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Champions League: Cool Juan Mata steers Manchester United back on track against Wolfsburg

Manchester United 2 Wolfsburg 1

By Paul Hirst

Juan Mata was the star of the show as Manchester United got off the mark in the Champions League with a narrow 2-1 win over Wolfsburg.

Daniel Caligiuri took advantage of some slack defending from the hosts to put the Germans 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 victory, their first three points of the European campaign after the defeat to PSV Eindhoven in their opening match.

United boss Louis van Gaal said: "It was very difficult because they scored so early.

"Then we did very well, we created a lot of chances. We didn't finish it and it was a lucky penalty I think.

"Of course it is a penalty but there are some refs who wouldn't whistle for that. We have created many more chances, (Wayne) Rooney and (Memphis) Depay could have scored and you finish the game.

"Then we scored and after that it was suffering. A lot of players are very tired, a combination of a lot of matches, but we didn't give much away. How many chances have we given away? Maybe one.

"We have to keep the ball better in the second-half."

Mata admitted his side were running out of gas.

"It was a very tough game because we were physically tired at the end. But we did what we had to do," he said.

"The manager made a list of penalty takers and I am the first right now and I have confidence. We knew we had to win. We are happy."

Match-winner Smalling added: "We started up against it after conceding a goal.

"But we created a lot of chances and deserved the win. We didn't give them too many chances. We created some ourselves which gave us a deserved victory.

"We knew they played with two wingers which gave us space, Anthony Martial's pace used that well."

United looked anything but potential Champions League winners - as Bastian Schweinsteiger claimed they were on the eve of the match - but Van Gaal will not be too perturbed.

The United boss knew this was a must-win encounter after that PSV loss and he will be glad his team just about dragged themselves over the line against a disciplined German opponent.

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

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, and he jabbed past David de Gea.

The nerves eased inside Old Trafford half an hour later 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 in the 53rd minute. Smalling rolled the ball past Wolfsburg goalkeeper Benaglio, but Mata should take the lion's share of the credit. The Spaniard flicked a wayward pass over the Wolfsburg back four and into Smalling's path.

Caligiuri later tested De Gea with a low shot before Nicklas Bendtner and Andre Schurrle came off the bench for the Germans. The former Arsenal man fluffed a chance and Wolfsburg continued to threaten, but United hung on for their first Champions League win under Van Gaal.

MANCHESTER UNITED: De Gea, A Valencia (Young 45), Smalling, Blind, Darmian, Schneiderlin, Schweinsteiger (Jones 72), Mata, Rooney, Depay (Pereira 62), Martial.

Goals: Mata 34 (pen), Smalling 53

Subs not used: Wilson, Romero, Fellaini, McNair.

WOLFSBURG: Benaglio, Träsch (Jung 77), Aparecido Rodrigues, Dante, Rodríguez, Draxler, Guilavogui, Arnold (Schurrle 70), Caligiuri, Kruse, Dost (Bendtner 70). Goal: Caligiuri 4

Not used: Schäfer, Klose, Grün, Seguin.

Man of the match: Mata

Rating: 7/10

Ref: Viktor Kassai (Hungary)

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