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Liverpool 1-2 Manchester United: All hail Juan Mata

A superb Juan Mata brace enabled United to see off Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday.

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Manchester United delivered an impressive performance to win 2-1 away at Anfield on Sunday. A brace from the outstanding Juan Mata was enough for the victory, and enabled Louis van Gaal's men to extend their buffer inside the top four to five points.

United started the game with pace and purpose, and were completely on top by the time the brilliant opening goal came within a quarter of an hour. It was the result of a defence-splitting pass by Ander Herrera, whose compatriot Juan Mata darted inside off the right and chipped over Simon Mignolet for a deserved lead.

United continued to look utterly dominant until just past the half-hour, when Liverpool created their first real opportunity of the match. A lovely pass by Jordan Henderson was knocked down by Daniel Sturridge into the path of Adam Lallana, though he lashed just wide from the edge of the area. The chance seemed to finally bring Anfield to life, though United hung on until the halftime whistle.

It would've been reasonable to expect Liverpool to improve with the coming of the second half, but that was all undone by their Captain, Leader and indeed Legend Steven Gerrard within seconds of the restart. In what was perhaps the greatest United-Liverpool derby moment of our collective lives, Gerrard -- who had only just come on in place of Lallana -- viciously stamped on Herrera and was rightly sent off.

As if that wasn't good enough, things got even better just short of the hour when Mata responded with trademark style. A delicate ball over the top by Ángel Di María (who came on for a fairly anonymous Ashley Young at the break) was caught on the volley by Mata, whose effort sailed past Mignolet and into the bottom corner for 2-0.

Of course, van Gaal's United wouldn't be van Gaal's United without at least a slight hitch, and it came when Liverpool pulled one back from nowhere with just over 20 minutes remaining. A deflected pass by Philippe Coutinho found its way through to Daniel Sturridge, whose slightly deflected effort deceived David de Gea and slipped inside the near post.

The goal certainly made things a little more uncomfortable than they needed to be, with the game becoming an almighty midfield scrap for the remaining quarter. Wayne Rooney should have killed the game off from the penalty spot in stoppage time after Daley Blind was bundled over by Eme Can, though the striker capped a woeful individual performance with a spot-kick comfortably saved by Mignolet.

However, United did what they needed to see the game out, and pick up a crucial three points in the race for Champions League football.