The 36-year-old recovered from a knee ligament injury in November after seven months on the sidelines and has made substitute appearances against Newcastle United, FC Basel, Brighton and Hove Albion, and Manchester City.
He made his first start of the campaign at Ashton Gate and powered home a thunderous free-kick to draw Jose Mourinho‘s men level in the second half.
And Mata, speaking to the club’s official website, noted that it would be the start of more things to come this year.
“Obviously, eight months out of the team, it takes time to come back fully,” he said.
“I think he’s doing great. He put in a lot of work during the summer and has been training hard with the team.
“He scored a great goal on Wednesday as it was a well-struck free-kick. You know he can kick very strongly, like he showed, and he is one more player who can score. I am sure he will bring many more goals and hard work to the team until the end of the season. We are so happy he is back.”
Zlatan’s individual performance was indolent to the point where many labelled the big man as ‘finished’, but he responded with a moment of raw individual brilliance that reminded everyone of the cut-throat, explosive influence he can have on games, even if his legs dramatically failed to match the pace of the encounter.
The Swede’s overall game will need to dramatically improve if he is to receive regular game time under Mourinho this season, and he knows that. But we ought to bare in mind that he remains far from full fitness – that he is playing football before January in itself is a minor miracle.