There is a lot to admire about this young generation of English footballers because their aspirations are very different from those of the yesteryear superstars. David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Paul Scholes, Wayne Rooney, and several other stars were geared towards achieving domestic success and never bothered to integrate themselves as a team for the Three Lions. However, this generation is slightly and it is perhaps because they are winners from their academy teams or they have proved themselves outside England.
Jadon Sancho had to go Borussia Dortmund to prove his mettle, while Phil Foden is perhaps the most technically talented youngster that England has produced in a long time. However, one star that had to go out of England but is also proving himself his boyhood club is Mason Mount. Although the Cobham academy graduate is a year or two elder to the likes of Sancho and Foden, his process of making it here has been a lengthy one. He was a Chelsea loanee like a lot of players his age but was determined to make it in Vitesse, where most of Cobham’s graduates played their first-team football to gain experience. After Vitesse, the youngster had the chance to play under Chelsea legend Frank Lampard at Derby County. Thanks to hard work and a bit of luck, Lampard was appointed at Chelsea in the following season while the club was also handed a transfer ban.
However, Mount had already won over Lampard, if not the fans or the critics. Thus, the academy product played the game against Manchester United, which the West London club lost 4-0. While it was an embarrassing result, Mount showcased what he is all about. This led to Mourinho (a pundit at that time), explaining that he was not impressed with the player’s performances. Frank Lampard was caught flabbergasted because he could not believe such a statement was about the youngster.
That is what the kid had. The ability for his coach to be in disbelief when somebody discounted this boy’s performances. He had the tenacity to play at 100% for the full 90 minutes, and more importantly, he adored the badge he wore on the front than his name on the back. It is very easy to explain these feelings, but Mount epitomizes it on the pitch for Chelsea. The constant pressing, slick movement, and almost a unique skill-set make him a very different but effective member of any team. This is also why it did not bother him when Thomas Tuchel was appointed at the helm nine months ago.
It is not if he is better than some players or what the stats portray him to be. It is all about effort, and Mount leaves all of him on the pitch week-in and week-out. Thomas Tuchel understood this very quickly and made him a crucial member of the squad. With the Englishman in the team, Chelsea were rarely outplayed or lacked the intensity. However, without him, it is tough to keep up the tempo.
Let us take a look at the two games he missed and the problems Chelsea had to encounter subsequently.
CHELSEA VS MANCHESTER CITY:
The second encounter of the season with a Top 4 opposition and Thomas Tuchel resorted to a 3-5-2 system with Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner playing up top. It is a genius idea, especially with the running of Kante. However, the Frenchman was off-the-paces and could not fill in the gaps quickly. Mateo Kovacic was effective but could only do so much. Lukaku could not cope with the transitions and Timo Werner was being isolated time and again. Marcos Alonso’s defensive nature and ability to not go beyond a full-back was a huge drawback as was Reece James getting injured early into the game.
So there were a lot of problems on the pitch, regardless of Mount featuring on the day or not. But this is also why the youngster is so crucial to how Chelsea set up. The Blues do not have an exact star player who can pick a pass or score a goal by dribbling past players. Kevin de Bruyne and Mohamed Salah are seasoned Premier League players now and can turn the tide on a day with a moment of magic. Manchester United, for all their deficiencies, have several match-winners on hand. While Romelu Lukaku was signed for this very reason, he at least needs one more player on the same wavelength as him.
Mount is a completely different species because he does not think twice about his decisions, and the only way he knows how to play the game is with full intensity. He goes hard into the challenges, does not hold the ball for longer than five seconds, and is incredible in transition play and linking up with the attackers. Mason is not exactly a winger nor is he an attacking midfielder. He lacks the slick dribbling skills for a winger while he is not exactly creative. But he does the basics well. However, one important thing Mount does do is that he never frets to make himself available for a pass. He runs the hard yards to create space to receive a pass or runs long to stretch the opposition. Either way, he gives an out-ball and also draws in fouls. Lukaku can do those things, but the best coaches understand how to neutralize a strong forward, as showcased by Pep Guardiola.
Manchester City were pressing Chelsea continuously, and there was no real player who would link up the midfield and attack. Moreover, the intensity was dry. It felt like the Blues had come to the Etihad for a draw in late March to seal a good point. Although these tactics were effective under the likes of Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte to a certain extent, Thomas Tuchel’s vivid fury at the players was clear that they had to close down the ball faster and move it with purpose. Make no mistake, City would have cut through Chelsea several more times had it not been for the defensive tenacity and awareness of Thiago Silva.
Let us now take a look at the second game.
