|Robin van Persie celebrates after scoring the opening goal, at Old Trafford, on Tuesday. (Getty Images)
Manchester: Juan Mata made a winning start to his Manchester United career by helping the rejuvenated English champions to a 2-0 victory over Cardiff in the Premier League, with fit-again Robin van Persie and Ashley Young scoring the goals on Tuesday.
Mata played 84 minutes at Old Trafford and showed glimpses of his class on a solid debut following a club-record $61.2-million move from Chelsea last week.
Yet he was upstaged by the returning Van Persie, who marked his first appearance after seven weeks out with a thigh injury by heading United in front after six minutes.
Young added a second in the 59th minute to ruin the return to Old Trafford of Cardiff manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who played 11 years at United from 1996-2007 and has a place in the club’s folklore after scoring the winning goal in the 1999 Champions League final.
Cardiff stayed bottom the standings, on goal difference, while United remained seventh and in the hunt for the final Champions League spot.
Arsenal’s wings were clipped in a 2-2 draw at Southampton as they missed a chance to soar four points clear in the title race while Liverpool thrashed Everton.
Arsenal could have stolen a march on their rivals but, like their team bus that was late arriving after getting stuck in traffic, they struggled to move out of second gear.
There was no sluggishness about Liverpool, whose 15-year home hoodoo over rivals Everton continued with Daniel Sturridge scoring twice in a 4-0 win.
Fourth-placed Liverpool revived their own faint title hopes with their biggest win over Everton since 1982 and now sit six points behind Arsenal, and four ahead of their Merseyside rivals.
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard powered in a 21st minute header to open the scoring at Anfield but it was Sturridge who took the game away from Everton, showcasing his finishing talents before Luis Suarez completed the rout.
Sturridge struck twice in two minutes past the half-hour just as Everton seemed to be gaining a foothold in the match, yet both his goals would have left Everton manager Roberto Martinez scratching his head at his side’s shoddy defending.
With record signing Mata making his debut for United, the champions enjoyed a double boost as Van Persie made his first appearance since December 10 after injury.
He marked the occasion with the first goal before Ashley Young wrapped up the points to leave Cardiff bottom after a painful, if warmly applauded.
Mata had a part to play in United’s opener, giving the home fans a taste of his playmaking abilities with a raking crossfield ball to start the move from which Van Persie found the net at the second attempt with a close-range header.
Perhaps inspired by Mata’s arrival, Young found some of his old form to cut in from the left, beat two men and rifle home from distance.
Van Persie lasted 63 minutes before he was replaced by Wayne Rooney, who curled just wide before Antonio Valencia drove an angled shot against the post.