Mata was brought on after 63 minutes in place of Jesse Lingard, but was then taken off during injury time to make way for Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
The Spaniard cut a dejected, angry figure as he trudged off and sat on the bench, with many speculating that the strangely timed substitution was another symptom of Mourinho’s indifference towards the attacking midfielder.
However, Mourinho insisted the reasoning behind Mata’s substitution stemmed from a desire to make all six available changes before the final whistle, and with Leicester piling bodies forward, the 53-year-old decided to bring off Man United’s shortest player, which was inevitably the 5’7 28-year-old.
Coaching staff are hugging Mata. Mata is actually having a go at Mourinho. Having to be restrained. #mufc
— Samuel Luckhurst (@samuelluckhurst) August 7, 2016
Video of the situation:
— Tiarnán (@Tiarnymac) August 7, 2016
“He played very well and gave me what I needed. The rules gave me six changes, so I took the smallest player off,” Mourinho said.
With Mourinho’s history with Mata well documented, this substitution was bound to raise a few eyebrows and if you were looking at odds on him leaving using a Ladbrokes promotion, then he’d probably have short odds on leaving. However, there was clearly no antipathy behind the 53-year-old’s decision.
With the ability to make six substitutions, Mourinho was simply trying to waste time as Leicester lumped the ball forward. And given that Claudio Ranieri’s men were taking the aerial route, it made sense to bring off United’s smallest player.
That said, Mata will still feel disenfranchised by the whole affair, but with Mourinho’s backing earlier on in the summer, the Spaniard has multiple opportunities ahead of him.