Mata has strong Manchester United debut
By Tom Williams ,AFP
January 30, 2014, 12:25 am TWN
LONDON -- Manchester United's record signing Juan Mata enjoyed a winning debut on Tuesday as his new club recorded a 2-0 victory at home to Cardiff City in the Premier League.
Leaders Arsenal, meanwhile, spurned an opportunity to move four points clear after drawing 2-2 at Southampton, but Liverpool tightened their grip on fourth place with a superb 4-0 defeat of derby rivals Everton.
Mata started the game at Old Trafford, three days after making a 37.1 million pound (US$61.2 million) move from Chelsea, as former United striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer returned to his old stomping ground as Cardiff manager.
Last season's top scorer Robin van Persie was also included in United's starting line-up, after seven weeks out with a thigh strain, and the Dutch striker broke the deadlock in the sixth minute.
Mata found Ashley Young with a raking pass and when his cross was headed against the bar by Antonio Valencia, Van Persie headed in at the second attempt after his initial header was parried by goalkeeper David Marshall.
Young added a fine second in the 59th minute, cutting in from the left flank and arrowing a drive into the bottom-right corner, before Wayne Rooney made his return from injury as a substitute for Van Persie.
United manager David Moyes was left to reflect on a satisfactory night, saying: “We kept a clean sheet, scored a couple of goals, got a couple of players back from injury, and gave Juan Mata his debut.”
Mata, who claimed an assist for Young's goal, told the BBC, “The win was very important for the team. It was very exciting for me. The fans are unbelievable. The lads welcomed me very well.”
On United's chances of a top-four finish, he added: “We will try until the end. We will never give up.”
United, who had lost three of their previous five home league games, remain six points below the Champions League places, but they inched to within 12 points of Arsenal after the London club's slip-up at St Mary's.
Bidding to move four points clear of second-place Manchester City, Arsenal fell behind in the 21st minute when center-back Jose Fonte headed in a left-wing cross from Luke Shaw.
The visitors sprang to life early in the second half, equalizing through Olivier Giroud's clever back-heel and going ahead when Santi Cazorla drilled home, only for Adam Lallana to sweep in an equalizer two minutes later.
Arsenal's push for a late winner was undermined when midfielder Mathieu Flamini was sent off for a studs-up lunge at Morgan Schneiderlin.