The Spaniard led van Gaal’s side out for the first time in the midweek win over Watford and was able to score a decisive free-kick in the 83rd minute.
He said: “It was not difficult because I have an elder group of players with whom I’m talking about aspects of things – training sessions, meetings or how we have to approach players and so on.
“Juan is a member of that group with the three captains – Rooney, Carrick and Smalling – and [Bastian] Schweinsteiger as well, so it was an easy choice for me.”
In his more natural No.10 role, Mata has been in sparkling form during United’s mini-renaissance over the last four games.
His goal against Watford was the epitome of that improvement in form and he’s now surely indispensable to van Gaal because he’s central to everything we’re doing.
What we’re seeing are the sort of performances which made Mata the best player at Chelsea for a couple of years and he’s doing it consistently.
I think United’s pace in attack has really helped Mata as it creates a lot more opportunities for him to exploit but his own general form has taken a big upward curve, and long may it continue.