Monday mornings were a tad easier for Manchester United fans today. A 2-1 win over your arch rivals, marked by more delightfully progressive football and an exercise in lunacy from Steven Gerrard, ensured the working week started on a more cheerier note than usual.

The biggest smiles on Sunday afternoon were worn by Juan Mata and Ander Herrera, who revelled in the 2-1 victory and in each other's individual performances. Many have pined for the Spaniards to start in tandem during the club's dour moments this season and were given the most fulfilling reward for their support; seeing them dismantle the enemy.

Mata enjoyed his watershed moment as United player on the perfect stage. The stats show his contribution to the cause since his £37m move from Chelsea in January 2014 has been stellar, but lacked the consistent sparkle that defined his days at Stamford Bridge.

That changed yesterday in a marvellous exhibition of skill, determination and innovation. Having spent so long on the sidelines you would have been forgiven for thinking Mata's time at United was drawing to a close. But his response to regaining his starting berth against Tottenham last week was remarkable, while Sunday's was simply from another planet.

According to Louis van Gaal, Mata is thriving in his role as a false right winger. Even for battle hardened Football Manager veterans and the most extravagant of football hipsters, that's a new one. Whatever position it is, it's working.

The man who provided his first goal in Herrera has endured the same tribulations. While van Gaal moulded the 25-year-old into a midfielder for his Manchester United side, there were howls of protest from fans desperate to see their new Basque signing handed a prominent role in the side, with the former Athletic Bilbao player making just seven starting appearances before February.

To Van Gaal's credit, he is now getting exactly what he wants. While Herrera's game is still a high-intensity one, there remains a measure of control that ensures he is in the right position when it matters. His through ball for Mata's first goal showed a degree of incision has so often deserted United this season, and provided the purest example of what he brings to United's midfield.

The bromance these two share clearly works on the pitch; it is no coincidence United's best two performances of the season have come with their Spanish schemers working in tandem. Should you consider United's 3-0 win over Hull City in November their third-best performance of the season, it was these two who thrived too. Curiously enough, those games all had one more thing in common – the absence of Angel di Maria for a large portion of the game (Herrera replaced the Argentine after 14 minutes in that win over Steve Bruce's side).

It may be easy for some supporters to adopt a 'we told you so' approach over Mata's and Herrera's rise to prominence, but it is clear Van Gaal has worked with both of them to get what he wants. It just so happens that it's what everyone else wanted too.