Mata inspires Man Utd to Wolfsburg comeback in Champions League
Juan Mata inspired Manchester United to a crucial Champions League comeback at Old Trafford in their Group B encounter with Wolfsburg, as Louis van Gaal’s Red Devils fought back from a goal down to secure a 2-1 victory.
Spanish maestro Mata confidently tucked away a first-half penalty to level the tie on home soil, after Daniel Caligiuri netted early on, before superbly setting up Chris Smalling for the winner after the break. The Red Devils are now 22/1 with Coral to go all the way in Europe’s elite club competition this season.
The hosts were aiming to make a solid start on home turf, but swift forward play between Wolfsburg’s new signing Julian Draxler and fellow countryman Max Kruse led to Caligiuri opening proceedings after just four minutes, with a flat-footed Antonio Valencia playing the attacker onside.
Anthony Martial had enjoyed a rampant run since being made the most expensive teenager in history, and the Frenchman was again the focus of Red Devils attacks, with Bastian Schweinsteiger narrowly failing to play him in during the opening 15 minutes.
Spanish playmaker Mata came close to levelling only 10 minutes after Dieter Hecking’s men took a surprising lead, with his trademark left footed curler being cleared off the line by brave Brazilian Dante.
Martial was soon up to his old tricks again, rapidly cutting in from wide right to unleash a whipped effort, but it sailed scarcely past Diego Benaglio’s far post.
Van Gaal has evidently embedded a possession-based approach within his United set-up, and the home side once again took complete control of proceedings since David de Gea was beaten early on.
Wayne Rooney has been deployed back at a number 10 role in order for Martial to lead the attack, but it was the teenager who provided his skipper with a glorious chance before the half-hour mark. The 19-year-old glided past Ricardo Rodriguez to enter the Wolfsburg penalty area, before perfectly teeing up the all-time England scorer, but Rooney sent his shot high and wide from eight yards out.
United’s dominance and patient build-up play was soon rewarded as opening goal scorer Caligiuri was deemed to have handled the ball off an attempted Mata through ball in the area. The Spaniard stepped up and clinically sent veteran Swiss stopper Benaglio the wrong way from the spot, tilting momentum back in his side’s favour on 34 minutes.
Midfield enforcer Morgan Schneiderlin has become a perfect partner for Schweinsteiger in the centre, possessing the more aggressive attributes of the two, but both summer signings were cautioned within moments of each other for strong but seemingly fair challenges. The German World Cup winner was furious at the referee’s decision to book him, as United went into the break level, but slightly frustrated.
With several injuries to his backline, Van Gaal opted to introduce rejuvenated wideman Ashley Young at left back, after Valencia had been caught out for Wolfsburg’s opener.
Netherlands international Bas Dost came into his latest outing on the back of six goals in all competitions for Die Wolfe, and he was nearly gifted the chance to add to his tally by flying full back Rodriguez, if not for a last-ditch Matteo Darmian clearance.
Young’s arrival on the Old Trafford turf turned out to be a decisive switch, with his initial cross leading to Smalling’s well-finished strike after 53 minutes. The centre back found himself lingering the box after a delivery from the right, sliding in to send United into the lead from a exquisitely chipped Mata pass.
Daley Blind was criticised by former Old Trafford stars Rio Ferdinand and Paul Scholes before kick-off, both claiming he lacks the physical strength and natural defensive abilities to deal with talented strikers. But the Dutch makeshift defender enjoyed a successful night containing his fellow countryman Dost.
The referee was met with a rapturous round of jeers form the home crowd, after harshly booking Memphis for a collision on the left flank, and it was ultimately the Dutchman’s final act as young prospect Andreas Pereira was sent on.
Having capably dealt with the Bundesliga outfit’s forward threats Maximilan Arnold and Dost, United’s rear guard then faced familiar substitute faces in the form of former Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner and previous Chelsea misfit Andre Schurrle.
It was the latter who proved to be most dangerous, giving Blind plenty to think about after his introduction, as he swivelled onto his left and dispatched narrowly past a helpless De Gea’s right post.
There were plenty of changes towards the end of the returning Champions League clash at Old Trafford, with out-of-favour Phil Jones coming on for the impressive Schweinsteiger. Though the switches seemed to momentarily set United back, before eventually reasserting their dominance and assuring a vital three points in Group B, with Mata once again playing a starring role.