GiveMeSport Live from Selhurst Park.
Chris Smalling's header against rivals Manchester City on April 12 seems like an eternity ago now, but incredibly, before this evening's clash at Selhurst Park, it was the last time Manchester United had found the back of the net.
Since then, the Red Devils have endured a torrid time: three straight defeats against the trio of Chelsea, Everton and West Brom really haven't helped the club in their attempts to return to Europe's elite stage.
Today, though, Spaniard Juan Mata ended the 206 minute wait for a goal from the penalty spot. Ultimately, after misses from captain Wayne Rooney and that one from Dutchman Robin van Persie last week, it was the tricky Spaniard who was handed the responsibility of putting United in front. Mata kindly obliged.
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You'd have expected him to be feeling the pressure as he stepped up to the spot. With the towering Julian Speroni to beat, the United No.8 calmly slotted the ball inside the post with fine accuracy. In truth, if Mata had placed the ball any closer to the Palace 'keeper then it would have been saved. It was as near perfection as a penalty can be.
In fact, he's the first Manchester United midfielder to reach double figures in goals since the legendary Paul Scholes in the 2004/05 season.
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The penalty, of course, was Mata's standout moment of the match, but his movement and quality was there for all to see throughout the proceedings.
He's not your conventional speedy winger - he's certainly different to the duo of Wilfried Zaha and Yannick Bolasie in the Crystal Palace ranks. What he is, however, is a unique star, full of intelligence and quality.
There was one ball he played through to Antonio Valencia which was absolutely sublime: on the turn he played a half volley through to the Ecuadorian, who managed to deliver the ball only for Palace to just about keep the likes of Marouane Fellaini and Co. at bay. It was the class of Mata once again who gave Manchester United an opening.
He's a class act
When United were struggling, after Palace's equaliser, Mata started to operate further inside. It was him who played through a fine ball to Ashley Young to cut open the Palace back-line. The impressive Young, though, wasted the opportunity. More often than not, it was Mata who created anything for the Red Devils when on the attack.
As United pressed for a winner, Mata almost doubled his tally as Young pulled it back to him. On this occasion, he fluffed his lines as the ball went over the bar, but it was his movement and determination to get into the box that has to be admired.
Often, when taking the ball in his stride, he cut inside to play a cute pass to one of his fellow midfielders. One thing's certain with Mata, as he proved once again today, he will play the right ball. He's such a clever player and one that uses his brain to play the game. There aren't enough top players who intelligently roam around the field of play.
There's no doubt about it, the duo of Ashley Young and David de Gea will take the majority of the plaudits, but Mata, as he often does, was top-class in a vital victory for Louis van Gaal's side.
Manchester United fans: What did you think of Mata's performance? Have your say in the comments section below!
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