Manchester United 2 - 1 Wolfsburg: Mata shines

Manchester United's Juan Mata scores his side's first goal from the penalty spot at Old Trafford. Picture: PA

Manchester United's Juan Mata scores his side's first goal from the penalty spot at Old Trafford. Picture: PA

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JUAN MATA was the star of the show as Manchester United got off the mark in the Champions League with a narrow win over Wolfsburg.

Daniel Caligiuri took advantage of some slack defending from the hosts to put Wolfsburg ahead in the fourth minute, but Mata won – and converted – a penalty to equalise 11 minutes before the break. The Spaniard then backheeled a lovely pass straight into Chris Smalling’s path and he slotted the ball past Diego Benaglio to give United a 2-1 win.

After losing their first Group B match to PSV last month, Louis van Gaal knew this was a must-win encounter and he will be glad his team just about dragged themselves over the line against a disciplined and threatening German opponent.

After a wobbly start, United are now second in their group, level on three points with Wolfsburg, PSV and CSKA Moscow.

United attacked with intent from the off, but the hosts were stunned in the fourth minute when Wolfsburg took the lead.

Smalling, Morgan Schneiderlin and Daley Blind failed to dispossess Caligiuri in the right corner. He played the ball inside to Max Kruse, who returned the ball to the midfielder in the box and he jabbed the ball past David de Gea. The goal would not have stood had Antonio Valencia been in line with his fellow defenders.

United looked for an immediate reply, but struggled to find one. Dante flung himself into the path of a Mata curler and diverted the goal-bound shot over the bar.

Finally the nerves eased inside Old Trafford when Mata cut in from the right and swung in a cross which was impeded by Caligiuri’s outstretched left arm.

Referee Viktor Kassai pointed to the spot and Mata slotted the ball into the bottom left-hand corner.

United then put themselves in charge of the game in the 53rd minute. Smalling rolled the ball past Wolfsburg goalkeeper Benaglio, but Mata should take the lion’s share of the credit for the goal. The Spaniard flicked a wayward pass over the Wolfsburg back four and into Smalling’s path. The defender slid in and guided the ball past Benaglio with his right foot.

Scorers: Manchester United - Mata (34 pen), Smalling (53); Wolfsburg - Caligiuri (4)

Referee: V Kassai (Hun)

Attendance: 75,000

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