incisive display. "A marvellous footballer," proclaimed his manager, and it must be a personal crusade to dismantle that tag for good. Alongside him Michael Carrick indicated there could be a way back into Ferguson's favour after all, while Rafael offered more than simply youthful adventure with a mature provocation of El-Hadji Diouf. Not the most demanding task in the modern game admittedly.

Nani was outstanding as he humiliated Pascal Chimbonda, the Rovers left-back, although Old Trafford had altered its view of the Portugal international before Saturday. And then of course there was Berbatov – ruthless, predatory Berbatov, a description that has rarely applied to the Bulgarian striker since his £30.75m transfer from Tottenham Hotspur two years ago.

"Berbatov is similar to Nicolas Anelka in that everyone has preconceived ideas about him," said Allardyce, Anelka's former manager at Bolton Wanderers.

"Everyone thought Anelka was a sulk, but he wasn't like that, and everyone thinks Berbatov is too laid-back because he has a languid style. You have to understand the intelligence of Dimitar Berbatov, how he finds spaces in tight areas, how his touch very rarely deserts him. It takes time to settle in and play for Manchester United. Just because you cost £30m it doesn't mean you are going to be an instant success, you still have to get used to playing for Manchester United and the pressure of playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world."

In tandem with Rooney, the United No9 dismantled a slow, unprotected Blackburn defence with the passing and movement he can provide on his poorest days. Here, however, his contribution was enhanced by single-minded excellence in front of goal, not always his strongest suit, and his reward was to join Andy Cole, Alan Shearer and Jermain Defoe as the only men in Premier League history to score five goals in a game.

Berbatov's first goal since registering a hat-trick against Liverpool 11 appearances ago arrived after 72 seconds when he beat Chimbonda to Rooney's glancing header and flicked the ball beyond Paul Robinson, who was caught by Anderson seconds earlier. Rooney combined delightfully with Park Ji-sung for the second, Chimbonda gifted Berbatov the third with a criminal back-pass and the contest was ended after 27 minutes.

It became an exhibition within two minutes of the restart. Berbatov back-heeled to Patrice Evra, on the edge of his own penalty area, then sprayed a glorious pass out to Nani on the right before pounding into the box to complete his hat-trick. Nani curled a delightful fifth past Robinson having been released behind Chimbonda by Anderson and Berbatov completed his annihilation of Rovers when seizing on two kind ricochets inside the six-yard area. Chris Samba's 83rd‑minute header did not fall into the consolation category.

"Let's not forget we play so many games, one after the other, and people forget we're human beings and sometimes it's difficult," said Berbatov regarding his inconsistency.

"We need a rest as well. But we were excellent. We ran over the whole pitch, we supported each other and we scored a lot of goals. We are looking to stay like this, to stay at the top of the table.

"I know there is a long way to go but with the squad we have, the players we have, and if we can play like we did against Blackburn, I think we can stay at the top."

The perceptions overturned here belonged to individuals and the United of recent months. In their tempo, desire, quality and, ultimately, their league position, of course, they merely reinforced the long-held truisms of a Ferguson team.