Manchester United 3-0 Aston Villa
Funny how often the whole season can be summarised so aptly in a single weekend of Premiership matches: Chelsea stumbling to a couple of dropped points in a game they should have won; Spurs looking ordinary for an hour and then looking as good as almost anyone in the league for the last twenty minutes; city apparently in command but having neither the control nor the desire to finish them off; Everton stumbling in the final furlong. Oh, and and Suarez bit someone.
For United, at a triumphant Old Trafford, it was also business as usual. We’ve rarely sustained a great performance for a full ninety minutes during this stroll to the Premiership and, in truth, we’ve rarely needed to. This is not so much a comment on the poor quality of our opposition but that, in the period of the game we do play well for, we invariably translate the quality of our football into goals. And, very often, it’s been the case that Van Persie has scored them.
Of course, he’s been going through what some have termed a dry period recently, but did anyone seriously doubt, with the red ribbons poised to be wrapped round the trophy, that it would be RVP who would be the provider of those decisive finishing touches? His first half hat-trick included a tap-in from Giggs’s stabbed ball across the area and an emblematically cool finish after unselfishly being set up by the same player, fittingly on the pitch to receive an astonishing 13th champions’ medal.
But it was the one in between that was more than a bit special, and which said everything about the player who chose United because, he said, the little boy inside him was screaming for it. You suspect that little boy was screaming a lot louder last night, along with the rest of us. While it was great just to be at Old Trafford last night and witness us securing the Premiership in front of a home crowd, I had the bonus of a seat right behind the goal into which Van Persie dispatched his season’s masterpiece.
Despite the many Reds who’ve disagreed with me on the subject of Rooney in midfield, his exquisite pass to put RVP in was further evidence for me that he is every inch the attacking midfielder we’ve been looking for. He can play that kind of ball as well as anyone in the game, and RVP can certainly provide the finish, controlling his volley and sending it past Guzan who, helpless, watched open-mouthed and, you sensed, privately marvelled at its breathtaking quality along with the rest of us.
Many of the other elements that have gone into making this a triumphant year for United were there too: Carrick was imperious in midfield, Rafael a constant threat on the right, Giggs a majesic and cool-headed influence yet still possessing the remarkable ability to beat his man with pace every so often and Evans – along with Jones, who was fantastic in a second half in which Villa attempted vainly to pull back what had been so convincingly lost – showing a maturity at the back that’s been a feature of his play all season. De Gea had little to do but, when he did it, he showed the composure he’s now attained: United fans kept the faith, knowing we had a potential world class keeper, and you sense De Gea now believes that too. Kagawa, now being played in his favoured position, looks a player of the year waiting to happen in 2013-14.
Once again, it only really took half a game to get the result. United’s forwards had cigars on in the second half, leaving the defence to soak up whatever threats Villa could muster with few problems and you sensed that, should we consider it necessarily, the Reds could easily have stepped up a gear and made it five or six.
Perhaps, when we review the United vintage of 2012-13 and compare it with the many other fine sides of the last twenty years, that’s how they’ll be seen: a side of great character and control, capable of captivating football but able to play within themselves, exert themselves when strictly necessary but equally happy just to see a game out and get the points.
We traditionally associate such characteristics with maturity, and with older sides, but on the pitch last night were De Gea, Rafael, Evans, Jones, Kagawa and, fleetingly, Welbeck, all with their best years ahead of them. Add the names Cleverley, Chicharito and Smalling, all of whom have played their part in wresting that trophy back from those mercenaries from across who briefly laid their grasping hands on it, and you have a lot of old heads on young shoulders.
So often in recent years have these things been wrapped up away from home. As we made our way slowly from the ground, my son marvelled at his first experience of a United title secured at Old Trafford. United flags protruded proudly from Salford windows, hordes of United fans in full voice as car horns and scarves streaming from windows provided a fitting backdrop to a memorable night. It was the best night of his life, he told me. The most exhilarating thing for me is that, for a United side with so much youth on its side, I sense a lot more of them to come.