Wigan 0 Manchester Utd 4
Even as Manchester City cut loose once again there was yet more evidence filtering through from up the road of the task they face.
Roberto Mancini has admitted that Robin van Persie has been the difference in the title race to this point and the Dutchman helped himself to two more goals, taking his tally to 16 league goals for the season as United retained their seven-point advantage at the top of the table with the most routine of victories.
Van Persie now has 64 goals in his last 76 Premier League appearances and after finishing top scorer in 2011 and 2012, few, Mancini included, would bet against him repeating that.
Javier Hernandez summed up the depth of Alex Ferguson’s squad with two goals of his own, but, just as importantly, United secured a second successive clean sheet after managing just three in their opening 19 games of the season.
For all Mancini’s insistence that City can make a real title challenge if they are still in touch when the Toure brothers return from the African Nations Cup in February, the challenge of winning seven more points than this United side in the second half of the season is an unenviable one.
Yet, after seeing his side lose consecutive matches at this point last season, Ferguson is taking nothing for granted.
Ferguson said: “Over the years, December has been a good month for us. This time it has put us into a seven-point lead with 17 games left.
“It’s not what I would say is a healthy lead, but it is a lead. It gives us something to kick on with. We just don’t want to make mistakes like we did last year.
“Robin is a completely rounded footballer, his ability to make and take goals is fantastic. His play for his first goal was absolutely magnificent, his turn, his balance, no drawback, just side-footed it in, it was a really good goal.
“We knew we were getting a top player, a major player who would make a difference to the team. That’s why we went for him.
“I knew he would make the difference because of his maturity because I made the point at the time, he has great international experience, he’s played for Arsenal for seven years and he came to us at the very peak of his career, which we are delighted about.”
One of those key losses in the second half of last season was a 1-0 defeat at Wigan that started a run of one win and two defeats in four games that handed the advantage to City.
But Wigan were never in the shape to repeat that feat and extended a barren run against United that has now seen them fail to score in 10 of their last 12 meetings with Ferguson’s men.
While United were able to make five changes and only three outfield players were asked to start each of their festive games, Wigan had seven players that started a fourth game in 11 days.
So impressive on the left, Shaun Maloney scored the only goal against United in April but was asked to play a more central role, with the idea of containing Michael Carrick.
Subsequently, Wigan never had the required width to stretch United, even when they dominated possession in the opening period, and Rafael and Patrice Evra were able to gallop forward at will, forcing back the Latics’ wing-backs Emmerson Boyce and Jean Beausejour.
Even when they were quelling the early fire, United always threatened on the break and they were well worth their breakthrough when Ali Al Habsi could only push a Patrice Evra shot back into trouble and Hernandez rammed home from close-range.
Just before the interval, Hernandez made the most of James McArthur and Maynor Figueroa colliding to surge towards the area and square for van Persie, who made the most of a slip from Ivan Ramis to prod a right-foot shot into the corner.
Hernandez, whose 31 Premier League goals have all come from inside the area, added a third when he spun and fired in after van Persie’s free-kick was blocked by the wall.
United were not content and with just over a minute remaining, Beausejour gave the ball away and Danny Welbeck crossed for van Persie to tap in United’s fourth.
In explaining his own side’s problems, Roberto Martinez also summed up United’s strength. “To play four games in the space of 11 days was very tough and the opposition made five changes and brought in fresh legs.
“It was an unfair game for us. United can make those changes and not drop the quality. They have a clear identity in the way they play, they’re a strong squad and it will be very difficult to reduce the gap at the top.”
WIGAN (3-4-3): Al Habsi; Ramis, Caldwell (Stam 70), Figueroa; Boyce, McCarthy, McArthur, Beausejour; Kone, Di Santo (Gomez 70), Maloney (McManaman 86).
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-4-2): De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand (Smalling 69), Evans, Evra; Young (Welbeck 78), Carrick (Kagawa 69), Cleverley, Giggs; Van Persie, Hernandez.
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