The Red Devils’ latest signing gives Erik ten Hag a variety of options across midfield and attack, but where is he most dangerous?
Five years after first setting his eyes on Mason Mount, Erik ten Hag has got his man. The Dutchman was enamoured with the English midfielder when his Ajax side face Vitesse back in the 2017-18 season when Mount was only 18 and tried to sign him there and then.
He has now brought him to Manchester United as the first signing of the summer as he looks to build on an excellent first season in charge of Old Trafford, with the Red Devils and Chelsea bringing an intense, five-week negotiation period to a close by agreeing a deal worth a potential £60 million.
Mount’s energy and understanding of the game has led to countless managers falling head over heels for him, and despite a difficult last campaign with a dysfunctional Chelsea side which saw him drop out of the team amid breakdown in talks over a new contract, he remains a top-class player.
Ten Hag clearly believes Mount can take United to the next level and even if there are doubts about the transfer fee, he will make the squad deeper, younger, more dynamic and more varied. GOAL takes a look at how Ten Hag can get the best out of his latest signing…
Replacing Eriksen as a box-to-box midfielder
An obvious choice to Ten Hag is for Mount to take the spot of Christian Eriksen, who began to fade as the season wore on and really struggled to finish matches before an injury. This would mean altering the way United play slightly from the 4-2-3-1 shape they adopted for much of last season into a flexible 4-3-3, with Mount replacing Eriksen and operating alongside Bruno Fernandes and Casemiro.
It is a position Mount knows very well, playing on the left of a midfield three for much of his breakthrough season in England for Derby County when Frank Lampard was his coach, and in his first campaign back with Chelsea the following season.
Mount is seven years younger than Eriksen and would offer far more energy, whether it is pressing opponents or driving the team forward. Even in a difficult season on an individual and team level, Mount performed significantly better than Eriksen in a number of defensive actions, making far more tackles, contesting far more duels and winning far more of them. And that is despite playing 400 minutes fewer than Eriksen.
No.8 – his favourite role
Mount has also said he feels most comfortable playing as a box-to-box midfielder, while acknowledging the need to be flexible.
“I like to think I’m a traditional midfielder even though I can play a number of roles for the team,” he said last November during the 2022 World Cup. “I’ve always said that I’m best as a No.8 and I’ve played there ever since I was a young kid.
“I like to work from box-to-box, help out defensively but also get forward to score and assist goals for the team. That’s where I think my strengths are. I’m versatile, so I can adapt and play higher up or a lot deeper.
“For me, in this day and age certainly, being able to play different positions is so key. You see formations change even during games and you can play two or three different roles in a game.”
On the left of the attack
Mount played some of his best football for Chelsea as a left forward. One of his best performances for the Blues was the 2021 Champions League final win over Manchester City, when he played on the left in Thomas Tuchel’s 3-4-2-1 formation and set up the only goal for Kai Havertz.
The main issue with Mount playing on the left for United is that it is Marcus Rashford’s favoured position and Ten Hag will not want his new signing to tread too much on the toes of the club’s homegrown star, who is set to be made their highest-paid player.
However, Rashford occasionally operated as a central striker last season and against tougher opponents, when United will be taking a more cautious approach, it would make sense for the striker to play through the middle and for Mount to take up the position on the left, which would make them less vulnerable defensively.
In the hole
Given Rashford’s preference to play on the left, Mount’s best position for United could be as a No.10, behind the striker.
United desperately need to sign a centre-forward after struggling through the backend of last season with the limited Wout Weghorst and a half-fit Anthony Martial, and when it comes to landing a striker they should think about how he will dovetail with Mount.
Playing in the hole is a good way to make the most of Mount’s ball carrying abilities and his pace, as well as his own goalscoring prowess. He had a drop off in goals last season but was prolific in the previous campaign, scoring 11 times and getting ten assists in the Premier League as Chelsea finished third and reached both domestic cup finals.
United could do with scoring a lot more often next season. Despite finishing third, they scored only 58 goals, the joint-seventh highest amount in the league, and Rashford accounted for more than a quarter of those.
Given Mount’s ball-striking ability, it makes sense to play him as far forward as possible.
Coming in from the right
Mount had his most prolific season for Chelsea playing on the right of the attack but did not have to play as a traditional winger due to having Reece James or Ruben Loftus-Cheek behind him at wing-back.
As United play with a traditional back four, he would have to play more as a winger and see less of the ball. But given the alternatives United have down the right, it’s a position he could quickly grow into.
Antony had a pretty disappointing first campaign, contributing only two assists and four goals – only one of which came after October – and was often too easy to defend against due to being ridiculously one-footed.
While Ten Hag is unlikely to want to give up on Antony after one season, especially given he urged the club to pay £85 million to get him, having the option of Mount on the right of the attack would make his team more versatile and give Antony some badly-needed competition.
Making United a set-piece threat again
Mount could also help United become more dangerous from set plays, an area in which they have lagged behind their rivals lately. Last season they finished bottom of the Premier League for set-piece goals with only five and in the previous campaign they came 18th with seven.
Over the last two seasons they scored almost a third of the amount of set-piece goals of Manchester City and if they want to challenge Pep Guardiola’s side again this is just one of the aspects in which they need to improve drastically.
This is where Mount comes in. He had more goal-creating actions from set pieces than any other Premier League player in the 2021-22 season