Manchester United beats Aston Villa, clinches Premier League title
MANCHESTER, England (AP) -- Robin van Persie swept Manchester United to a 20th English league title on Monday, scoring a first-half hat trick in a 3-0 win over Aston Villa to cap a perfect first season with the new champions.
Signed by Alex Ferguson to score the goals to regain the title from Manchester City, Van Persie maintained his rich vein of form this season by opening the scoring after only 83 seconds and then adding further goals in the 12th and the 33rd minutes.
"It is a great feeling,'' said the Netherlands striker, who is the top scorer in the league with 24 goals. "It is a fantastic team and fantastic players. It is a championship for every single one of them.''
United clinched a 13th title in 21 seasons of the Premier League with four games to spare - it is the earliest a club has clinched the Premier League title since United in 2001. United is now 16 points clear of second-place City.
Ferguson's decision to sign Van Persie last offseason for 24 million pounds ($36 million) - a hefty price for a previously injury-prone player with just a year left on his Arsenal contract - has turned into a masterstroke.
"I'm very happy but it's weird. I had to wait for so long for my first title,'' the 29-year-old Van Persie said.
City manager Roberto Mancini previously acknowledged that Van Persie has been "the difference'' between the two teams this season, and each of the goals Monday must have been painful to watch for the blue half of Manchester.
Ferguson walked into the center circle after the fulltime whistle sounded and was soon embraced by Van Persie, who had left his teammates celebrating in front of fans.
"You can never take anything for granted in football and thankfully it is now done,'' United striker Wayne Rooney said. "The manager has great desire and a winning mentality. We all buy into that and want to do well for the club.''
The second goal will rank among the best of the season, with Van Persie connecting sweetly from the edge of the area as the ball dropped over his shoulder following a perfectly weighted pass from Wayne Rooney. As the net rippled, Van Persie sprinted along the touchline to receive the acclaim of Old Trafford.
With just 13 minutes gone, the party was in full flow. "That's why we are champions,'' sang the celebrating United faithful.
Ryan Giggs has been with United for all of those titles, and the Welsh midfielder - 40 later this year - played a key role in Van Persie's other two goals.
Giggs' cushioned volley along the face of the six-yard box was tapped in by Van Persie to give United the perfect start with barely a minute played.
And the striker showed a cool head to claim his hat trick, taking Giggs' short cross, rounding goalkeeper Brad Guzan and placing his shot into the top corner off the post from seven yards out.
Van Persie is likely to finish the league's top scorer for the second straight season as he is one clear of Liverpool striker Luis Suarez, who is expected to be banned for the final month for biting an opponent on Sunday.
Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.