TITLE 20 after number 20 sinks VillaBy: Ian | April 23rd, 2013
20 times a league winner. A record 20 times a league winner. Utd’s title winning machine rumbled on and over its target, with four games to spare, to clinch the Premier League Trophy last night as Aston Villa came to town for the celebrations. Realistically, there was only going to be one winner here because this was a special occasion under the lights of Old Trafford and everyone inside it was willing it to happen. Willpower doesn’t win football games, but the support inside the ground was brilliant, and fittingly, Utd produced a similarly great display to wrap things up. Here’s what happened:
De Gea, Rafael, Jones, Evans, Evra, Valencia, Carrick, Giggs, Kagawa, Rooney and Van Persie were sent out to do the job against relegation-threatened Villa. They did just that and it took just over a minute (81s to be precise) for a goal. Rooney, again in the midfield with the supporting role up front going to Kagawa, produced a fantastic cross-field ball to Valencia. The Ecuadorian lay it off for Rafael, who dug into the ball to deliver a high and deep ball into the danger zone. It found Giggs who took it with a velvet touch that sent it across the box and towards the waiting boots of Van Persie. Easy. 1-0. Terrific move.
Barely had the cheers from the goal ended and the ‘champions’ chanting begun that Van Persie should have made it two a minute later. A deflected cross found him and so easily the lead could have been doubled. But, as we learnt in time, he was saving his volleying technique for something a little less ordinary. He then tried to turn towards assisting, but Kagawa’s short-range effort was blocked, something that didn’t hide Villa’s fragility in this fast-paced start. The game was being played in the Villa half, with Rafael trying to join in the fun with a swing of his right foot, the result clanging off the upright with Guzan beaten. Benteke was the target of a rare Villa foray, but the attempt was off-target, and Utd just went forward again.
Then came the special moment, something worthy of winning every game and most certainly the chocolate sprinkle on top of the cherry on top of the icing on the Premier League cake. Rooney, in space in the midfield, looked up and dinked a perfect, simply perfect, ball of some 40 yards distance over the top of the Villa defence looking for Van Persie. It was coming in over his right shoulder, but the angle worried the Dutchman not, for he timed it accurately, and his first time volley sailed past a helpless Guzan and into the bottom corner for 2-0. As direct a move as you can get, but Goal of the Month for certain. Likely to get Utd’s goal of the season for its mixture of pass and finish, and a contender for overall Goal of the Season. Sir Alex went further, to label it Goal of the Century, which, considering we still have 87 years left in it if the human race manages that long, might be a little premature, but it was a unique moment. 2-0 in some style. 13 minutes gone by the way, although time was mostly irrelevant in this game.
That said, Van Persie had to wait twenty minutes (that number again), a full twenty minutes, for the seemingly inevitable third. Kagawa spun in possession and released Giggs with a sublime ball past a high-line Villa defence. The Welshman struck forwards and although it would have been nice to see Utd’s best servant ever notch a goal on this night, he was unselfish and fed the man with him, Van Persie, for his hattrick. The defenders and keeper crowded the line, but Van Persie shimmied left and sunk the effort in off the post, the post redeeming itself for stopping Rafael earlier. It took a bow, whilst the cheers for the goal were lost in the cheers for a title win that looked like having been sealed quicker than anyone expected.
That made RVP the top league scorer this term so far, with 24 goals in the league, but I doubt even he was thinking of that. The salesmen, having already taken the decision to get their flags and posters done displaying twenty titles, proved their business acumen as they started to sell and wave the flags did, even before half time.
The second half didn’t live up to the first, but the job was done. Van Persie, having a game that more than made up for several poor ones of recent times, turned defender to ensure Weimann didn’t give Villa anything to shout about. However, the visitors, having adopted an attitude perhaps of things couldn’t get much worse, became a little more comfortable on the ball, leading to chances for Benteke (stopped by De Gea down low) and El Ahmadi’s dipping long range shot that forced De Gea to judge its flight accurately (it was going in) to tip it over the bar.
Van Persie satisfied with his goal haul for the night, efforts were made to try and get Rooney into the action, despite his deep role. Two attempts, including a skied side-volley, were the measure of that, before his substitution for Danny Welbeck brought his involvement to an end. It didn’t seem the night to point out that under pressure in his midfield role, he has a tendency to lose the ball more often than not, but given the space he knocks the ball around quite superbly. We’ll stick with the latter for now.
The opportunity for the fourth came knocking, but Kagawa couldn’t find the door. Valencia, a little more enlivened, got the ball into the box again to find the man from Japan, who’s body movement to lose the defender was as subtle as it was brilliant. The goal was screaming for the ball more than a man recreating Felix Baumgartner’s jump without a parachute but Kagawa struck Kevin in the stands instead.
The ten minutes were played out because a football game has ninety minutes in it. But everyone was just waiting. The whistle went and the roar went up. The bubbly was burst open and the salesmen got going like crazy. Although this title has been earned a little more by consistency than the spectacular (that being saved for the end of the quest it seems), the simple one game after another approach, it made the occasion no less special. The sensational way of having not won the title last season, of losing the handle within seconds of grasping it, was reversed in ruthless fashion, with a hand on the trophy with hours and weeks to spare. Now, it can’t let go, even if it wanted to, and that trophy is going back where it belongs – the Old Trafford Trophy room. Big place, you know.
I don’t feel like a season assessment just yet, even though everything is wrapped up. There is an interesting case of affairs though. Utd have four games remaining: Arsenal away, Chelsea and Swansea at home, finishing up with West Brom away on the 19th May. The record points haul is there, if Utd win every game. I’d like to see it happen, but it more than likely won’t. In which case, Utd have a fantastic opportunity, that no other team can have, and that is to use the four games as a squad assessment. Yes, the squad is in great shape, but there are certain individuals within who need game time and perhaps, a last chance to prove themselves. Transfer rumours for Utd usually focus more on who’s arriving than leaving, but I struggle to recall a time when there could be more potential high-level leavers than arrivals. Of course, the first frees up cash for the second. Zaha will be arriving. Let’s see what else happens. But for now, in the words of Van Persie: “It’s Arsenal next, but let us enjoy the moment.”