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Mata inspires Man Utd on his debut as Van Persie returns with a bang

Juan Mata of Manchester United competes with Kim Bo-Kyung of Cardiff City during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Cardiff City at Old Trafford on January 28, 2014 in Manchester, England. (GETTY)

By Reuters

Manchester United midfielder Juan Mata did what he does best on his debut to inspire his new team to a convincing 2-0 win over Cardiff City in the Premier League on Tuesday.

The former Chelsea playmaker, signed for a club record 37.1 million pounds ($61.5 million) last week, probed and pushed in his usual understated way to fire the champions to an important victory before being substituted to a standing ovation.

"We had chances to score more than two. The win was very important for the team," Mata told the BBC.

"It was very exciting for me. The fans are unbelievable. The lads welcomed me very well. I think it was a good game, I'm looking forward to improving. We will try until the end (to finish in the Champions League places). We will never give up."

United stayed seventh in the table, 12 points behind leaders Arsenal and six points off Liverpool in the fourth and final Champions League spot, but they appeared revitalised after a poor start to the season under new manager David Moyes.

Mata was involved in the first United goal, spraying a fine pass out to the right from where Antonio Valencia sent in a cross for Robin van Persie to score on his return from injury after six minutes.

The Spaniard took responsibility for all their corners and free kicks in attacking positions and looked very comfortable on his first appearance in a United shirt at Old Trafford.

Ashley Young doubled the home side's lead with a fine individual strike just before the hour mark but Mata continued to pull the strings, galvanising a midfield long since short of creativity and quality.

The United fans recognised Mata's contribution with a standing ovation when he was replaced by Adnan Januzaj and the Spain international's arrival has certainly created a new air of optimism around the club.

"We kept a clean sheet, scored a couple of goals, got a couple of players back from injury and gave Juan Mata his debut," Moyes said.

"He gave us a bit more craft. He did well. We know how much of a good player he is. Getting Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney back made a big difference," he added after United's England forward replaced the Dutchman just past the hour.