MANCHESTER, England (AP) — With record signing Juan Mata slotting seamlessly into the team and fit-again Robin van Persie back to scoring again, a return to the good times could be just around the corner for Manchester United.
The English champions looked more like the United of old in a 2-0 win over Cardiff on Tuesday that revived their hopes of making up the ground to the top four — and put a smile back on the face of manager David Moyes.
Three days after sealing his high-profile move from Chelsea, Mata made his debut for United and showed glimpses of his class and vision in the 84 minutes he played to underline why the club splashed out 37.1 million pounds ($61.2 million) for the Spain playmaker.
Yet he was upstaged by the returning Van Persie, who marked his first game after seven weeks out with a thigh injury by heading United in front after six minutes.
Ashley Young added the second in the 59th minute and a substitute appearance from Wayne Rooney, who has also been struggling with injury, capped a satisfying night for Moyes. And there haven't been many of them lately.
"To see Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney back on the touchline would have been enough to give everyone an uplift but then to have Juan Mata as well," Moyes said. "The results with them will get much better."
It all conspired 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.
Solskjaer was given a great reception from United fans, and responded by waving to all sides of Old Trafford, but his last-place team did little more than compete gamely. It was a bittersweet night for the Norwegian.
"With Rooney, van Persie, Mata (all playing), it was good timing coming to Old Trafford, wasn't it?" Solskjaer said with a smile.
The atmosphere at Old Trafford has been subdued for much of Moyes' turbulent first season in charge, but there was a real buzz inside the stadium as fans greeted first Mata then the returning Van Persie and finally Solskjaer with huge roars before kickoff.