Juan Mata eclipses Solskjaer on Man United debut

And fit-again Robin van Persie was back among the goals.

Manchester United's Juan Mata gestures during the win over Cardiff.
Manchester United's Juan Mata gestures during the win over Cardiff.
Image: Dave Thompson/PA Wire/Press Association Images

ROBIN VAN PERSIE AND and Ashley Young scored as Manchester United recorded only their second Premier League victory of 2014 by beating Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Cardiff City 2-0 on Tuesday.

Juan Mata made his debut after a £37.1 million (€44.8m) move from Chelsea and the Spaniard had a hand in both goals as David Moyes’s side breathed life into their hopes of a Champions League place.

Making his return from a thigh injury that had kept him out since December 10, Van Persie took only six minutes to open the scoring and Young added United’s second in the 59th minute.

Mata played just behind Van Persie, but those hoping to see how the duo would combine with Wayne Rooney were to be disappointed when the England striker replaced Van Persie to make his first appearance since 1 January.

The defending champions now have matches against Stoke City, Fulham, Arsenal and Crystal Palace that will give them a clearer indication of their chances of a place in the top four.

But this was undoubtedly an improved performance from a team that had already lost four times in 2014.

The hosts needed only a few minutes to make the breakthrough, with Mata’s cross-field pass helping to open Cardiff up. The Spaniard played a long ball to the left flank, resulting in Young clipping over a cross that was headed onto the bar by Antonio Valencia.

Van Persie’s follow-up was blocked by Cardiff goalkeeper David Marshall, but the Netherlands striker headed in from six yards to put United in front.

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Rafael da Silva thumped well over as United looked to add a second before Craig Noone cut in from the right and drove over at the other end. Mata almost created a second when he spotted Young unmarked at the far post, but the winger could not squeeze a shot past Marshall.

The Spaniard then picked out Jonny Evans with a free-kick, but the centre-back’s glancing header flew wide of goal.

United goalkeeper David de Gea was forced into a save with his legs when Mark Hudson got his head to Peter Whittingham’s corner.

From a Young corner, meanwhile, United kept the ball well on the edge of the box before Van Persie’s shot on the turn rolled just wide of the post.

The hosts still looked far from convincing at the back and Cardiff, managed by former United favourite Solskjaer, could have levelled when Fraizer Campbell failed to make telling contact with Kevin McNaughton’s cross.

After the interval, United worked a neat passing move to the right for Valencia to cross, but the ball from the winger was just behind Van Persie. The former Arsenal striker had a better chance when he was found by a Ryan Giggs free-kick, only to turn his header well over the bar.

Solskjaer’s side opened United up once again when Declan John was played in behind the home side’s defence and slid a low ball across the area that was only cleared by Patrice Evra at the far post.

But just as United were starting to look fragile, they moved further ahead.

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Mata helped the ball to the left flank for Young and the winger drifted inside before striking a fierce shot into the bottom-right corner.

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The record signing himself went close to adding a third when he was allowed the space to move forward and have a low right-foot shot that was saved at the near post by Marshall.

Evans also saw his shot bend just wide after surging forwards from the back, before Valencia’s powerful cross-shot was turned onto the post by Marshall.

Substitute Adnan Januzaj also just missed with a low stab at goal from Evra’s cross, while Rooney curled narrowly wide in added time.

- © AFP, 2014

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