Manchester United vs. Cardiff City Score, Grades and Post-Match Reaction

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterJanuary 28, 2014

Michael Regan/Getty Images

Manchester United won the first game of the Juan Manuel Mata era in style, beating Cardiff City to the tune of a 2-0 scoreline.

Robin van Persie opened the scoring with a close-range header after seven minutes, then Ashley Young sealed the points with a brilliant strike from distance in the second half.

It was enough to secure an all-important victory on a must-win evening for David Moyes, who will now press ahead with Wayne Rooney, RvP and Mata available to him.

United started on the front foot and, one dodgy pass from Chris Smalling aside, looked their usual, comfortable selves. Patrice Evra was bombing forward relentlessly, Young was in the mood and the crowd cheered every Mata touch.

The left was United's main point of attack and they made good ground early on, so it came as no surprise to see van Persie open the scoring after just seven minutes using that route.

Young fired a stupendous right-footed cross in, Antonio Valencia's header hit the bar and the Dutchman was on hand to net from close range at the second time of asking.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 28:  New signing Juan Mata of Manchester United looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Cardiff City at Old Trafford on January 28, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan
Michael Regan/Getty Images

It was a goal that settled down 70,000 nervous spectators inside Old Trafford, but the Bluebirds appeared visibly shell-shocked.

The Red Devils immediately retrieved the ball and found their way back into the box to pile on the pressure, but Evra's cross from the byline was cleared well by the defence.

Cardiff managed their first attack of note after 25 minutes thanks to a free-kick, with their initial tactic of freeing up Fraizer Campbell down the right-hand channel failing to bear fruit.

Craig Noone whipped in a looping cross and Smalling headed out under pressure from Steven Caulker; the resulting corner saw Mark Hudson's wicked shot blocked near the goal line.

It sparked a strong spell of possession for the visitors, but they remained unable to get Campbell, their lone striker, into the game. He was outnumbered by three to one when chipping it up to him and the deliveries into the channels remained poor.

Van Persie responded by sending a firm, low shot just wide of the far post from an acute angle, then on the counter, the Bluebirds came within a whisker of leveling via an excellent McNaughton cross.

Cardiff finished the first half the better side, so United started the second period looking to exert their control over the tie once again—but failed.

By the 60-minute mark, the visitors were in complete control of the ball and were knocking it around with ease. Noone strode down the right and fired in a dangerous ball that was well cleared, and Craig Bellamy did the same after robbing Rafael deep on the left.

Jon Super/Associated Press

But with the Bluebirds growing in confidence and the noise levels quickly shrinking, Young stepped forward to produce a moment of true brilliance, settling the game.

The former Aston Villa man collected the ball on the left flank, stepped inside two markers and fired a low, scintillating grass-cutter into the bottom corner of the net.

Van Persie's return then swiftly came to an end—job done—and the Dutchman made way for an extremely welcome sight: Wayne Rooney.

There was still time for Valencia to smash one against the post after getting in behind Declan John, and Mats Daehli made his long-awaited first appearance at Old Trafford...for the visiting Bluebirds side.

Mata missed a golden chance to crown his debut with a goal before the final whistle, but his finish on the stretch from Evra's pull-back was weak. 

Post-Match Reaction

Solskjaer in for press conference "We tried, we just didn't have the oomph. Van Persie had the oomph." #oomph

— Daniel Taylor (@DTguardian) January 28, 2014

Player Grades

Manchester United
David de GeaGK7
Jonny EvansCB7
Chris SmallingCB6
Patrice EvraLB8
Phil JonesCM7
Ryan GiggsCM7
Antonio ValenciaRW7
Juan MataAMC6
Ashley YoungLW8
Robin van PersieST7
Wayne RooneyST7
Tom CleverleyCM6
Adnan JanuzajMidN/A
Cardiff City
David MarshallGK7
Kevin McNaughtonRB7
Steven CaulkerCB6
Mark HudsonCB6
Declan JohnLB6
Gary MedelCM6
Jordon MutchCM6
Peter WhittinghamCM6
Craig NooneRW6
Craig BellamyLW6
Fraizer CampbellST6
Kim Bo-KyngMid6
Ben TurnerCB6
Mats DaehliMidN/A

What's Next?

Manchester United travel to the Britannia Stadium to play Stoke City on Saturday, February 1. Cardiff host Norwich City on the same day.


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