- Robin van Persie nets all three goals as Manchester United clinch English title
- Monday's 3-0 win over Aston Villa ends the Premier League reign of Manchester City
- Win puts United 16 points clear of second-placed City with four games to play
- Van Persie moves to top of EPL scoring charts with 24 goals this season
All the talk this season has been that Robin van Persie is the difference between winning the English Premier League title, or not.
Roberto Mancini wanted to sign him after his Manchester City side won a first championship in 44 years on the final day of the 2011-12 campaign. Much to his chagrin, even the deep pockets of the club's Abu Dhabi owners could not tempt the Dutchman.
Even worse for the Italian, and for Arsenal fans hoping he would stay in London, the 29-year-old decided to join Manchester United for what has proved to be a bargain initial $34 million.
Having never won a title at any of his previous clubs, the striker opted for Old Trafford -- and it has paid off handsomely.
His first-half hat-trick in Monday's 3-0 win over struggling Aston Villa clinched a record-extending 20th English crown for United, and put him back on top of the EPL scoring charts.
While City's top scorer Carlos Tevez has 11 this season, Van Persie has 24 -- one more than Liverpool's Luis Suarez, who may miss the rest of this season after being charged with violent conduct for biting a Chelsea opponent on Sunday.
"I'm very happy but it's weird. I had to wait for so long for my first title and it's a great feeling," Van Persie said in a post-match interview after United moved 16 points clear of second-placed City.
Two of his goals were set up by 39-year-old Ryan Giggs, who claimed his 13th EPL title since starting his career with United.
The second was a spectacular volley following a lofted pass from England striker Wayne Rooney, which virtually ended the game as a contest as early as the 13th minute.
"It was a great ball from Wayne, so the only thing I had to do was guide it right and hit it properly and it went in great," said the Netherlands international, whose efforts this season will cost United an extra $2 million in add-on fees.
He went 10 games without a goal as United crashed out of the European Champions League, but has bounced back with five in the last three matches.
Rooney has had to play second fiddle in the goalscoring stakes, but was able to celebrate his 400th United appearance with an impressive performance from a deeper-lying role.
"It's what we've worked all year for and we've fully deserved it. We won this game in the first half and it is a fantastic night for us," Rooney said.
"When you lose the title it's hard to take, and the way we did it wasn't a nice feeling last time so we've all dug in deep and all worked together and done fantastic to put ourselves in the position tonight to finish the job off."
Last season United blew an eight-point lead before surrendering the title in the final minutes as City snatched an injury-time victory.
This season United did not let up, while City dropped points against lesser teams.
"You can go on and on about losing a title but at the end of the day, our consistency for the last 20 years is unbelievable," said United manager Alex Ferguson, who has also won 13 titles since joining in 1986.
"The focus of the team was good, they focused on the challenge of City and came up trumps."
The 71-year-old, the most successful manager since the EPL began in 1992, acknowledged the contribution of Van Persie this season.
"He's been unbelievable, his early form in the first six months was fantastic. He had the spell where he didn't score (for 10 games) but he was unbelievable tonight."
Ferguson's team can break the EPL points record held by Chelsea with victories in the club's four remaining games.
"We've now got 84 points with four games left -- we've never done that," he said when asked where this season's achievement ranks.
"We've won most of our games, drawn three, lost four, and the goal tonight (Van Persie's volley) ... all the great goals we've scored over the years, from David Beckham through Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Eric Cantona, that goal has joined that. These players have joined the pedestal."
While the result will likely quell any further protests against United's U.S. owners, the Glazer family -- unpopular after their highly leveraged takeover in 2005 -- the situation is not so positive for another American in charge of an EPL club.
The defeat left Randy Lerner's Aston Villa three points above the relegation zone, having played one more match than the third-bottom team, Wigan.
Villa manager Paul Lambert was relieved his side did not suffer a repeat of December's 8-0 defeat at Chelsea, having gone behind after just 90 seconds against United and then trailed 3-0 after 32 minutes.
"We wanted to make sure it didn't happen again. Credit to them they kept on going against a brilliant side, the best in the country," Lambert said.
"Congratulations to Man Utd. They have been the best team all season. They work really hard, they work for each other, they have a mentality that has been here for years and years. The best team always wins the league."