x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Hat-trick for Robin van Persie as Manchester United clinch a 20th English title

The man who traded Arsenal for United last summer in a bid to end his long wait for silverware was able to seal their Premier League title success with a hat-trick in a 3-0 win against Aston Villa, reports Richard Jolly.

Robin van Persie's hat-trick in the first half sealed the deal for Manchester United's 20th league title. Paul Ellis / AFP
Robin van Persie's hat-trick in the first half sealed the deal for Manchester United's 20th league title. Paul Ellis / AFP

MANCHESTER // The blue ribbons have been removed from the trophy, to be replaced by the red ones. Manchester City's brief reign is over and Manchester United have reclaimed their crown. Their mission for the season has been accomplished.

For a record 20th time, they are the champions.

They ensured their coronation came in style, overwhelming Aston Villa in a devastating first-half display.

There were no nerves from United. Rather they embraced their destiny, relishing the chance to make mathematically certain what most have known for weeks: that the serial winners need a still bigger trophy cabinet.

It was entirely fitting that the pivotal player of the season saw United over the finishing line.

Robin van Persie's goals had put them in pole position in the title race.

Now the man who traded Arsenal for United last summer in a bid to end his long wait for silverware was able to seal their success.

The Dutchman delivered a 33-minute hat-trick, including an extraordinary long-range volley.

He has been the finisher supreme but he retains his flair for the fantastic.

Van Persie was the standout performer on an evening plenty of others enjoyed. Moved into midfield, Wayne Rooney sprayed passes around with enviable expertise. Restored to the left wing, Ryan Giggs belied his 39 years and set up two of Van Persie's goals. Rafael da Silva, who drilled a shot against the post, attacked with verve from right-back.

The only danger to United lay in assuming it was too easy and getting caught on the counter-attack by Villa. They have plenty of pace but a poor and porous defence means their Premier League status is still endangered. United, who have an outstanding record against Villa, will miss them if they go. That said, they have excelled at beating all-comers this season.

This was a 27th win in 34 league games. It was also among the most comfortable.

There was a party atmosphere at Old Trafford from the start, aided by the earliest of early goals. The supporters were able to celebrate long before the final whistle.

Only Sir Alex Ferguson remained impervious to the revelries, concentrating intently on the game as he directed operations from the edge of his technical area.

Perhaps, however, a manager does not win 13 league titles by taking his eye off the ball, even when victory appears a formality.

The procession to the title became a sprint after 81 seconds.

Then Rafael's looping cross cleared the far post and was angled back across the six-yard box by Giggs for the unmarked Van Persie to sweep it over the line.

It was another to add to the long list of telling goals the £24 million (Dh134.7m) striker has scored this season.

The best, however, was still to come. The Dutchman had almost struck when he met Antonio Valencia's centre with a sweetly-struck volley that flicked the roof of the net. He was merely finding his range.

When Rooney floated a 40-yard pass over the Villa defence, Van Persie accelerated on to it and unleashed a cannonball of a volley.

Struck with blistering power, uncanny accuracy and technical mastery, it flew into Brad Guzan's net.

His second treble in United colours was completed soon after the half-hour.

Shinji Kagawa released Giggs, who unselfishly squared the ball. Van Persie had the composure to turn away from Guzan before lifting his shot beyond the three defenders who were on the goal-line. It was the Dutchman's fifth goal in three games.

After his two-month, 751-minute drought, another flood has begun and he has now displaced Luis Suarez to become the division's top scorer again.

Not content with scoring three goals, Van Persie saved one, clearing Andreas Weimann's header off his line. Indeed, while Villa could easily have conceded several more goals, they possessed an attacking threat. Christian Benteke came close, too, whipping a shot over, and testing David de Gea with a low effort. But defeat included damage to their goal difference, which could be a factor come the end of the season.

It was for United last year, of course.

Not now. They can banish the memories of City's 2012 triumph.

Once again, they are champions, deservedly and decisively.



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