Kevin McNaughton

Manchester United 2-0 Cardiff City: Van Persie, Young goals give Red Devils win in Mata’s debut (video)

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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.

LINEUPS

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

Watch Live: Manchester United vs. Cardiff City (Lineups and Discussion)

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Ole Gunner Solskjaer, who spent 11 seasons as a player at Manchester United, makes his return to Old Trafford today, only this time he’ll be the opposite bench. When the Red Devils kick off against Cardiff City at 2:45 p.m. ET (available on NBC Live Extra), the former Norwegian international will be managing a Bluebirds team striving for their first Premier League win since Dec. 14.

That slide leaves Cardiff in last place after 22 rounds, with the team still winless in league since Solksjaer’s Jan. 2 arrival. Though they have claimed two FA Cup wins in that time, multi-goal losses to West Ham United and Manchester City leave the Bluebirds with only four wins on the season. Should they pull and upset and claim their fifth today, Cardiff could climb as high as 16th in a jumbled relegation battle.

They’ll face a United team that has a new look on life after management opened up the checkbook on Friday, agreeing to terms with Chelsea on the acquisition of Juan Mata. Brought in for a $61 million fee, Mata’s going to be thrown right into the fire, with David Moyes electing to put him into today’s starting XI. He’s set to start behind a newly healthy Robin Van Persie, with Wayne Rooney starting the match on the bench.

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One of the nice upshots of Mata’s acquisition has been a refocus of energies. Instead of dwelling on the team’s form (United having lost four of their last six games), people are looking forward, hoping the commitment shown to the club’s new record transfer will translate onto the field.

The first test will be here shortly. Against a team sitting in 20th place, United will be expected to claim full points. Fail to do so, and the positive vibe that came with Mata’s arrival will be eclipsed by new worries the Red Devils won’t make Champions League.

LINEUPS

Manchester United: David De Gea, Rafael, Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans, Patrice Evra, Antonio Valencia, Phil Jones, Ryan Giggs, Ashley Young, Juan Mata, Robin van Persie

Subs: Andres Lindegaard, Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez, Tom Cleverley, Darren Fletcher, Shinji Kagawa, Adnan Januzaj

Cardiff City: David Marshall, Declan John, Steven Caulker, Mark Hudson, Kevin McNaughton, Gary Medel, Craig Noone, Jordan Mutch, Craig Bellamy, Peter Whittingham, Frazier Campbell

Subs: Joe Lewis, Michael Turner, Kim Bo-Kyung, Magnua Wolff Eikrem, Aron Gunnarsson, Mats Moller Deahli, Jo Inge Berget