United triumph as easy as RVP
Man United 3 Aston Villa 0
Manchester United won their 20th title race at a canter, even able to ease up in the second half against an outclassed Aston Villa. Robin van Persie struck three times in the first half, his sumptuous second goal demonstrating why he should be Footballer of the Year.
Van Persie has been the defining figure in the chase for the Premier League.
The man with No 20 on his back settled a 20th title for United with his 24 Premier League goals, putting him in pole position for the Golden Boot.
Van Persie left Arsenal to seek trophies and he returns next Sunday when Arsene Wenger's men are expected to form a guard of honour as United fans continue in party mood.
The party had started early. Van Persie was certainly putting on the Ritz.
He was sensational in the first half, claiming the match-ball as United tore Villa apart. His first arrived in the second minute, created by Rooney with a sweeping pass from his central-midfield role to Antonio Valencia on the right. The winger, stepping forward on to his right foot, looked offside but the assistant referee, so close he could almost have touched him, somehow did not see the offence.
Valencia dummied this way and that, looking to wrong-foot Joe Bennett, before cutting the ball back to Rafael. The Brazilian crossed deep to the far-post where Ryan Giggs turned the ball back across for Van Persie to poach his first. "We shall not be moved,'' chanted the Stretford End.
United were irresistible. Rafael, who has been in such good form this season, charged forward and almost snapped a post. Villa suddenly broke through Andreas Weimann, who sent Christian Benteke through. The Belgian shot over when one-on-one with David De Gea.
The Van Persie Show soon resumed. Rooney again played a part in the creative work, this time a particularly magnificent part. Rooney was enjoying a ludicrous amount of space in midfield as if Fabian Delph and Ashley Westwood were too in awe to get close.
Rooney, showing all his technique and vision, simply drilled the ball through for Van Persie, whose response from the edge of the area was breath-taking. Images from the history book of great goals filtered through. Never taking his eyes off the incoming ball, echoing Paul Gascoigne against Scotland at Euro 96, the Dutchman met it with a left-footed volley that flew past Brad Guzan.
It was a volley worthy of comparison with the best in the game, not in Marco van Basten's Euro 88 class, but carrying echoes of Zinedine Zidane's Champions League final strike for Real Madrid against Bayer Leverkusen at Hampden Park in 2002. That could well prove the goal of the season from this observer's vote for Footballer of the Year. Ultimately, for all the lofty comparisons, it was simply a classic Van Persie strike, one that delighted Arsenal fans down the years. Few forwards read a dropping ball better.
"That's why we're champions,'' was now the chant from the Stretford End. It was the expertise of individuals like Van Persie, whose arrival from Arsenal decided the title. Manchester City know it. Their manager, Roberto Mancini, was deeply frustrated at the club's failure to seal a deal for Van Persie. United's manager, Ferguson, had taken one look at the goals-for column of last season's final table and determined to bring in a reliable Premier League finisher.
It was the talent and work-rate of players like Rooney that helped set the scene for this 20th title. The Englishman has been criticised frequently this season, but he never hides. For all the talk of his future, Rooney demonstrated why he remains central to United's fortunes. He occasionally lost the ball but usually steered passes unerringly towards team-mates. He embodies the team-mindedness in Ferguson's squad.
If there can be legitimate debates about whether Ferguson's best starting XI now can compare with those of the Treble in 1999 and the 1994 Double-winners but this current squad is so deep. No Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand? Phil Jones and Jonny Evans step in at centre-half.
The hunger always contained in Ferguson was also embodied on the pitch by Ryan Giggs, closing in on his 13th title. Even at 2-0, the 39-year-old was fighting as hard as a teenager hunting a first contract. That example inspires all, reminding them of the demands of being a United player.
New signings like Shinji Kagawa quickly become acquainted with the standards required. The Japanese international has contributed this season, showing his class in games like Fulham and West Ham, and was involved with Giggs in creating Van Persie's third. On receiving the ball, Van Persie calmly dribbled past Brad Guzan and shot past Ron Vlaar.
"Champions, champions,'' was now the United song of choice. Villa were poor but their fans excelled. "We're going to win 4-3,'' they chanted. Their manager, Paul Lambert, made a good change at the break. He inserted Karim El Ahmadi in midfield and removed Charles N'Zogbia. It gave Villa some control in the centre. Villa's fans kept singing, saluting Lambert. Even when Villa thought they had scored through Weimann, Van Persie cleared off the line.
Another reason for United's drive could be found in their technical area, in the sight of Ferguson standing there, pointing at Rooney and company to be tighter in possession. Leading 3-0, and with the league sealed, Fergie was still furious at little mistakes.
With 18 minutes remaining, Rooney was taken off, the 10th time in 30 games in all competitions he has been substituted. Danny Welbeck ran on but the match had long lost its energy. El Ahmadi attempted to give Villa some hope with a strong shot that De Gea tipped over.
The young Spaniard has been criticised earlier this season, notably for a moment of hesitancy at White Hart Lane, but this save was another reminder of his capabilities.
United should have added a fourth. Valencia then cut the ball back, Kagawa turned Matthew Lowton but shot wildly over, earning a ribald riposte from the Stretford End. United then almost lost Welbeck to injury when the England striker was caught by a rash challenge from Westwood. No matter. United fans were already chanting "champions". At the final whistle, Van Persie held his arms aloft. The title race was run. (© Daily Telegraph, London)