Magical Juan Mata helps United to victory at Anfield

Juan Mata scores a stunning second goal as Manchester United beat Liverpool 2-1

Manchester United picked up a valuable three points in the 192nd clash between the two north western giants, which saw Liverpool lose 2-1 at home. It was game full of talking points, but the stand out moment had to be Juan Mata’s sublime second goal.

There was controversy, with Liverpool club captain Steven Gerrard, who was playing in his final match against United, only lasting a mere forty-eight seconds before being sent off for a stamp on Spaniard Ander Herrera. There were other incidents, which saw Phil Jones smash into Jordan Henderson and in the final seconds of the match Martin Skrtel looked to leave a foot in on United’s goalkeeper David De Gea – however, in a game of this magnitude there are always going to be challenges of this nature.

Louis van Gaal, who was experiencing his first trip to Anfield as United boss, was delighted with the first half performance and has now seen his team pick up two wins on the bounce against two key rivals for a Champions League place. United are now only a point behind Arsenal and two points behind Manchester City – with both clubs having to travel to Old Trafford before the end of the season.

Juan Mata shows his true class in a United shirt

Juan Mata put in a fine display at Anfield, operating on the right hand side of a front three, with Ashley Young on the left flank and the out of sorts Wayne Rooney through the centre. Mata’s two goals were quite brilliant. For the first goal, he made a smart run in behind Alberto Moreno and latched onto a superb pass from fellow countryman Ander Herrera. A deft left footed touch was then met with a classy right footed finish past the out rushing Simon Mignolet. If United’s opener was a touch of brilliance, then his second was touch of genius.

Eric Cantona scored a sublime goal or two in his career, so did Mark Hughes and of course Cristiano Ronaldo – now United fans can add Juan Mata to that list. John O’Shea once scored a last minute goal, in front of the Kop and proclaimed it was “Gary Neville’s dream” – but Mata’s winner in front of his own fans was an exceptional moment for United’s number eight. His technique to readjust for Angel Di Maria’s left footed pass and the power of the bicycle kick was simply stunning. One of the goals of the season in what is United’s result of the season in the club’s quest to get back into Europe’s elite.

Mata moved to United in January 2014, with many Chelsea fan’s bemused at the notion that their once favoured son would be moving to Old Trafford. In that time, Mata hasn’t been able to replicate the magical form he showcase at Stamford Bridge since his move from Valencia in 2011. He has scored and made goals for United, but nothing matches the performance that he put in against Liverpool. United fans still sing about Diego Forlan, who scored twice against Liverpool at Anfield, and this performance could excel Mata’s growing influence at Old Trafford even more so.

Ander Herrera is becoming a top class midfielder

If Juan Mata picked up the man of the match awards, then Ander Herrera wasn’t too far behind him. Herrara was brilliant all afternoon and put in a dominating performance in the middle of the park at Anfield. Herrera was cool in possession on the ball, setting up Juan Mata for the opener, but it was his near and tidy one two passing on the right hand side that caught the eye.

Herrera, who signed last summer from Athletic Bilbao for £28million last summer, has had a start stop career so far at United and fell out of favour for a while under Louis van Gaal, but his industrious nature and pressing game bodes well in the 4-3-3 formation that has seen United beat two rivals fighting for a Champions League spot. Playing with Michael Carrick holding and Marouane Fellaini in a slightly more advanced role is working for Herrera who can be hard in the tackle, as the Liverpool captain found out.

Below is a screenshot from FourFourTwo’s StatZone, which showcases Herrera’s influence on the right hand side of the pitch.

Click to enlarge

Steven Gerrard rightfully sent off for stamp

There was no defense for the Liverpool skipper, who was rightfully sent off for a stamp on Ander Herrera after a mere 38 seconds after coming on for Adam Lallana at half time. Gerrard went in for a really hard but fair challenge on Juan Mata, before reacting to a tackle by Ander Herrera seconds later. In a extremely surreal moment, Gerrard lost his cool, lashed out and was dismissed in what was his final match for Liverpool against Manchester United.

Gerrard apologised for his dismissal post match and took full responsibility for the fact that Liverpool didn’t grab at least a point, following Daniel Sturridge’s strike that clawed one back for the home team. Jamie Carragher suggested the skipper was frustrated at not being the main man any more. Whatever was going through Gerrard’s head, Martin Atkinson got the decision right.

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