Van Persie makes it a double to toast Red new year
Man Utd 4
Goal after goal, game after game, it becomes ever clearer that Robin van Persie looks the defining force in the title race. No wonder Alex Ferguson worked so hard to bring him to Manchester United in the summer. No wonder Roberto Mancini laments the failure to get him to Manchester City.
He guarantees goals.
When United lost the title to City on goal difference last season, Ferguson went out and spent £24m on the Dutchman, who is repaying him in style. Van Persie has now scored 19 goals and made nine assists in his 25 games for United. The first of his double in this game was a gem, highlighting his technique. His second just reflected his ability to take up the right position at the right time.
The ace of brace is so much more than an elegant predator, though. He puts a shift in for the team, creating chances for others and making defensive headers at opponents' corners, leaving the field with his shirt drenched in sweat. He has been quickly integrated into United's family of a dressing-room. The camaraderie during the goal celebrations, also including a double for Javier Hernandez, confirmed Van Persie's popularity and the immense unity in Ferguson's squad.
There is a ruthlessness to United with Van Persie in their ranks, and Ferguson kept the No 20 on to the end to ensure more goals, being rewarded with that late fourth. He does not want to be caught out on goal difference again. It was at the DW last April that United failed to take their chances and suffered a damaging 1-0 defeat.
Home and away they go for it, scoring 26 in 11 on the road in the Premier League and 28 in 10 at Old Trafford. United are seven points better off than City, four goals ahead of them and an occasionally uncertain defence is partly culpable for that. Ferguson will take additional satisfaction from back-to-back clean sheets.
Even taking into account the heavy legs of the hosts, this was the type of the emphatic display that that will surely strengthen further Ferguson's belief in the team's trophy potential. Earlier in the day, Ferguson suggested on the Abu Dhabi Sports channel that he was not considering leaving Old Trafford just yet. "I'm hoping to stay on for a bit of time," he said.
No wonder. He will get at least three years' good service out of Van Persie, currently 29. Even those with doubts over their future excelled here. Patrice Evra kept attacking, kept influencing proceedings. The incomparable Ryan Giggs delivered one of his best games of the season, delivering some fine passes.
Rio Ferdinand was a model of intelligent, mobile defending, making one particularly precise clearing header.
Others also impressed. Rafael has been enjoying a good season, and was lively again here. But along with the goalscorers, the United player who really caught the eye was Michael Carrick. The midfielder was at his quarterback best, sitting deep and dictating play – Keep Calm and Carrick On.
Such was United's control that their huge congregation of fans were soon going through their song-book, singing in praise of Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo, Nicky Butt, Andy Cole as well as the current generation. The sound-track before the start had been rather more mellifluous, the DW DJ stoking up the atmosphere with a collection of classics, ranging from the Supremes' 'You Keep Me Hangin' On', Martha and the Vandellas' 'Dancing in the Street' to Jackie Wilson's 'Your Love Keeps Lifting Me (Higher and Higher)'.
Then it was on to The Monkees' 'I'm a Believer', a sentiment certainly fuelling the thousands of United fans who delighted in the link-ups between Van Persie and Hernandez. The Footballer of the Year was playing in the hole behind Hernandez, often dropping even deeper and sweeping some fine through-balls through to his young accomplice.
Only Hernandez's travails with offside prevented United taking an early lead. Ali Al Habsi's goal came under increasing siege. Rafael had a shot saved. Tom Cleverley had an effort blocked. The pressure told after 35 minutes. The opener had its origins on the left. Rafael chested a clearance into the path of Cleverley. The ball was soon with Jonny Evans, who drove it into the box towards Evra. The full-back failed to connect with his first attempt but his second forced Al Habsi into a scrambling save.
Wigan's 'keeper pushed the ball out but there was Hernandez, the master poacher, making a feast out of scraps.
Hernandez then demonstrated his creative side two minutes from the break, spinning away from Maynor Figueroa and James McArthur on the right, before crossing into the box. Van Persie was helped by Ivan Ramis' slip but his response was still breathtaking. He cushioned the ball with his right and then used his left twice to improve the angle.
Ramis had recovered and dived in but Van Persie's touches simply sent the defender disappearing down a cul de sac. Van Persie's right then sent the ball flying past Al Habsi.
United tightened their grip in the second half. They still had a couple of let-offs. Arouna Kone looked level, not offside, when turning Franco Di Santo's cross past David De Gea. Wigan's frustration deepened after 63 minutes when Hernandez hooked home a loose ball after Van Persie's free-kick deflected his way. All of Hernandez's 31 Premier League goals have come inside the box.
Chris Smalling, who had replaced Ferdinand, was fortunate to escape with only a yellow card for hauling down Kone who was through on goal with eight minutes remaining. United shrugged off this Wigan excursion and made it 4-0 with two minutes remaining. Jean Beausejour and Emmerson Boyce ran into each other, allowing the substitute Danny Welbeck to cross from the right – to you know who. (© Daily Telegraph, London)