1) City are now title favourites
There is a long way to go yet. Gary Neville made a pertinent point in his programme column that the real test of Manchester City's nerve will not arrive until March, April and May: "That's when the games get nervy and the full story starts to unfold." Yet if there were any lingering doubts about City's title credentials they have evaporated now. They played with control and purpose. This was a team of structure and confidence and, once they had taken the lead, the truth is they handed out a thrashing. City have now scored three times or more in seven of their first nine games. They are five points clear, playing like champions in the making and demonstrating a togetherness that informs us they will not relinquish their five-point lead without one hell of a fight.
2) Balotelli is worth the hassle
"Why always me?" read the slogan on Mario Balotelli's vest. Because, Mario, you're clearly more than a little bit eccentric. But you do know how to score goals and, as long as that is the case, City will forgive him for whatever controversies come their way bearing his fingerprints. City's own firestarter lit the fuse, put a rocket up United, set the game ablaze and every other firework pun going. You wouldn't want to be his neighbour and it will be one hell of an autobiography one day, but that's six goals in five games. The good outweighs the bad even if it is a close-run thing at times. And maybe he is learning: the old Mario would surely have lifted his shirt for his second goal, too, and collected a second card for his troubles.
3) United's central midfield lacks stardust
United have now played all of the five clubs who finished immediately beneath them last season, and only two of their opening nine league fixtures have been against clubs from the bottom 10. There is, in other words, plenty to reassure them that it has actually been a good start to the season, however chastening this defeat. But the concerns linger about whether the centre of their midfield is good enough. That is not to denigrate Darren Fletcher and Anderson – Fletcher's goal was wonderfully taken and, in terms of general play, the truth is there were times when they were simply outnumbered – but a club of this ambition really ought to have at least one category-A player in this department. Ferguson has insisted ever since the end of the transfer window that it did not matter that the club had failed to bring in Wesley Sneijder, or someone of that calibre. But the suspicion was always that those words might catch up with him.
4) Milner has reinvented himself
There was a point last season when Milner was giving serious consideration to whether he had any kind of future at City. He was disillusioned about the lack of opportunities to play in the central midfield role he favours and he felt promises had been broken. But this season Milner has been more prominently in Mancini's thoughts. He was in the team ahead of Nigel de Jong and Samir Nasri here and it was a performance full of hard running and football intelligence. Milner supplied the ball for both of Balotelli's goals and had decent credentials to be recognised as the game's outstanding performer.
5) Time is running out on Evans
This is the thing about Jonny Evans: he always has a mistake in him. Ferguson loves to talk him up and his selection, ahead of Phil Jones, suggests a manager who has full trust in the Irishman. But the truth is Evans, bar one spell when he first broke through, has always looked at least one level below the required grade for a club of United's ambitions. He has improved this season but largely because he had such a terrible last campaign and, if that sounds terribly harsh, his red card adds to a long and undistinguished list of mistakes that can support the theory that when Rio Ferdinand needs replacing, Evans does not have the credentials to be that man. In mitigation, he is 23, which is still young enough to improve, but his next birthday is in January and time is running out.