Manchester United secured a 20th league title in emphatic fashion as a hat trick from Robin van Persie led them to a 3-0 victory over Aston Villa at Old Trafford.
Needing a win to reclaim the championship after Manchester City’s defeat on Sunday, United came out of the blocks fully motivated to ensure that they wasted no time in getting their hands back on the trophy. In a dominant first-half display, Robin van Persie struck three times in just over half-an-hour to wrap up the three points and the title with time to spare.
While Villa could point to marginal offside calls that went against them on all three goals, there could be no argument that United were not the best team on the night or in the Premier League this season.
Ever since exiting the Champions League to Real Madrid at the beginning of last month, United have lacked intensity in their performances. Yet, with the incentive of wrapping up the title, Sir Alex Ferguson’s men were fired up from the start as they reproduced their exhilarating attacking play form earlier in the campaign.
The first goal arrived just two minutes in. What initially appeared a poor looped cross from Rafael dropped perfectly at the back post for Ryan Giggs who volleyed it right across the face of goal and Van Persie had the easiest of tasks to tap home from a yard out. Not for the last time, though, there was a hint of offside as Valencia was found in the buildup to the goal.
It could have been a second for United and Van Persie just a minute later, but, from Valencia’s deflected cross, the Dutchman volleyed over the top.
That effort perhaps helped Van Persie find his range on the volley and 13 minutes in he made no mistake with a sensational strike.
Wayne Rooney, again playing alongside Michael Carrick in central midfield, illustrated his passing ability with an inch-perfect ball over the top to find Van Persie behind the defense, although a fraction offside, and the forward drilled an unstoppable first-time volley past Brad Guzan from the edge of the box.
While United’s incisive attacking play had been extenuated by somewhat fortunate offside calls, Villa’s defense -- in particular, their high line -- left plenty to be desired. It was that same combination of factors that led to a third United goal in the 33rd minute.
Shinji Kagawa this time cut the Villa defense wide open as he turned into yards of space on the half-way line and bypassed two defenders with a fine through ball for Ryan Giggs. The 39-year-old never looked eager to take the shot on himself coming in from the left, but instead poked it across for Van Persie -- again in a marginally offside position – and the former Arsenal man took his time and evaded a challenge before shooting right into the top corner off the woodwork to complete his hat trick.
It had been a dominant first-half performance from United and it could have an either greater lead at the break with Rafael striking a post early on.
Villa too, for all their defensive instability, looked occasionally threatening on the break. Christian Benteke had their clearest chance but fired over after a pass from Andreas Weimann.
As the second half began, United took their foot off the gas as they’ve been prone to in recent weeks. To their credit, Villa also improved with Karim El Ahmadi coming onto to give them an extra body to close down in central midfield.
The visitors came close to taking advantage in the early stages. After David de Gea had spilled a cross that led to a corner, Van Persie was forced to make an impact on the defensive end as he headed Weimann’s firm header off the line.
But, while Villa were more solid without the ball, they lacked any real threat going forward with the exception of a long-range effort form El Ahmadi that dipped wickedly on target before De Gea reacted smartly to tip over.
That was as good as it got for the visitors, who remain just three points clear of the relegation zone.
As for United, who missed a glorious chance for a fourth when Kagawa shot over when one-on-one with Guzan, they were able to play out time under little threat, which is how it’s been in the championship race this season.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.