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Juan Mata on setting up Manchester United winner

Juan Mata told UEFA.com that his audacious pass that set up Chris Smalling for Manchester United's winner against Wolfsburg was based on a hunch, earning Daley Blind's admiration.

Juan Mata salutes the United fans
Juan Mata salutes the United fans ©Getty Images

It did not require Louis van Gaal to confirm him as Manchester United's designated penalty taker to understand Juan Mata's growing status at Old Trafford these days – the Spaniard's efforts against Wolfsburg on Wednesday night were already evidence enough.

The 27-year-old was the difference between United winning and losing their second Group B fixture against Wolfsburg last night. It was his cross that struck Daniel Caligiuri's hand for the penalty that he – rather than Wayne Rooney – tucked away to cancel out Caligiuri's early goal for his fourth goal in seven games. It was then his brilliantly improvised, volleyed flick over the Wolfsburg defence that set up Chris Smalling to score the winning goal.

That was a moment of magic from Mata, who admitted afterwards that he had acted on a hunch. "The ball came to me from Bastian's [Schweinsteiger] shot and I tried to keep it moving and had the feeling there could be someone at the back post and Chris took it really well," he told UEFA.com. His radar had been virtually faultless throughout – UEFA's post-match statistics showed he managed a 95% pass completion rate and Memphis Depay was a particular beneficiary in the first half, Mata twice supplying him for goal attempts saved by Diego Benaglio.

With Anthony Martial's presence and pace up top creating space for United's other attackers, Mata seems to be relishing playing in this new-look attack and he reflected afterwards.

"The truth is I feel really good right now," Mata said. "I just hope this moment continues and I can carry on in this vein. I am enjoying it, the team are winning and we're in good shape."

Highlights: Mata v Wolfsburg

If Mata supplied the inspiration, United needed some perspiration too given the early goal they conceded – and the late pressure Wolfsburg applied when chasing an equaliser against a home team whose physical levels had "dropped" according to Mata. "We were quite tired," he admitted.

"We did what we had to do – we lost the first game against PSV and today we had to win," Mata continued. "The game got more complicated for us in the first few minutes [conceding a goal] but in the end we played quite well and we got the result."

Defender Daley Blind was full of appreciation for Mata's efforts in United's fourth successive victory in all competitions. "Mata is a joy to watch," the Dutchman said. "He is a great football player, a great guy as well and he was very important for us and the team."

Watch: Blind interview

Yet Blind added that it took a real team effort to earn United their first points in Group B. "In the first half we played nice football and had great chances," he said. "The second half we had to dig deep to get the three points.

"After the second goal it was open and we had to fight for every ball. In the end it was a real team performance. They put an extra striker in, they had a lot of pressure; that is why we chose to be more compact in defence and then try to play from there."