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Five games, players that bred ‘Champ20ns’

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UNITED-CHAMPSMANCHESTER, United Kingdom, April 23 – Manchester United were crowned champions of England for the 20th time on Monday.

Here, AFP Sports looks back at five matches and five key men that played a key role in United’s latest title triumph:

MATCHES

September 23, 2012

Liverpool 1 Manchester United 2

Alex Ferguson’s team kept pace with early leaders Chelsea after surviving an emotional trip to Anfield.

In Liverpool’s first game since the publication of a report absolving their fans of blame over the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, the hosts, who had midfielder Jonjo Shelvey sent off in the first half, raised the roof when Steven Gerrard put them ahead in the 46th minute.

But United silenced the Kop as Rafael da Silva curled in a fine equaliser five minutes later before Robin van Persie’s penalty secured a fourth successive Premier League win nine minutes from time.

October 28, 2012

Chelsea 2 Manchester United 3

United closed the gap on leaders Chelsea to one point after Javier Hernandez’s late goal secured a dramatic win over the nine-man European champions at Stamford Bridge.

David Luiz’s own goal and van Persie’s clinical finish gave United a two-goal lead early on, but Chelsea fought back superbly to level with goals from Juan Mata and Ramires either side of the interval.

However, red cards for Branislav Ivanovic and Fernando Torres swung the momentum back towards United, who stole the points thanks to Hernandez’s close-range winner in the 75th minute.

November 10, 2012

Aston Villa 2 Manchester United 3

While this may not be a vintage United team, no-one can question the character of Alex Ferguson’s current crop.

And that never-say-die spirit was on full display as they stunned Villa Park with a stirring fightback after two goals from Andreas Weimann had put the hosts in the ascendancy.

Hernandez sparked the revival with a 58th-minute strike and Ron Vlaar’s own goal five minutes later drew United level before Hernandez completed his side’s eighth come-from-behind victory of the season with an 87th-minute winner.

December 9, 2012

Manchester City 2 Manchester United 3

Van Persie sparked chaotic scenes as the United striker’s injury-time winner capped a heated Manchester derby at Eastlands and put his side six points clear of their bitter rivals.

United had raced into a two-goal lead as Wayne Rooney struck in the 16th and 29th minutes.

But Yaya Toure’s effort on the hour gave City a lifeline and the champions looked to have rescued a point when Pablo Zabaleta equalised with only four minutes to play.

There was a sting in the tale for City, though, as van Persie’s free-kick curled past Joe Hart, prompting one City fan to invade the pitch in a bid to confront United defender Rio Ferdinand, who had been struck in the face by a coin while celebrating the winner.

December 26, 2012

Manchester United 4 Newcastle United 3

United seized control of the title race as they extended their Premier League lead to seven points with another example of their remarkable resilience.

A Boxing Day cracker at Old Trafford saw Newcastle lead three times through James Perch, a Jonny Evans own goal and Papiss Cisse.

But United fought back each time as Evans, Patrice Evra and van Persie all struck before the irrepressible Hernandez slid home the winner in the last minute.

PLAYERS

RVP-AWAY-CELEBROBIN VAN PERSIE (NED; striker)

A £24 million ($37 million, 28 million euros) capture from Arsenal last year, van Persie took to life at United like a duck to water. After scoring within 10 minutes of his home debut against Fulham in August, he claimed a hat-trick at Southampton and went on to net crucial winners against Liverpool and Manchester City. The goals dried up in the spring, when he went 10 games without scoring, but strikes against Stoke City and West Ham, followed by a hat-trick against Villa, took his tally of league goals to 24.

DAVID DE GEA (ESP; goalkeeper)

After a difficult debut season at Old Trafford, De Gea has established himself as United’s first-choice goalkeeper. The 22-year-old Spaniard has made occasional high-profile mistakes, notably in the 3-2 win at home to Fulham in August and the 1-1 draw at Tottenham Hotspur in January, but he has also produced some outstanding performances. United manager Alex Ferguson praised him after the recent 2-2 draw at West Ham United, saying he had developed into “a really first-class goalkeeper”.

RAFAEL DA SILVA (BRA; right-back)

Having inherited Gary Neville’s number two shirt in pre-season, Rafael has demonstrated that he is capable of becoming the long-term successor to the former England full-back on the right flank of the United defence. A doggedly tenacious defender, the Brazilian scored a fine goal in a 2-1 win at Liverpool in September and produced a goal-of-the-season contender with a 25-yard thunderbolt in a 2-0 win at Queens Park Rangers in February.

MICHAEL CARRICK (ENG; central midfielder)

Often overlooked by fans and pundits, Carrick has enjoyed his most accomplished season in a red shirt since his 2006 transfer from Tottenham. The 31-year-old has proved an unflappable presence in front of the United defence and his composed displays have enabled him to force his way into Roy Hodgson’s England team. Described as “a Rolls Royce of a player” by no less a judge than his feted United colleague Paul Scholes, Carrick was also nominated for the prestigious Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) Players’ Player of the Year award.

DANNY WELBECK (ENG; striker)

Welbeck may have only scored once in the league this season, but his industriousness and versatility have made him a key element of Ferguson’s squad. He created a sensation in March when he was preferred to Wayne Rooney in the starting line-up for the Champions League home game with Real Madrid, sparking speculation about Rooney’s future at Old Trafford. Quick, hard-working, and blessed with a marvellous deftness of touch, the 22-year-old has been shortlisted for the PFA Players’ Young Player of the Year award.

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