Juan Mata scored twice and set up another, as Manchester United prepared for their trip to Bayern Munich with a morale-boosting 4-0 victory at Newcastle United on Saturday in the Premier League.
Manchester United played without star forward Wayne Rooney, who missed out with a toe injury. But with Rooney out of action, Mata's performance suggested he could be rounding into form at the perfect time.
Mata, signed from Chelsea in January, now has three goals for United, with all three coming in the last two league games. Deployed as a central attacking midfielder in David Moyes' 4-2-3-1 formation, Mata opened the scoring with a well-taken free kick just before half-time and finished a fine move to double United's lead early in the second half.
Javier Hernandez scored United's third in the 64th minute, sweeping in Shinji Kagawa's cut-back before Adnan Januzaj made it 4-0 in stoppage time. Goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard preserved the lead with two fine saves—both times stopping Papiss Cisse—in the final 20 minutes.
"I think Juan has been doing really well for us," Moyes told ManUnited.com. "He's made the team better, he can assist and score goals. In his first four or five games we didn't see him scoring any, but now you're beginning to feel that he's got goals in him."
It was a 10th away win for Man United, best in the Premier League this season. The Red Devils moved up to sixth place, one point ahead of Tottenham Hotspur, who host Sunderland on Monday.
The loss left Newcastle in ninth place, two points behind Southampton. Manager Alan Pardew watched the match from the stands, serving the fifth of a seven-match ban for headbutting an opposing player.
Newcastle won the reverse fixture, 1-0 in December, for the club's first victory at Old Trafford since 1972. That result represented one of several low-points Manchester United have experienced this season, Moyes' first following the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson.
But with the league title—and most likely the top four as well—out of reach, United have turned their attention toward the UEFA Champions League. It's in that competition where the Red Devils still have a chance to win silverware, though they will have to get past holders Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals.
The second leg of that quarter-final is set for Wednesday in Munich following the teams' 1-1 draw in the first leg in Manchester. United will be buoyed by the news that Bayern lost 1-0 at Augsburg on Saturday, ending their 53-match unbeaten run in the Bundesliga.
"We needed a good performance, but we didn't start the game as well as I would have liked," Moyes told ManUtd.com. "In the opening 20 minutes I thought our passing was sloppy and not as accurate as we'd like, but once we got into a rhythm I thought we played really well."
Chances were scarce in the opening minutes, and although Manchester United put the ball in the net in the 13th minute, the goal was ruled out for a handball on Marouane Fellaini in the buildup. Three minutes later at the other end, Cheick Tiote blasted over the bar for Newcastle.
Man United received bad news in the 18th minute, when Ashley Young left the match with an injury following a collision with Massadio Haidara. Januzaj replaced him on United's right flank.
The game's first clear chance came in the 24th minute as Newcastle's Davide Santon crossed dangerously from the right. Cisse met the pass in the middle, flicking his header on goal, but Lindegaard tipped the ball over the bar.
But although Newcastle controlled the majority of possession until that point, Man United took the lead in the 39th minute. United won a free kick on the right just outside Newcastle's box, allowing to Mata curl his free kick into the top corner at near post. Newcastle were aggrieved by referee Kevin Friend's decision to award the free kick for Dan Gosling's tackle on Darren Fletcher.
The visitors nearly scored a second goal five minutes later after Kagawa burst down the middle and laid off for Hernandez. The Mexican international curled his shot toward the far post, but Newcastle goalkeeper Rob Elliot tipped the ball onto the post. Newcastle were again upset with Friend, who did not award the hosts a free kick during the buildup for a high challenge from Hernandez on Mike Williamson.
Leading 1-0 at half-time, Man United doubled their lead in the 50th minute. Mata was the scorer again, collecting Hernandez's cross in the box and pulling back to beat a defender before slotting into the net past Elliot for a 2-0 advantage.
United made it 3-0 in the 64th minute when Januzaj, Kagawa and Hernandez combined on a flowing team move to rip apart Newcastle's defence. Januzaj sparked the chance, freeing Kagawa on the left with a well-timed through ball. Nearing the byline, Kagawa cut back for Hernandez, who swept into the net with his first touch.
Lindegaard preserved the clean sheet in the 71st minute, saving Cisse's curling shot after the Newcastle striker had pounced on a mistake by Antonio Valencia. The Danish goalkeeper made another fine save 13 minutes later, denying Cisse from close range in the middle of the box.
With the match winding down, Man United made it 4-0 in stoppage time, Januzaj finishing from Mata's fine back heel to top off what should be a confidence-building win.
Reaction to follow…
|Manchester United Player Ratings vs. Newcastle|
|Adnan Januzaj (for Young, 18')||7||9|
|Alexander Buttner (for Evra, 64')||N/A||8|
|Nani (for Fellaini, 70')||N/A||8|
Newcastle play at Stoke City in the Premier League next Saturday.
Manchester United play at Bayern Munich on Wednesday in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final. The teams drew 1-1 in the first leg in Manchester.