Mason Mount will be very useful for Manchester United but the midfielder remains an odd priority, especially with a restricted budget, for a team with gaping holes in goal and up front…
Mason Mount has signed for Manchester United. After a couple of knock-backs, Erik ten Hag has got his man and the manager is thrilled. Lord knows he could use some good news. But there seems to be a much more apathetic reaction to Mount’s arrival beyond the walls of Carrington.
Ask the majority of Chelsea fans and they will tell you there shouldn’t be. Most are gutted to have lost one of their own, especially to a rival club, all because Todd Boehly wouldn’t pay Mount what he felt he deserved as one of Chelsea’s best performers over the last three seasons. Indeed, for two of those three years – including one in which they won the Champions League – he was their best player.
Beyond Stamford Bridge, Mount is a divisive sort. To the naked eye of the punter in the pub, his appeal isn’t as obvious as others. But Frank Lampard, Thomas Tuchel, Gareth Southgate and Ten Hag can’t all be wrong. We trust at least two of them.
1 – Since the start of the 2019-20 campaign, Mason Mount leads all Chelsea players for…
Shots on Target
Chances Created in Open Play
Big Chances Created
Touches in the Opp Box
Passes/Crosses Into the Box
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 30, 2023
Mount’s managers love him. As a low-maintenance, versatile grafter with numbers to match the malleability, he’s a coach’s dream. With an impressive goals and assists record and a wealth of Champions League, Premier League and international experience – all before his 25th birthday – United might have a got a bargain, even if it feels like they paid over the odds for a player a year from free agency.
Ten Hag apparently rates Mount for what he offers off the ball as much as on it. United pressed better from the front last season – the mere whiff of intensity was enough to improve on what they phoned in for Ralf Rangnick, who took a game and a half to recognise that they simply weren’t up to or up for it – but it often still felt disjointed and jumbled. Too often, one, maybe two, pressed, but hunting in packs was still a sporadic pursuit. Across the pitch, Mount has been the man trusted, by Chelsea and England, to organise and lead presses, whichever position he occupies in any given game.
That versatility is another reason why Ten Hag was so keen to make Mount his first summer signing. Where will he play? In Ten Hag’s mind, perhaps ideally as one of two No.8s, with Bruno Fernandes, while Casemiro patrols behind and roams around. But Mount can play as a No.10, if Fernandes is shifted wide or, God forbid, he takes the occasional breather. He can also play off the flank, for United more often than not, probably to the right.
Exciting, isn’t it? Well…
It might be if not for the nagging fear that United have spent most of what seems to be an inadequate budget on a player for positions where Ten Hag was already well stocked. Mount is an upgrade, no question, but there are gaping voids in United’s goal and in their attack where a goalkeeper and a centre-forward should be.
We don’t know what level of funding United are able to put towards their recruitment this summer. Right now, it’s not evident that anyone with access to the books really has a clear idea. With sales to make – something United are notoriously, hilariously bad at – amid FFP concerns and a takeover saga that seemingly may never end, Ten Hag is playing Numberwang.
The farce around David De Gea highlights the lack of clarity in United’s thinking. They wanted him to stay; then they didn’t; now they might if they can’t get anyone else. Which seems the most likely outcome while they waste everyone’s time making a bid for Andre Onana that Inter have already rejected from Chelsea.
Only because there are few better offers on his table, De Gea might be willing to serve as a fall-back stopper, but Ten Hag doesn’t have that luxury when it comes to centre-forwards. United, if they want to offer just the illusion of being a serious football club, cannot start another season with Anthony Martial as their leading, nay only, No.9.
That is why apathy abounds in some parts around Mount. Not because he is not a fine player or because he might flop. He is and he almost certainly won’t. But without properly addressing their most obvious priorities, it almost doesn’t matter.