Robin van Persie scores six minutes into his return, has Manchester United up on Cardiff

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With all the focus on Juan Mata over the last week, the potential return of Robin Van Persie became a footnote in the buildup to today’s match against Cardiff City. When Manchester United’s lineup was announced, however, the Dutch international was the last name in the XI, the Red Devils’ number nine set to make his first appearance since Dec. 10.

It didn’t take him long to make an impact. On a play that began with a switch from new teammate Juan Mata, Van Persie scored his eighth goal of the Premier League season, putting Manchester United up 1-0 on Cardiff at Old Trafford.

Mata began the movement by swinging the ball to the left flank, where Patrice Evra took on his man before laying off to Ashley Young. The winger’s bullet cross found Antonio Valencia just short of the six-yard box, with the Ecuadorian’s ensuing header pushed off the bar.

The rebound came to Van Persie, whose initial header was fired back at Cardiff goalkeeper David Marshall. But on a save that came right back to him, Van Persie put a second header just under the bar, giving United a 1-0 lead.

Cardiff came into the game in 20th place and will be disappointed with their hosts’ early goal. United, however, are already reaping the benefits of their two stars. For Mata, those virtues come in an Old Trafford debut, while Van Persie is making his long-awaited return.