Manchester United sealed their 20th league title, and despite their best efforts to make a meal of it in recent weeks, the achievement was a long time coming. Inside thirty-three minutes, Robin van Persie had almost single-handedly clinched the crown with a superb hat-trick, the second goal of which will surely be a contender for goal of the season, and few outside the Emirates could begrudge the affable Dutchman’s celebrations after securing his first ever league championship at the age of 29.
Going into the game, hopes were high around Old Trafford after Man City’s seven-minute mauling at the hands of Spurs put United 13 points clear. Villa on the other hand were hoping to put some daylight between themselves and the bottom four, and potentially relegate QPR and Reading, but it was clear from the off that it would be a long night.
Robin van Persie, who has been scintillating for the most part of this season, catapulted himself into pole position for the golden boot with all three of United’s goals and he effectively ended the contest well before half-time. With a nine-game goal drought a suggestion of fatigue, the Dutch striker has now scored five in his last three games. He profited from some crisp, incisive United play in the first half as they cut through Villa with ease; van Persie notching the first after 90 seconds, firing over from close range a moment later, then Rafael hitting the foot of the post inside ten minutes.
Carrick and Rooney worked in perfect tandem in the centre of midfield, with Carrick providing an excellent foil for the latter to spray the ball around the park. There were echoes of a certain ‘ginger prince’ in the air as Rooney stroked several delicious thirty-yard cross-field balls out to Valencia, the first of which led to the opening goal. Meanwhile, Carrick was his usual, impeccable self and he was calm in possession, mopping up and re-distributing any loose balls in and around the eighteen-yard area. He even tried an ambitious forty-yard volley at one point, such was the confidence that permeated the air.
The real highlight of the night – save for the final whistle and the subsequent booming cheers – was Robin van Persie’s second goal. Despite a very slight hint of offside, United’s aptly-numbered ‘20’ peeled away from his marker as Rooney pinged a stunning forty-yard through-ball that dropped over the Dutchman’s shoulder, sixteen yards out, and he wasted no time in lashing a shot past Guzan into the bottom corner. His standing as one of the finest strikers of a volley in the world game is not in doubt, but his championship haul was questionable – until now.
Van Persie added a third just after the half-hour mark, receiving a loose Giggs ball eight yards out, bamboozling the defender, before curling into the top corner via the right-hand post. It was at that point, 3-0 up and Villa practically clinging on to the game as United swept them along in their onslaught, that you could truly believe there would be no slip-ups, the title would be coming back to Old Trafford. Jones and Evans were impressively solid at the back, Rafael was his usual bustling self, while even the 39-year-old Giggs managed a full ninety minutes – a full game within which he skinned poor old Ron Vlaar with a 1990s-era turn of pace. The second half, despite an injection of urgency into the Villa play thanks to the introduction of El Ahmadi, served as little more than a protracted procession towards the final whistle.
It was the best Manchester United had played in a long while, as for forty-five minutes they were ruthless. Manchester City’s capitulation against Spurs served to highlight why the Etihad outfit are rightfully only runners-up this campaign, but it was United’s whirlwind destruction of Villa that equally proved why they are deserved champions once again. After last season’s disappointment, Ferguson strengthened in key areas, most notably in the form of Robin van Persie, while City stagnated: the signings of Sinclair and Javi Garcia lacked ambition, while no major figures came in to build upon the club’s success. With Aguero injured and Balotelli shipped off back to Italy, and Silva and Toure failing to make the kinds of impressions on a game that they did last year, City have found goals harder to come by, while individual errors at the back have cost them important goals in games.
And though the exit from the Champions League is a moment in the season that still rankles with United supporters, the season is still a magnificent success. They have romped to the title with four games to spare, they have a potential player of the year in van Persie and, most importantly, they have an average age of just twenty-four. What Ferguson needs to do now is maintain the strength and depth that took his side to a historic 20th title, while carefully adding that which could take the club beyond the first knockout round of Europe.
The talking point that lay low beneath the jubilant scenes around Old Trafford was the position of Wayne Rooney in the current set-up as, despite a wonderful game in central midfield, he was brought off again amid rumours earlier in the week that a deal with Paris Saint Germain has already been struck. The former talismanic figure of the United ‘number 10’ is a divided figure these days, with some maintaining that he is a genius on the football pitch, capable of almost anything, with others saying his star is fading amid a period of prolonged questionable performances. Either way, on the night, the game in which the club made history yet again, Rooney played well and was deserving of the praise that came his way, especially following his role in the second goal.
No doubt, the squad could benefit from a little refreshment; a few new faces to provide heightened competition, while a couple of old legs could do with pastures new, but for the meantime, the only thing for Manchester United to worry about is the upcoming game against Arsenal. The title may be won and bragging rights over City and Liverpool extended even further, but a record points-haul is still within sight. Why give up with the title in the bag? It is unlikely that City will stop playing simply because the contest is over, so why not strive for the 95-point threshold achieved by Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea?
Not only would it be a wondrous accomplishment, breaking yet another record would put a little extra shine on a victory that is thoroughly deserved.