Juan Mata
Juan Mata was the Man of the Match against Liverpool. Reuters

Manchester United star Juan Mata has claimed a brace during the 2-1 victory over Liverpool on Sunday 22 March is a reward to his hard work during a season where he has struggled to convince Louis van Gaal to deserve a regular place in his line-up.

The Spaniard spent most of the month of February on the bench and just returned to Van Gaal's starting line-up to replace the suspended Angel Di Maria during the recent 3-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspurs.

And following an impressive performance against Spurs, the Dutch boss handed him a new chance to prove his worth at Anfield ahead of Di Maria himself, with the Spaniard responding with two goals to lead his side to a crucial victory, going five points clear of their rivals in the bid for the Premier League top four.

Mata has expressed his delight for both his goals and especially for securing three points in such a special game.

"Obviously I'm very happy for the team's effort and performance, for such an important victory and for my goals. It has been an unforgettable day for me. As I have said several times before, I am the same player I have always been, with the same passion, the same abilities and the same hunger to get better. Hard work brings a reward, and that has been the case this Sunday," he wrote in his weekly blog.

"Beating Liverpool at Anfield, being lucky to score two nice goals and feeling your gratitude is something I will never forget. But we must be cautious: these are just three points in the race to our goal."

Mata was excluded from the Spanish national team squad on Friday but just days later had the chance to recoup himself with "one of the happiest days" of his career.

"I can tell you that this Sunday has been one of the happiest days of my career. When you start playing football as a kid on muddy pitches, for something so simple and wonderful as having fun, you dream about becoming a footballer one day to be in a game like the one in Anfield," he said.

"I mean one of those thrilling games between two great teams and with millions of people watching from so many countries. Manchester United and Liverpool have one of the biggest sports rivalries, and this is the biggest game in English football. I had been told that many times in the past and I have experienced that myself too."

Mata gave United the lead following an assist from Ander Herrera before scoring a spectacular bicycle kick to double the advantage.

"Many of you are asking me about the second goal and the truth is I don't know very well how to explain it. It's something you just don't think... It's more a resource you use when you understand it's better to shoot the ball as it comes rather than trying to control it and keep the play," he said.

"Angel's pass invited to do so. It's one of the best goals of my career for sure, among other things because it happened in such a massive game. And it helped us win."