The debut of Juan Mata was a successful one for Manchester United, thanks to goals from Robin Van Persie and Ashley Young. Holding a lead for 84 minutes at Old Trafford, the Red Devils claimed a 2-0 win over visiting Cardiff, ruining Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s return to the Theater of Dreams.
The former United striker and youth coach was making his first trip to Stretford as Cardiff manager, having been appointed Bluebirds’ boss on Jan. 2. The loss, however, leaves the former Red Devils winless in the Premier League, with loss leaving Solksjaer’s new club to languish in the Premier League’s cellar.
Van Persie, making his first appearance since Dec. 10, got Manchester United on the scoresheet early, the striker’s close range header beating a sprawling David Marshall to give the Red Devils a 1-0 lead. On a play started by Mata, United went close after Antonio Valencia headed a cross from Young onto the crossbar. The ensuing rebound fell to Van Persie, who needed two cracks at goal before putting United up one.
Van Persie nearly grabbed a second later in the half, pulling a sharp angle shot from the left just wide of the far post. For most of the period, however, the sides stood on relatively even footing. Cardiff also went close once but where otherwise unable to break down United in their final third. The Red Devils, using Mata as their focal point, couldn’t build on the momentum of their opening score. The sides went into halftime 1-0.
The second half opened with United continuing to allow Cardiff their share of the ball, but just short of the hour mark, a strike from distance rendered that run up insignificant. Cutting in from the left flank, Young pulled up just shot of the penalty area to launch a shot toward Marshall’s left post. Making defensive midfielder Gary Medel pay for his unwillingness to close him down, the United winger nestled his shot into the right side netting, giving United a 2-0 lead.
A relatively lifeless final half hour nearly saw United grab a third through a series of chances near the 80th minute. For the most part, though, the match ended once Young’s ball found nylon. With United forced on staying organized while Cardiff embrace their fate, the match faded into its 2-0 conclusion, the Red Devils’ additions and returns given them their second win of the new year.
Manchester United: David De Gea, Rafael, Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans, Patrice Evra, Antonio Valencia, Phil Jones, Ryan Giggs (Tom Cleverley 71′), Ashley Young, Juan Mata (Adnan Januzaj 85′), Robin Van Persie (Wayne Rooney 63′)
Goals: Van Persie (6′), Young (59′)
Cardiff City: David Marshall, Declan John, Steven Caulker, Mark Hudson (Ben Turner 69′), Kevin McNaughton, Gary Medel, Craig Noone, (Mats Daehli 78′), Jordan Mutch (Kim Bo-Kyung 52′), Craig Bellamy, Peter Whittingham, Frazier Campbell