What makes Mason Mount so important?
To the frustration of many a Midlands football fan, Mason Mount has been a constant in Gareth Southgate's England sides while Jack Grealish has bided his time on the bench. But this won't come as any surprise to Frank Lampard, who has been developing Mount at Derby County and now at Chelsea – some might even say in his own image. So why is the midfielder and smarterscout young prospect such a key player for club and country?
Last season, Mount and Ross Barkley, who played roughly the same position, were involved in more of Chelsea's goals than any other midfielders while they were on the pitch. At a club where many moves went through wide players, it was critical to have CMs who could link up with wingers and fullbacks while also creating space for forwards to make their runs down the middle. A quick look at Mount's smartermap shows that, for a CM, he spent relatively little time in central areas:
But Mount has been even more similar to players like Frank Kessie, Florian Neuhaus, and Leon Goretzka, all of whom typically offer more attacking output than Wijnaldum. That's because Mount doesn't just link up the play between midfield and the edge of the final third – he can also get into the box as a threat in his own right. Here's his shot map in open play from 2019-20, showing impressive penetration for a CM:
At this point, Mount's profile may be reminding you of another CM for Chelsea who once said that goals were a crucial part of his game. As it happens, we have some stats on that CM during his last season as a professional footballer. And there's more than a little similarity with the 21-year-old Mount, especially after Lampard had him for a season at Derby:
In his pomp at Stamford Bridge, Lampard operated more centrally than Mount, which was one reason England coaches of yore had such a dilemma when it came to fitting both Steven Gerrard and Lampard into the side. But Lampard's style, albeit with the relaxed defending of a player in his sunset years, still had much in common with Mount's.
That wasn't so much the case with Grealish. Though Grealish has covered roughly the same area as Mount as a left-sided CM, he's a much more direct player – more dribbling, more aggressive passing toward goal, less link-up passing, and lower ball retention overall:
Those qualities don't fit so well with Southgate's cagey style in England's recent matches. He's put more emphasis on ball retention and defending, which is another area where Grealish comes up short relative to Mount.
We expect Mount to continue developing, especially in the defensive side of his game. He's already a danger on the ball, helping to knit together his side in the attacking half before offering himself as an option in the box. When he starts to anticipate the opposition's actions even more, he'll become a complete player.
And that may be why Lampard and Southgate are putting so much faith in Mount today, despite the presence of more dazzling options. Fans see a player without much flair who can't necesarily turn a game on its head. Coaches see a workhorse who'll become a stalwart in midfield for years to come.
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[Photo: Brian Minkoff London-Pixels]