The Portuguese told Zlatan to prepare himself immediately after Abdoulaye Doucore’s late goal set up what promised to be a nerve-wracking finish for the visitors, with Watford, having been comprehensively outplayed and outscored, suddenly in the driving seat with minutes left.
But the Swede wasn’t even able to come on before Jesse Lingard ran through the entire Watford defence to put the game to bed with 86 minutes gone.
And Mourinho, speaking after the game, noted that he had a specific role for Zlatan ahead of introducing him into what could have been a truly sticky last few minutes.
“Zlatan holds the ball well, he can be an extra man to help us in set pieces,” he said.
“I told Zlatan maybe if Gomes goes to the last corner of the match and you maybe mark Gomes at set pieces, who knows how the game could end.”
This is a smarter idea than you might think at first glance. Of course, throwing on a player of Zlatan’s stature and verve for a short period of aggressive aerial bombardment during the final moments of a game is good thinking, but to put him on the goalkeeper serves as a shrewd – albeit obscure – piece of attacking foresight.
This is because, for whatever reason, most last-ditch corners seem to veer in the goalkeeper’s general direction. Honestly, next time it happens, just watch how the man in gloves ends up being involved in some sense. Perhaps they have a more refined understanding of where corners will ultimately land, or maybe there is some kind of spiritual vortex that surrounds them that only activates after, say, 92 minutes.
And the plan, I guess, would have been for the 36-year-old to dominate Gomes in the air before nodding the ball out of the box to set one of United’s attacking players free on an open goal. There is no better way to score than that; I can imagine Lingard taking it right to the line before getting on his knees and ironically heading it over, just like you did as a kid.
Thankfully, however, it didn’t come to that, with the Englishman demonstrating pure class to finally put a competitive Watford side to bed.