Jose Mourinho is easing Zlatan Ibrahimovic back in gently following his return to first-team action earlier this month.
The 36-year-old made his comeback following seven months out with a career-threatening knee injury in Manchester United’s 4-1 win over Newcastle on November 18, coming off the bench in the 77th minute.
Since then he’s made cameo appearances against FC Basel and Brighton, coming on as a second-half substitute in both matches.
Zlatan was named among the subs again on Tuesday night for the Premier League clash against Watford at Vicarage Road.
Romelu Lukaku led the line for the visitors, flanked by Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard.
Zlatan was ready to come on before Lingard made it 4-2
However, the charismatic Swedish forward entered the fray as a second-half sub for the fourth consecutive match, coming on for Lingard, who had just made it 4-2 to United with a magnificent individual effort, in the 88th minute.
Ibrahimovic, though, was stripped and ready to come on minutes earlier, with Mourinho keen to get the powerful forward on soon after Abdoulaye Doucoure reduced United’s lead to just a single goal.
Journalist reveals why Mourinho sent on Zlatan
But why was Mourinho attempting to bring on a striker when Watford were pushing hard in search of an equaliser?
Well, Sunday Times journalist Duncan Castles - per 101 Great Goals - revealed something very interesting after the match.
Apparently, Mourinho was desperate to get Zlatan on at 3-2 because he wanted the 6ft 5in striker to mark Heurelho Gomes in the event of Watford’s 6ft 3in goalkeeper coming up for a late corner.
Lingard's goal killed the game off
Fortunately for Zlatan and Mourinho, Gomes didn’t come up for a corner during the closing stages.
Lingard’s late goal effectively killed the game off as a contest and wrapped up all three points for the away team.
But with Zlatan stripped and raring to get involved, Mourinho still sent on the veteran striker for the final few minutes.
No further goals were scored and United temporarily closed the gap on league-leaders City, who face Southampton at the Etihad Stadium this evening, to five points.
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