Since Erik ten Hag’s arrival as the new Manchester United manager back in the summer of 2022, the former Ajax coach has always been desperate to bring in different midfield profiles and qualities to further strengthen his side.
Having quickly acquired Christian Eriksen on a free transfer, Ten Hag prioritised the ultimately unsuccessful recruitment of his former Ajax pupil Frenkie de Jong. The Barcelona midfielder possessed ball playing and ball carrying qualities, which Ten Hag saw as vital to enhancing his new look United side.
However, with the inability to capture De Jong, Ten Hag felt there wasn’t any viable alternatives that were worthy to wear that famous red jersey. Thus, United swooped in for Casemiro, following the disastrous opening two losses against Brentford and Brighton.
This signing was like finding a crucial piece to connecting a complex puzzle. Casemiro provided genuine ‘destroyer’ qualities, in a naturally positioned defensive midfield slot. This role had been absent since Nemanja Matic began to age.
A huge part of Ten Hag’s ideal midfield was defensive actions. The Dutch coach wanted his midfield to work equally as hard off the ball, as they do on it. However, despite Eriksen’s superb quality on the ball, his inability to keep up with the defensive side of some games, was a major vulnerability in United’s midfield at times. Thus, this summer, with Eriksen’s legs beginning to grow wearier in the big games, Ten Hag wanted to bring in a more energetic midfield option who could play on the ball, but also be equally as effective off the ball.
This is why Mount was the number one candidate.
After years of United signing players who would only join because of the huge salaries offered, bringing in players like Mount is a huge positive step as it illustrates the complete change in transfer strategy and approach from the club.
Mount’s signing is ever sweeter due to Liverpool’s major interest, but the Englishman found his home at the ‘theatre of dreams.’
— The United Stand (@UnitedStandMUFC) April 24, 2023
Mount started out in Chelsea’s academy aged just six, gradually progressing in their youth system until he was perceived as a huge talent.
To further develop, Mount was loaned out to Vitesse Arnhem in the Dutch Eredivisie. The English midfielder really kicked on, scoring nine goals and assisting nine in 29 league appearances for the Dutch side.
Subsequently, the following season, Mount earnt himself a Championship move to play under future Chelsea manager Frank Lampard at Derby. Whilst in the midlands, Mount continued to impress, particularly his head coach.
Thus, when Lampard followed Mount to become Chelsea’s new manager in July 2019, Mount got his chance and really cemented himself as a first teamer.
In the seasons that followed, Mount was consistently playing most games up until his final season at Chelsea.
For the west London club, Mount played 178 times, scoring 38 goals and assisting 37.
Ultimately, in his final season at the club, he fell out of favour after a fall off in the form he once showed.
However, Mount scored 11 goals and assisted 10 in 32 league appearances, just the season before his drop off in form, so Ten Hag will be hoping he can bring the Englishman back to the consistency and performances he was once showing.
The 24-year-old midfielder is a well rounded ‘number 8’ in the modern game. Despite only being 1.81m, Mount’s work rate and energy makes him a nuisance for forwards and defenders, as the Englishman will go above and beyond to retain and recollect the ball.
Let’s see how many times Mason Mount tries to win back or move the ball forward whilst the players round him kill the momentum & attacks.. Bruno is next.
1. Mount dispossess a Dortmund play and Licha & Shaw get posesesion, Casemiro then hoofs it out to Narnia 🤝 pic.twitter.com/Z0f668z9V2
— Lace (@Laceygrahamm) July 31, 2023
The former Chelsea midfielder is good on the ball, with the ability to make quick, crisp forward passes, which help transition the ball quickly into the final third.
They wont let you see this Mason Mount Video 🤭😂 pic.twitter.com/0KOd07JzKS
— TWO TERTY (@TwoTerty_) July 23, 2023
Mount isn’t comparable to Eriksen when holding possession, as his passing range isn’t too such an array and variety as the Danish midfielder, but Mount still possesses the needed quality from an ‘8’ in the passing department.
Another key part of Mount’s game is finding pockets of space, receiving the ball and turning into the gaps.
Defensively, Mount will give his all, always willing to track back and try put a foot in to turnover possession.
🎙 | Mason Mount's boyhood coach Kevin Neal: "He won’t let #mufc down, he will try his utmost and that will drive him. They’re the biggest club in the world. Wait and see – people will be shocked. I believe Ten Hag knows that he will thrive in the seven shirt." [via MEN] pic.twitter.com/H88YYznBeh
— UtdDistrict (@UtdDistrict) July 30, 2023
How Mount will change this United side
With Ten Hag looking to play a three man midfield using Casemiro as the defensive midfielder and then two ‘8’s’ ahead of him, Mount is destined to slot in next to Bruno Fernandes as an ‘8.’
Last season, Ten Hag heavily used Eriksen and Fernandes as the two eights and then after Eriksen’s long term injury, he often used Fred there as well.
Ten Hag’s ideal midfield, would have a ball playing defensive midfielder, who is an expert in reading between the lines and snuffing out opposition attacks, combined with the two midfielders ahead of him who are comfortable on the ball, but will work hard defensively.
However, when Eriksen was used, the Danish midfielder just wasn’t able to keep up with the intensity and speed needed to successfully complete the defensive work and actions. Subsequently, this often left United exposed in defensive transitions as the midfield could gape.
Furthermore, when Fred was used, the defensive side of the game which Eriksen lacked was covered, but the Brazilian isn’t comfortable on the ball and thus could have a tendency to give the ball away or wouldn’t play the needed pass.
Therefore, with the signing of Mount, the Englishman can complete Ten Hag’s desired midfield, as him and Fernandes will both be effective on and off the ball and Casemiro slots perfectly in as the defensive midfielder.
In addition, with Mount’s ability to pick up pockets, this could be very effectively used in balance with Fernandes, as he can drop deeper using his expert passing range, whilst Mount finds little gaps giving United a variety of different attacking creativity.
The Englishman also possesses great set piece ability, having been inspired by Ronaldo’s freekick technique ever since he was young.
Combined with Fernandes, Mount can give United that additional quality needed to produce goalscoring chances from freekicks or corners. This extra trait can make the difference between three points or one, and having seen Liverpool lose title races to Manchester City by just one point, this is crucial.
Ultimately, although a guaranteed £55m fee is expensive, particularly with one year left on his contract, Mount will prove a great return on investment through his ability to complete Ten Hag’s midfield and give him the needed qualities to input his ideal style of play at the club.