By Harry Slavin at St James' Park
It appears David Moyes may finally have found the answer to one of the most pertinent questions of his short reign at Manchester United – what to do with Juan Mata.
Playing from a central position the Spaniard scored twice and set up another in a 4-0 rout of Newcastle at St James’ Park, and the case for him to take up the role on a full-time basis has never been stronger.
The Spaniard has failed to shine in the first couple of months since his £37m move from Chelsea in January and looked uncomfortable as he was forced to take up wide roles as Moyes tried to get the best out of the Wayne Rooney-Robin van Persie partnership.
In the absence of the pair against Newcastle, however, Mata was allowed to move infield and United reaped the rewards of his best display in a red jersey.
He opened the scoring with a sumptuous free kick just before the break and doubled his tally in the second period when he arrived late in the box to pick up Javier Hernandez’s cut back and calmly finish beyond Rob Elliot.
United’s No.8 had some magic left in the lamp, too, and his audacious backheel cut the Newcastle defence to ribbons and allowed Adnan Januzaj to slot home the fourth goal in stoppage time.
Moyes has insisted that Mata has made an impact wherever he has been deployed so far, but the Scot could be left in little doubt that this was his best performance yet.
“I think he played really well and I think he’s made us better," Moyes told reporters after the match.
“He hasn’t got the goals in the earlier games but I really thought he played fine. Now he’s got the goals and, more importantly, the assists.
"I think over the last past few seasons Juan Mata has been one of the best assist makers in the Premier League.
“He’s always got himself a good tally of goals and we needed that. He’s coming up with the goods now.”
Indeed he is. In Van Persie's absence, Mata made a similar impact from the middle of the park at Old Trafford last weekend, when he opened his goalscoring account against Aston Villa.
His ineligibility in the Champions League will never have been more acutely felt ahead of Wednesday’s crunch clash with Bayern Munich and there is the added headache for Moyes in deciding what to do when both Rooney and Van Persie return to first team action. But the signs are positive.
Of course, there is a huge difference for United in playing well against Bayern and playing well against the likes of Newcastle.
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|The Spaniard scored only his second Premier League brace, and his first since October 2012 (Chelsea v Tottenham).
The North East club have noticeably struggled since the departure of Yohan Cabaye and certainly since manager Alan Pardew headbutted David Meyler. An air of resignation about the current squad doesn’t sit well with any of the Toon Army, who once again let their team know exactly what they thought of their latest display.
They’ve now shipped 11 goals in just three games and while they are safe from relegation, the current state of affairs leaves it difficult to comprehend how they are going to attract top talent in the summer.
Things have not been so easy at Old Trafford, either, but despite a dire home record and unrest among large swathes of supporters, the under-fire Moyes is in charge of the Premier League's best away side. They have won their last four legaue matches on the road, and have kept five consecutive clean sheets on their travels for only the fourth time in Premier League history, and for the first time since 2011.
Neither Moyes nor Mata will not be judged on days like today but as the Scot looks for positives to take from a tumultuous first season he can at least take solace that his record signing is starting to look at home.