x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Robin van Persie has it all as Manchester United stay top

Robin van Persie proves he can do simple and spectacular as a brace from him and Javier Hernandez powers league-leading United past Wigan, writes Richard Jolly.

Robin van Persie scored a brace, and Javier Hernandez added two of his own, to lead Manchester United over host Wigan Athletic.
Robin van Persie scored a brace, and Javier Hernandez added two of his own, to lead Manchester United over host Wigan Athletic.

WIGAN // The first Manchester United striker celebrated in song by their fans was Eric Cantona. The second was Ruud van Nistelrooy.

As a modern-day striker maintained his prolific return, there was something fitting about mentions of both.

Sir Alex Ferguson often compares Robin van Persie to Cantona. Van Nistelrooy was their last Dutch master.

Van Persie may be their most clinical marksman since his 2006 departure and the pick of the goals in a rout, a delightful, delectable finish, illustrated his ability.

It was the 18th of an embryonic United career.

A 19th duly followed, in rather easier fashion, proof that Van Persie can score the simple and the spectacular.

His brace, matching Javier Hernandez's efforts, maintained United's seven-point lead at the Premier League summit and condemned Wigan Athletic to defeat on Tuesday.

"We knew we were getting a top player who would make a difference to the team," Ferguson, the United manager, said, inadvertently backing up a rival's point.

Manchester City's Roberto Mancini had said that Van Persie could decide the title race even.

And as United recorded a 16th victory in 17 games against Wigan, Hernandez was as influential as his strike partner.

The Mexican is the professional predator, Van Persie the finisher and flair player in one.

Van Persie's first goal, bent in with precision after a deft turn left Ivan Ramis going in the wrong direction, was a masterpiece.

"His play for his first goal was absolutely magnificent: his turn, his balance, it was a really good goal," said Ferguson. "Robin is a completely rounded footballer, his ability to make and take goals is fantastic."

And as his second, also on his less favoured right foot, showed his repertoire extends beyond his feared left. Hernandez's two, meanwhile, were proof of his ability to sniff out an opening. He is in a rich vein of form that has produced 11 goals in his last 13 games.

The difference is that Van Persie has sustained that ratio for rather longer. His 21 league games for United have yielded 16 goals and six assists.

Viewed one way, he is contributing better than a goal a game, a reward for Ferguson's uncharacteristic decision to buy the finished article. "He came to us at the very peak of his career," the manager said.

Van Persie's challenge is to restore United to heights they have reached 19 times in the past, by steering them to the 20th title.

Last season the league was lost, in part, because of a costly defeat at Wigan. A second was rarely threatened.

While Hernandez had an early goal disallowed for offside, they were untroubled before they broke through.

After Wigan failed to clear a corner, Tom Cleverley and Jonny Evans linked up on the left flank, and then Patrice Evra, having miscued his initial effort drilled a shot that Ali Al Habsi parried to United's premier poacher.

Hernandez did the rest.

"Chicharito [Hernandez], as you know since the day he came, is a penalty-box player," said Ferguson. "He latches on to things. He's brilliant."

Known more for taking chances than creating them, the Mexican nonetheless turned provider. He picked out Van Persie with a cross-field ball. A deft turn left the Wigan defender Ramis on his backside, a curling shot meant Ali Al Habsi was clawing at thin air.

After both strikers struck in the first half, they repeated that achievement in the second. Hernandez reacted decisively after Van Persie's free kick rebounded back off the wall.

"When you look at the goals we conceded, they were second phases of two set plays where we reacted too lethargically," said Roberto Martinez, the Wigan manager, who felt fatigue was a factor.

"It was very unfair to play against the league leaders in a period where we had four games in 11 days," he added, bemoaning his inability to rotate players as Ferguson could.

Indeed, one of the Scot's substitutes, Danny Welbeck, set up Van Persie for the fourth. After being the division's top scorer in both 2011 and 2012, Van Persie has started 2013 in a similar vein.

While he retains his capacity to dominate the headlines, however, there were other pleasing points for United: a second influential display in a week from Ryan Giggs on the left wing, another performance of controlled, classy passing from Michael Carrick and something they used to take for granted, a clean sheet.

After only managing three in 19 games, United now have two in as many matches. "Don't tell anybody," joked Ferguson. "No, we're delighted about that."

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