Juan Mata has paid tribute to his blossoming partnership with Manchester United teammate Ander Herrera.

United's remarkable improvement in their last three games has been epitomised by the performances of the Spanish midfield duo, whose understanding on the pitch has been evident whenever they have had the chance to play together.

Mata scored a memorable brace against Liverpool on 22 March, the first of which was expertly provided by Herrera, who added two goals for himself in United's weekend victory over Aston Villa, the second teed up by his compatriot.

While both men have previously struggled to win over United boss Louis van Gaal, the Dutchman has now found pivotal roles for both players which has helped bring the club closer to Champions League qualification.

Mata and Herrera's understanding dates back to their years playing alongside each other for Spain's youth ranks, which included Under-21 European Championship success in 2011, and the former Chelsea star insists it is their connection off the pitch as well as on it that allows them to thrive.

"I think it is because of the relationship we have had over the years and because we understand football and life in more or less the same way," Mata told United's official website.

"I think we play well together because we understand each other and sometimes without speaking or looking we know where we are going to pass or where we are going to move on the pitch.

"The first goal at Anfield is a good example of that – he controlled the ball, turned and knew where I was already running to and he put the ball there. Ander is a quality player and I am very happy he is here and playing and performing well."

United have lost just one game from eight when their Spanish duo has started in midfield this season, with their recent exploits helping the club into third place – eight clear of fifth placed Liverpool with seven games of the season remaining.