Manchester United wins record 20th league title
With 75,000 delirious Manchester United fans chanting ''Champions! Champions!'' at full voice, Rio Ferdinand tugged the back of Robin van Persie's jersey near the forward's number and shouted: ''No. 20! No. 20!''
Twenty was the number at Old Trafford on Monday night.
Van Persie's first-half hat trick helped Manchester United produce a performance of style and swagger, a 3-0 victory over Aston Villa that clinched the club's record 20th English league title with four matches to spare.
''It is a great feeling,'' the Dutch forward said. ''It is a fantastic team and fantastic players. It is a championship for every single one of them.''
Signed from Arsenal last summer, Van Persie put United ahead 83 seconds with a shot from close range. He doubled the lead with a volley in the 12th minute and completed his hat trick in the 33rd minute with his league-high 24th goal of the season.
Manchester United (27-4-3) has a 16-point lead over Manchester City (20-5-8), which has five games left. United will receive the trophy after its last home game of the season, against Swansea on May 12.
United manager Alex Ferguson's decision to buy Van Persie last summer from Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger for 24 million pounds ($36 million) - a hefty price for a player who had been injury prone - proved to be pivotal in the race against City, a team Ferguson once dubbed ''noisy neighbors.''
As Ferguson walked into the center circle moments after the final whistle to soak up the atmosphere, he was soon embraced by Van Persie, who left Ferdinand and the rest of his teammates celebrating in front of fans and made a beeline for the Scot.
''I remember Arsene Wenger saying he's a better player than you think,'' Ferguson said after securing the 49th trophy of his managerial career. ''I think he could be right. In terms of impact, I think it's as big as anyone I can remember.''
Ferguson and United have won 13 of the 21 Premier League titles. This is the earliest a club has clinched the Premier League since Manchester United on April 14, 2001, according to STATS. With victories in its last four matches, United would break the points record of 95 set by Chelsea's in 2004-05.
''It is sweet. It doesn't matter when you win it,'' Ferguson said. ''The consistency has been phenomenal. We have lived up to the expectation.''
United wasted an eight-point lead with six games to play last season, and City edged United on goal difference in the season's final minute with two goals in second-half injury time against Queen Park Rangers. That gave City its first title since 1968 and just its third overall.
''When you lose it in the manner that we did last year, it's always special to win it back,'' said Ryan Giggs, United's 39-year-old midfielder. ''We did it in style.''
Van Persie's second goal will rank among the best this season, with Van Persie connecting from the edge of the penalty area as the ball dropped over his shoulder following Rooney's perfectly weighted pass. As the net rippled, Van Persie sprinted along the sideline.
''As far as I'm concerned, it's the goal of the season,'' Ferguson said. ''Technique, head over the ball. Magnificent strike.''
Giggs played a key role in Van Persie's other two goals. Giggs' cushioned volley along the face of the 6-yard box that Van Persie tapped home in the second minute.
For his third goal, Van Persie took Giggs' short cross, rounded American goalkeeper Brad Guzan and shot into the top corner from 7 yards.
''I'm very happy, but it's weird,'' said the 29-year-old Van Persie, who spent three seasons at Feyenoord and eight at Arsenal. ''I had to wait for so long for my first title.''