The Community Shield was the least of it.
The Manchester clubs were clawing for an advantage that would set the tone for the campaign in which they anticipate vying for all the major prizes. This fixture had meaning and United can be especially satisfied after undermining their opponents' belief that they can resist the attacking power of Sir Alex Ferguson's team. The victors could hardly demonstrate that more vividly than by rallying from 2-0 down to prevail 3-2 in injury time.
United's winner saw the side strike on the break as Nani capitalised on the uncharacteristic hesitancy of the City captain, Vincent Kompany, to run clear, evade the goalkeeper, Joe Hart, and tuck the ball into the net for his second goal of the match. When City played this same fixture here in last season's FA Cup semi‑final, they won 1-0. If Roberto Mancini deduced that his line-up could contain United he was in error. To be more precise, Ferguson is assembling a side with enhanced verve.
There will be other days when United badly need the knowhow of Ryan Giggs, who took no part here, and pine for the guile of the retired Paul Scholes, but such issues did not come to mind in this particular spectacle.
The outcome cannot conceivably be a sure guide to the outcome of the Premier League, but it will leave Mancini with more to ponder. His talk of the need for further signings was justified by the character of this defeat but it also has to be borne in mind that neither Carlos Tevez, recovering from the Copa América, nor the new forward Sergio Agüero, who stayed on the bench, were in action.
United, all the same, grasped their opportunity to show that thrilling days could lie ahead rather than a subdued spell of reconstruction. City, out of habit or necessity, dropped deep after scoring the first goal. There was a special rivalry in the air at Wembley, but it is a matter of practicality that City will have to cut loose now and again. Their goal tally in the Premier League last season was modest for a club of such means and scoring freely is not just a form of entertainment. It will be essential to drain the hope out of the opposition.
Opponents seldom do that to United, of course. It has to be appreciated that the side's position at half-time would have been regarded by many, if not all, fans as beyond recovery since their defence had been breached twice. Their ecstasy at the end must have held a trace of disbelief, regardless of United's tradition of spectacular comebacks. Nani, for instance, only just scraped into double figures as a scorer last season. It is premature to assume that he will go on a spree this time but this impact against City must surely galvanise him for a while at least.
While Mancini is not the sort to get into a panic, he does need Agüero and Tevez to add to the menace. In addition, England would be rather pleased if Adam Johnson were given more opportunities in the starting line-up. He came off the bench on Sunday to replace James Milner.
All the same, Johnson, in the early stages, might not have minded his confinement to the technical area. It is as well that they retired the old title of the Charity Shield, which had far too altruistic a tone for a match that was as hard-fought and sometimes ugly as this. City had five men booked; United had two.
Even so, the afternoon had to be relished for the intensity and, on sufficient occasions, for the skill. United looked for a while as if they would find events at Wembley difficult to bear and not just because their opponents appeared set to have a fillip for the Premier League campaign to come.
The 20-year-old United goalkeeper David de Gea, perceived as a most promising successor to the retired Edwin van der Sar, was all but motionless as Edin Dzeko's shot went past him in first-half stoppage time to send City into a 2-0 lead. Neither De Gea or his defenders can be pardoned either for the scope they gave Joleon Lescott when he headed in from a David Silva free-kick after 38 minutes. Prior to that, it had often been United who looked both eager and effective.
Ferguson made three substitutions at the interval and this continued to be an uncompromising occasion. The first United goal, after 52 minutes, will, however, have been much too simple for the liking of Mancini as Chris Smalling turned in an Ashley Young set piece.
United's leveller six minutes later gleamed with both style and the intuitive understanding of players linking perfectly. An intricate exchange of passes rippled between Wayne Rooney, the substitute Tom Cleverley and Nani before the Portuguese clipped the ball into the net for the first of his goals in the 58th minute. City, to their cost, could not contain him.
The overall impression was of excitement in United ranks as they began to sense that City could not hold them at bay. That will have been disturbing to Mancini since the security of the defence is even more critical to him than to most managers.
In, practice a rare lapse by Kompany stopped City from having the opportunity of a penalty shoot-out, but it still felt as if his team will need a more expansive style in some fixtures. Only then can their dreams be fulfilled.
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