Manchester United vs. Aston Villa: Final score 3-0, United clinch title in romp

Alex Livesey

Robin van Persie notched a first-half hattrick with a little help from the linesman, and that was all Manchester United needed to clinch their 20th title as they downed Aston Villa 3-0.

Manchester United won their twentieth league title in a match that was little more than a formality in a season which has also been little more than a formality. In fact, there was so little point in Aston Villa's trip to Old Trafford that the rules of football were temporarily revoked in order to ensure as straightforward a win as possible -- Robin van Persie was handed an first half hattrick by the linesman and the Red Devils coasted from there.

If the early goals were offside, they were at least pretty. Two minutes in, Wayne Rooney sprayed a pass out wide to Antonio Valencia, who'd strayed beyond the Villa line but was allowed to play on anyway. Valencia cut the ball back, and Rafael's cross picked out the creaking hulk of Ryan Giggs at the back post. Giggs cut it back to van Persie, who tapped home from close range to make it 1-0.

Villa were rocking, and they nearly conceded thrice more before they managed to extract the ball from their own half. Van Persie should have found the net with an acrobatic volley after Ron Vlaar had contrived to completely misjudge a cross, instead putting the ball just over Brad Guzan's crossbar. Vlaar redeemed himself with a last-ditch challenge on Shinji Kagawa, denying the midfielder as he attempted to muscle in from a knockdown, and then Rafael hit the base of the post with a low effort from just outside the box.

The visitors did manage to threaten intermittently, and their best chance of the first half came on the counterattack. Andreas Weimann, who'd terrorised United at Villa Park earlier in the season, threaded a neat pass to Christian Benteke, who should have beaten David de Gea and equalised. He managed the former, but not the latter, fizzing a side-footed effort just over the target.

Van Persie showed him how it was done seconds later, smashing home Rooney's diagonal with a first-time volley from the edge of the penalty area. It was a fine goal, worthy of winning the title but for the unfortunate fact that it too should have been called for offside -- the Dutch striker was behind the line when Rooney played him in.

At 2-0, the game was pretty clearly over, and Villa started coming out of their shell. They even managed periods of sustained pressure, opening up United's midfield almost at will but never coming particularly close to threatening de Gea's goal. The hosts were simply absorbing pressure and waiting for a chance to break forward, and they did just that in the 33rd minute when Giggs burst clear of Villa's line and bore down on Guzan.

Instead of shooting, Giggs opted to pull the ball across for van Persie, who drew Guzan out, danced around him and then bypassed the three defenders on the line by lifting a shot in off the post. All of which would had been great had he been onside.

Down 3-0 at halftime, Villa didn't seem to have much left in the game but damage control as they looked to preserve their goal differential. Rather than retreating, however, the visitors pushed forward, with Weimann's header forcing van Persie to clear off his own line before Benteke drew a smart stop out of de Gea after Rooney had given the ball away to Karim El-Ahmadi.

Sir Alex Ferguson was obviously unhappy with the way his midfield duo of Michael Carrick and Rooney were being attacked in the centre and exhorted his side to push forward and put the pressure back on the visitors. United followed orders, bursting forward as they put the lie to any hint of a Villa fightback.

Johnny Evans might have made it 4-0 (and 1-0 on the legal goals scale) when he got on the end of a corner and shot towards the bottom corner only to see Joe Bennett keep it out. Kagawa then had a penalty shout turned down when he went to ground under the tender care of Vlaar, then made a mockery of the sport by firing 18 yards over from more or less the spot.

But the visitors weren't entirely useless. El Ahmadi forced de Gea into a flying stop with a vicious long-range stop that required a strong hand to keep it from dipping under the crossbar, and all in all Paul Lambert's side will be able to come out of the match feeling reasonably good about themselves.

United, on the other hand, never had to do very much and won at a canter. It was a nice little metaphor for their season.

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