CHELSEA VS JUVENTUS:
Again, a very well-drilled side that knew how to neutralize Lukaku. The distance between Juventus’ defensive midfielder in Locatelli and Bonucci and De Ligt was always 5-10 meters. This helped them stop any pass that came into the Belgian striker or dispossess him quickly. Hakim Ziyech and Kai Havertz were never going to make a difference in this game because they needed a player with the quick guile, slick movement, and ability to take shots on. Christian Pulisic and Mason Mount would have run all over Juventus had the two been fielded against this setup. However, Massimiliano Allegri was clever, and there was nobody on the pitch or on the bench, who could create an effect as Mount would.
The Englishman played a similar game against FC Porto in last year’s Champions League quarter-final 1st leg. The Portuguese outfit were ridiculously intact and offered very little space in between the lines. Chelsea had the intensity, but they did not have an answer to break that defence. However, as the Blues were edging towards half-time, Mount lured a defender in and received the pass on his weak-foot on the edge of the box. He turned swiftly and put a low angling shot across the goalkeeper, and Chelsea had the lead. Teams that possess quality defenders and employ low blocks are rigid to break, courtesy of which one has to work off half chances and turn them into a goal.
Against Juventus, there was a lack of urgency, and Jorginho took the heavy possession numbers for granted and did not utilize it properly. Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech were clueless about their roles and were eventually frustrated because they had nothing in reply to Allegri’s tactical masterclass. Ross Barkley and Callum Hudson Odoi certainly brought about a lot of urgency, while Ruben Loftus Cheek used the ball with a purpose. They created a couple of chances for Lukaku immediately, but the 28-year-old centre-forward was too drained out by then.
Mount would certainly have energized this team and made himself available for passes in areas where the defender would not have wanted to be alone with him in a 1v1 situation. The 22-year-old protects the ball fantastically while and also shrugs off defenders with ease. He might not be an incredible goal scorer or chance creator, but he will try every play in the book to stretch and tear open a defence.
Now, let us take a look at what happened on the weekend against Southampton after Mount came on the pitch.
CHELSEA VS SOUTHAMPTON:
Let us first understand that this is a Southampton side that refused to buckle down to the likes of Manchester United and Manchester City. Although they did go down to 10 men with 15 minutes from time, Mount’s introduction brought about some clear changes.
Exhibit A): He came on in the 65th minute, and this is one of his first involvements in the game.
As you can see in the picture above, he has positioned himself perfectly in between the defence and the first line of press of Southampton. Trevoh Chalobah sees this and zips a ball into Mount, who is showing him exactly where he wants the ball.
This is the first part of the move. But like mentioned before, he rarely spends more than five stationary seconds on the ball. He controls the ball, looks sideways, and passes the ball immediately to Cesar Azpilicueta. Now, the Englishman has two choices from here. Either come close to the Spaniard and collect the ball again or run into the empty space. While Ziyech or Havertz would have done the former, Mount possess the drive and the belief to do the latter.
He runs into the empty space and whips a ball in first time, and creates the first chance for the Blues in over 7 minutes of open play. Although Chilwell scuppered the shot, Mount got the ball rolling.
It is the desire to run into the empty spaces that counts. No team on the planet covers all the areas on the pitch. There are teams that play with a low block and those that play with a high line. Both can be stretched either vertically or horizontally. But the ball must be moved purposefully. Tuchel enjoyed doing this all through the second half of last season and for the start of this season because Mount was continuously running himself into the ground to keep up the intensity levels and occupy the empty spaces.
Exhibit B): The Blues are up by a goal to the good, and Southampton do not look like they are going to retaliate, especially after going down to 10 men.
As portrayed above, Mount runs into the open space, takes the ball in his stride, and turns slightly to his left to run across the defender, who can no longer commit a foul due to the area the Englishman is entering. This is one of the basics of modern football. Put yourself in front of the defender or run across him to earn a foul. The 22-year-old could have just as easily run the clock down on the corner flag or turned again and pass the ball back to a midfielder.
But this is what separates Mount from the rest of Chelsea’s attackers. He continuously goes for the win and understands when he must hold up the ball and the times he must take it into his stride. He lured Ibrahima Diallo cleverly and then beat him for pace and shrugged him off eventually before delivering an inch-perfect low cross to Lukaku. The Belgian, in turn, hit the post while Azpilicueta did the same before Ben Chilwell’s sumptuously controlled volley crossed the line despite McCarthy’s incredible save.
There is a lot to admire about Mason Mount, but there is also a lot to develop. His decision-making can be better but he has shown over the last two years that it does not take a lot to get the fans off their bench. All it takes is desire, thirst, and a need to do the job well. Intensity can only take a game so far, but Thomas Tuchel’s love for the player goes far beyond that. The smile on the German’s face during the pre-match press conference was a clear sign that the Englishman had returned from injury because he knows that Mount is a game-changer and can inject energy, if not goals. He does the little things very well and makes big differences. It is often the little things that separate the good from the best.
The 22-year-old is now one of the top chance creators in the Premier League, and it is no wonder why the Blues love him with all their heart and soul at Stamford Bridge. He truly is one of their own.