Rob Parrish looks at how Manchester City's first title success since 1968 represents what could prove to be a significant shift in the balance of power in the Premier League.
By Rob Parrish - Follow me on Twitter @skysportsrobp
Last Updated: 14/05/12 1:17pm
The pure drama and nerve-shredding tension of Manchester City's first Premier League title triumph is unlikely to ever be matched, with the shockwaves caused by Sergio Aguero's winner deep into injury time still being felt at the Etihad Stadium and Old Trafford.
With 90 minutes on the clock, obituaries were being typed for City and Roberto Mancini as the Devon Loch moment which Sir Alex Ferguson had mentioned in the war of words prior to kick-off, surely more in hope than expectation, looked certain to occur.
Trailing 2-1 at home to 10-man QPR, with Mancini variously squatting, gesticulating, bawling and threatening to combust on the touchline as the clock ran down, the latest chapter in City's history of glorious failure was being written amidst a bombardment of Paddy Kenny's goal that was being undertaken more in hope than expectation.
But this is a new version of the club who - back in 1996 - infamously and mistakenly played for a draw in the closing stages against Liverpool when they needed to win to avoid relegation, and the growing pressure eventually told in the first minute of added time when Edin Dzeko headed home to level the scores.
Simultaneously, 140 miles away in the North East, the final whistle was sounding at the Stadium of Light with Manchester United making their way to the sidelines after triumphing 1-0 over Sunderland hoping, but not yet believing, that they could be on course for their 20th top-flight title despite having blown an eight-point lead over the final six games of the season.
And then the final twist. City surged forward again, Mario Balotelli slipped the ball through to Aguero, who evaded one lunging challenge before steadying himself and unleashing a right-foot shot beyond Kenny to spark scenes of mayhem, delirium, ecstasy and celebration. Victory had been snatched from the jaws of defeat.
To misquote Mark Twain - the rumours of City's demise were greatly exaggerated - and the match reports detailing their title trauma were hastily moved to the trash and replaced with what was published, extolling their unshakeable belief and never-say-die attitude.
After a title race where the lead changed hands seven times throughout the season and then again on four further occasions on the last day until the final knockout blow from Aguero, Mancini and Ferguson will doubtless already be looking ahead to next season when it is widely predicted City and United will go toe-to-toe in search of silverware once again.
City may only have one Premier League crown to stand against Ferguson's 12, but the Scot's favoured battle-cry of the title-winning experience within his squad now carries less resonance thanks to Sunday's dramatic denouement.
United have stood the test of time in the Premier League. They are the one constant who have seen challengers come and go - Chelsea under Roman Abramovich and Jose Mourinho, Arsenal's Invincibles, the Blackburn built by Jack Walker - and they must do the same again.
But City present a different obstacle, their transfer muscle dwarfing all of Europe, with the lure of silverware and regular UEFA Champions League football meaning Mancini will have little difficulty in luring the elite to the Etihad.
Ferguson is far too experienced to rip apart a squad which finished the season with 89 points - a total only they have bettered in the last five years of top-flight football - and only missed out on glory due to his nightmare scenario of goal difference. Analysis of their season highlights moments where the title may have been lost, with the two derby defeats always jumping out, while the costly failures against Everton and Wigan during the uncharacteristic stumbling run-in must not be overlooked.
The true cost of captain and central defensive rock Nemanja Vidic's season-ending cruciate ligament injury in December is only now being felt. It is impossible to imagine the Red Devils throwing away a 4-2 home advantage to Everton had the Serbia international been marshalling their backline, while his presence in the derby at the Etihad might have produced a different outcome.
Ferguson's decision to lure Paul Scholes out of retirement in January proved a masterstroke, with his midfield guile helping the Red Devils rein their rivals back in during their March and April wobbles. But Scholes, alongside fellow midfield veteran Ryan Giggs, can only keep sipping the elixir of youth for so long before both have to be replaced.
Wesley Sneijder and Samir Nasri were targets last summer, while the latest name to be strongly linked with a move to Old Trafford is Borussia Dortmund's Japan international midfielder Shinji Kagawa.
Across the City, Mancini has a spine to his side which is the envy of many in Europe. Yaya Toure, Vincent Kompany and Joe Hart were all named in the PFA Team of the Season and it is impossible to argue against their inclusion after their key contributions throughout the campaign.
Given the backing he receives from Sheikh Mansour, Mancini could be tempted to dip into the market for another centre-back as cover for Kompany and Joleon Lescott, with Kolo Toure and Stefan Savic regarded as less than reliable deputies. Winger Adam Johnson could be another ushered towards the exits as he did not even make the bench on the final day.
In attack, Mancini still has the thorny issues of Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli to address. The former has been at pains in recent weeks to stress his desire to remain with City, but it is difficult to fully trust the protestations of a man who sulked on the bench against Bayern Munich before spending several months playing golf in his homeland and complaining he had been 'treated like a dog'.
Balotelli is another enigma. The gifted Italian is capable of match-winning contributions, but these are tempered by his frustrating foolishness which brought two red cards this term, a further suspension for kicking Scott Parker and a lucky escape after an horrific challenge on Alex Song. Given his age, he deserves another chance under Mancini, but can expect to be on a short leash.
There is another cloud lurking on the horizon for City in the shape of UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules, with the club's most recent results showing record losses of £197million, although their recent sponsorship deal with Etihad Airways is believed to have boosted their coffers to the tune of £400million.
After offering his congratulations to City on Sunday, Ferguson turned his attention to regaining the crown and stated: "For us, it's a challenge - and we're good at challenges." It is likely to be the biggest of his career.