Van Persie delivers 20th title for United
Former Arsenal striker’s hat-trick completes final leg of the journey and keeps champions on course for record points haul
Robin van Persie of Manchester United celebrates scoring his first of three against Aston Villa. Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Manchester United 3 Aston Villa 0: Somehow, it felt appropriate that Robin van Persie should be so prominent on the night Manchester United, once again, could call themselves the champions of England.
He, more than anyone, has been instrumental in the title race and when he plays with this kind of refined brilliance he is probably entitled to feel hard done by that the Professional Footballers’ Association sent out its player-of-the-year voting slips during the one point of the season he endured a lapse in form.
His first-half hat-trick here, taking him to 24 Premier League goals to leapfrog Luis Suarez as the leading scorer in the top division, was the work of a man playing at the point of maximum impression.
Ferguson’s men conjured up some of the most devastating attacking play they have managed all season during that opening 45 minutes. They tailed off after the break, but their crowd had already been treated to an exhibition and they will cherish the way they guaranteed the handover from Manchester City.
Ferguson’s men played like a team in a hurry to be reunited with the trophy. This was the kind of football Old Trafford has craved: fast, penetrative, bristling with confidence.
At one point Ryan Giggs flicked the ball one side of his marker, Matthew Lowton, ran round the other side, outsprinting a player 16 years his junior, and it was like stepping back into a different era.
Dazzled the crowd
The Stretford End serenade Michael Carrick these days for the way he passes the ball a la Paul Scholes. Yet these were moments when Wayne Rooney, playing in the Scholes role, bedazzled the crowd with his vision and ability to pass the ball, long and short.
Van Persie took his performance up another level here and the volley for his second goal, from a ball coming down over his left shoulder, was probably the best moment yet.
Rooney’s long, probing chip had come from just inside the United half. Van Persie was running though, looking above him, measuring the trajectory of the ball. His shot was a peach, a combination of power and technique all made it to look so implausibly easy.
Villa will reflect on the chance Christian Benteke had just put over but, in all probability, they would be kidding themselves to think it would have made that huge a difference.
A team cannot defend this abjectly, with so little structure and organisation, and hope to get away with it. Villa have now conceded 64 league goals this season, their least distinguished statistics in the Premier League era.
Their ordeal began just as the Old Trafford crowd had digested the news Rooney was starting in midfield. His brilliant cross-field pass picked out Antonio Valencia on the right. Rafael da Silva was up in support and the visiting defence looked on as Giggs found space at the far post to lay the cross back across the six-yard area.
Shinji Kagawa could not quite reach it but Van Persie was anticipating where the ball would arrive and couldn’t miss.
That was the cue for the first victory songs and by the time Van Persie completed his hat-trick Villa were reduced to damage limitation.
After 33 minutes, Rooney and Kagawa combined in midfield and Giggs was stretching his ageing legs again on the left.
Van Persie collected the cross, stepped past goalkeeper Brad Guzan, and though there were four defenders on the line, or in close proximity, his shot went past them all and in off the right-hand post.
Perhaps a little complacency crept in after the interval. Ferguson was aggrieved enough at one point to come to the touchline and gesture angrily. Van Persie, of all people, headed Andreas Weimann’s effort off the goalline and Villa, to give them their due, did at least improve.
Paul Lambert’s side are three points above Wigan Athletic but have played a goal more and will be extremely aware about the previous feats of escapology Roberto Martinez’s team has conjured up.
In that regard, Villa should be grateful Rooney wafted one effort over the crossbar before being substituted for Danny Welbeck. Kagawa did the same from a much easier chance but it was not long after that the “oles” started and the “20 times” flags started to flutter.