Manchester United vice captain Michael Carrick has hailed Juan Mata's importance in Louis van Gaal's side after the former Chelsea playmaker scored a sensational brace to give his side a 2-1 win over Liverpool on Sunday 22 March.

The Spanish midfielder fell out of favour with the manager during February, starting on the bench during the Premier League games against Leicester City, West Ham, Burnley, Swansea, Sunderland and Newcastle, as well as the FA Cup games with Preston North End and Arsenal.

But Mata took advantage of Angel Di Maria's suspension in the FA Cup elimination against Arsenal to prove van Gaal he deserves a place in the line-up during the 3-0 victory over Tottenham before being the Man of the Match in the victory at Anfield.

Asked about his recent absences from van Gaal's plans Carrick said: "All players have ups and downs throughout their careers and you can't look at any player and say any different.

"You can't look past his quality; that is why he is here and he is here for a reason. He is such a good player and performances like that don't surprise me as that is exactly what he is all about."

Carrick believes that Mata is eventually a crucial player for United and a "joy to watch" for the supporters.

"He has always been a great player. He has always been important to us because he brings so much to the team, and so much ability. You have seen it all there, in terms of what he brings," the midfielder said.

"I thought he was terrific. His overall play was good and he obviously scored both goals. The first one was a really good finish and the second was sensational, so he had a good day.

"He is just so clever. He moves the ball, takes up good positions. He is dangerous and he is just so intelligent. He has such a slight frame so he is not going to have a physical presence but he more than makes up for that with his general ability and how he plays the game. He is just a joy to watch."

The Spaniard's second consecutive start forced van Gaal to leave record signing Di Maria on the bench alongside misfiring Radamel Falcao.

"It tells you about the squad and our strength-in depth. What more can you say? Those boys you mentioned are all top players but I think we have got a number of players that the manager can choose from, which is great. Sometimes different games throw up different scenarios and need different systems maybe, but the last two games have gone very well for us," he said.

"We are still focusing on the next game, exactly as we would have. We see in training when we have games that both teams are pretty equal, when we have 11 versus 11, because that is the strength of our squad now.

"A lot of players have had game time this year and that does bring options. That is what you get at big clubs. It is something that I have always had and it just keeps you on your toes."