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The Dutchman's 14 Manchester United goals this season include strikes against four of the team's five main rivals as he proves what a difference £24 million can make

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By Wayne Veysey at Etihad Stadium

Much of the build-up to this barnstorming, bonkers and utterly brilliant derby had focused on Robin van Persie, who resisted Manchester City's overtures to join Manchester United in the summer.

Top players deserve top billing and the flying Dutchman made yet another decisive contribution to the title race with his 14th goal of what has been an outstanding half-season at Old Trafford.

DERBY DELIGHT
MAN UNITED'S THREE TOP PERFORMERS
RIO FERDINAND

During the periods when United's midfield controlled the game, the veteran could concentrate on seeing off the constricted Aguero and did so effectively. An established and reliable showing, including an important block in the second half.
WAYNE ROONEY

Given too much space – thanks in part to Van Persie’s runs – and, despite a seriously mishit shot for his first goal, was in a real striker’s mood. Found the right positions and became the highest ever goalscorer in Manchester derbies as a result.
ROBIN VAN PERSIE

A quite glorious chested pass was the catalyst for the first goal and the Dutchman’s play was typified by less obvious but nonetheless crucial contributions. Picked the right times to dart forward and pull defenders away from Rooney in the first half and so unlucky to hit the post with a brilliant shot on the hour. Missed with a second-half header but deserved his late goal, despite the deflection, for his contributions.
Asked to describe the injury-time free-kick that condemned City to their first league defeat of the season, and their first loss at Etihad Stadium in two years, Van Persie shrugged: "Wazza (Wayne Rooney) asked me, ‘Are you going to shoot or cross it?’ I said, 'I think I'll have a shot'."

Never mind Samir Nasri's invisible man impression in a City wall that was effectively reduced to two men. Never mind the slight deflection that the ball took before nestling in the bottom corner of Joe Hart’s net.

Van Persie’s run of invaluable contributions in a red shirt is a lengthy one. And no fluke.

"It was obviously a difficult angle but a player of Robin’s ability… we've worked on that together on the training ground," Rooney observed. "I had no doubt he could score from there."

Nor had any of the 47,000 souls at a bouncing Etihad Stadium, who had witnessed City's relentless second-half onslaught overturn United's two-goal lead.

Van Persie's wondrous left foot is as good as any on the planet, his right is an increasingly reliable source of goals, and he has the mental strength and physical prowess to win any match. In other words, the 29-year-old is the complete striking package.

He has now scored against four of United's five main domestic rivals this season; the winners against Liverpool and City and vital early strikes to set his new team on their merry way against Chelsea and former employers Arsenal. Of the big guns, only Tottenham have managed to keep the name of the predatory Dutchman off the score-sheet.

That's what £24 million of ready-made talent buys you.

Proven in the Premier League, Van Persie has quickly proved his worth at the 19-times English champions.

His presence at the point of United’s attack has had the dual purpose of taking the pressure off Wayne Rooney and making this the most eye-catching and watchable Sir Alex Ferguson team since Cristiano Ronaldo was step-overing his way through nervous defences.

Van Persie's decision to choose United over City in the summer may have done little for Danny Welbeck’s development as a spearhead, but it instantly narrowed the gap between the two Manchester clubs.

The evidence was clear for all to see in the biggest match of the domestic campaign to date.

Firstly, in the breath-taking 15th minute counter-attack that resulted in Rooney putting United 1-0 up, Van Persie's chest-down to set Ashley Young galloping down the left flank almost went un-noticed but it was subtly brilliant.

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There was nothing delicate about the rocket right-footer that could, and should, have helped put United three goals clear at the hour mark. Van Persie's shot from 25 yards cannoned off the post and was tapped into the net by Ashley Young but it was ruled out for off-side.

Half-an-hour later, with only two minutes of injury time to play, a foul on Rafael spelled danger for City, placed as it was just outside the box and at an angle that suited a left-footer.

Rooney has got used to moving aside for Van Persie, and he did so again to allow his colleague to deliver another two points in a season of incredible United comebacks.

United have recovered 18 points from losing positions this season, a statistic Sir Alex Ferguson attributes to his stellar summer signing.

"I think it's down to Van Persie to be honest, the threat he has given us up front," he said. "Van Persie has been really brilliant for us. He's relished coming here."

United would have been accused of throwing away a big advantage, just as they did when they ceded an eight-point lead to be overhauled by City in last season’s title race, were it not for the Dutchman.

With the season nearly reaching its halfway point, the double Footballer of the Year winner is a strong contender to defend his title.

More contributions like this, and United will also be on course to wrest the team pennant back from their bitter rivals.

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