Going back to basics seals title No20 and Antonio Valencia finds his form in the nick of time to join the party
For the opening 15 minutes Manchester United put on a display of such verve and slickness that not only did it banish the bedraggled indomitability of some of their recent victories when character was more evident than class, it served as a thrilling throwback to the years before counterattacking became their default approach. At times they have seemed ashamed of their strengths, striving for a subtlety and restraint to impress the theorists rather than tearing into the opposition and exposing themselves as quaint or gauche. But Robin van Persie's first and second goals were brilliantly simple, beginning with long precision passes from Wayne Rooney, scheming from central midfield like Bobby Charlton, and in the back of the net seconds later, the first courtesy of Rafael da Silva's excellent cross, the second from Van Persie's sublime finish. How apt for a night when Old Trafford's noise matched 1993's against Blackburn when they celebrated their first league title for 26 years.
When Aston Villa bought Fabian Delph from Leeds for £8m in 2009 they were purchasing a tremendous talent whose seemingly boundless energy, slippery pace from a standing start which allowed him to drive past opponents and create space for himself and his team-mates and clever passing allowed him to dominate League One games at the age of 18. They also signed a player who picked up 13 yellow cards in his only full season at Elland Road. Judging by his performance on Monday night when he was twice lucky not to be booked for the 11th time in 28 appearances this season he needs to resurrect his other qualities to overshadow the impetuous ill-discipline that survives from his teenage days.
Antonio Valencia's form for Manchester United this season has been puzzlingly poor, perhaps because the midfield's desire to exploit Van Persie's adhesive control by pinging balls up to him from the centre of the pitch means that the outside-right was relatively starved of possession in common with the other orthodox wingers Ashley Young and Nani. His confidence appeared to be low and his first touch often too heavy which left him looking a shadow of the sensational attacking force of last season. Here, though, he was back on dazzlingly top form, pulverising the Villa left-back, Joe Bennett, with his speed, flair and trickery. United's best player of 2011-12 left it rather late to gatecrash this season's party.
The perils of centre-forwards defending in their own box was demonstrated by Luis Suárez's hand ball during Liverpool's 2-2 draw with Chelsea on Sunday but some are extraordinarily good at it. Didier Drogba was so good at making timely and forceful blocks that it reminded older fans at Stamford Bridge of Peter Osgood. At Old Trafford, Van Persie's goalline clearance early in the second half not only showed how determined he was to contribute at both ends to seal the first title of his 12-year career it also carried echoes of Frank Stapleton's astute defensive judgment.
Ryan Giggs, here winning his 13th title, equalling the number Arsenal have won and exceeding every club's total bar Manchester United and Liverpool, again made vital contributions and set up two goals for Van Persie in the first half when he played off the centre-forward. The dramatist Alan Bennett wrote in An Englishman Abroad: "In England, you see, age wipes the slate clean … If you live to be 90 in England and can still eat a boiled egg they think you deserve the Nobel prize." It punctures perfectly the sentimentality conjured up by sheer longevity but Giggs is no passenger in this revitalised United side. His stamina, technique, cunning and elusiveness still make him important while his leadership makes him irreplaceable.