Manchester United regained the Premier League title on Monday with nearly a month still left in the season after Robin van Persie’s first-half hat trick sealed a 3-0 win over Aston Villa.
United extended its record haul of English league titles to 20 and ensured the reign of neighbor Manchester City lasted only one year.
Alex Ferguson’s side needed all three points at Old Trafford to wrap up the championship, and it took just 83 seconds for Van Persie to score the opener from close range.
The Netherlands striker smashed home a sublime volley in the 12th minute, getting the party in full swing, and completed his hat trick in the 33rd for his league-high 24th goal of the campaign.
United is 16 points clear of second-place City.
It is the earliest a club has clinched the Premier League title since United won it in 2001.
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.
City manager Roberto Mancini previously acknowledged that the Dutch international has been “the difference” between the two teams this season, and each of Van Persie’s goals here must have been painful to watch for the blue half of Manchester.
With just 13 minutes gone, the party was in full flow. “That’s why we are champions,” sang the United faithful, already celebrating a 13th title in 21 seasons of the Premier League.
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.