With the most impeccable sense of timing, Jose Mourinho managed to get his Manchester United side to pull a half decent performance out of the hat.
Heading into the fixture against Watford at Vicarage Road, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the gallows were being prepared for the Portuguese manager. One more loss or an under-par 90 minutes and that’s it.
The truth is that United have never been a ‘hire em and fire em’ outfit, and even if it sometimes appears on the face of it that Mourinho is baiting the board - a tactic he’s employed elsewhere on his managerial journey – the Glazers or Ed Woodward are unlikely to bite.
Falling out with and calling out players in public is also nothing new from the Special One.
There’s a school of thought that the style of play he employs is anathema to what United are about and doesn’t suit the staff he has at his disposal, therefore ensuring that when Paul Pogba, for example, doesn’t set the game alight, the coach can divert the blame onto the Frenchman.
It neatly bypasses Mourinho’s decision to play the midfielder in a role that he’s not entirely comfortable with in the first place. There are other examples too, Ander Herrera in central defence being one of them.
In line for a big payout – again – if he’s asked to leave, there may come a point when United need to make that call for damage limitation purposes.
That being the case, there’s a huge question mark as to who would come in, given that none of David Moyes, Louis van Gaal or Mourinho have managed to find the ingredients that made Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure so successful.
One of the names supposedly in the frame is Zinedine Zidane.
Interestingly, the Frenchman hasn’t distanced himself from the rumours, and Pogba has even gone as far to say it’s more likely he will stay at Old Trafford if the former Real Madrid coach joins the club.
But is he the right man for the job?
There’s little doubt he has the pedigree, with his three Champions Leagues in succession unmatched in the modern era.
What remains in question is his tactical nous, as this was shown up domestically in his final campaign at the Bernabeu and no doubt contributed to his untimely departure.
His words during his final press conference, that he couldn’t take the squad any further, spoke volumes.
Sans Cristiano Ronaldo, but with essentially the same group of players, Julen Lopetegui has got Los Blancos working well, and more players are being used by the new coach.
It’s a different way of working but to this point, it looks as though it will be no less successful. Zidane commanded respect purely because of his legendary status within the game, and that counts for a lot.
The immediate buy-in that he had when taking over from Rafael Benitez, someone who never enthused the dressing room, was a big reason why Real went on to win the Champions League that season.
He’d likely have the same impact at United, and allowing his players the freedom that they don’t have at the moment would be a breath of fresh air, but…they’d be winning in spite of him not necessarily because of him.
When that air of invincibility disappears, and it will, then the question is whether Zidane will have the presence of mind and astuteness to develop other ways of working.
Sir Alex stayed at the pinnacle of the game for so long because he was able to adapt and rejuvenate his teams. When Zidane had the chance to do precisely that after three years at Real Madrid, he walked away.
He’d almost certainly be an initial success, but longer term it’s debatable whether he has the right credentials to consistently bring the glory days back to United.