Man Utd have finally signed Mason Mount - but where will he play?

Mason Mount has completed his transfer to Manchester United - but how will Erik Ten Hag use him next season, and where will he fit in?
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Mason Mount has signed for Manchester United. Practically nobody would have believed that sentence a few months ago, but the truest blue at Stamford Bridge has taken off up the M6 and will be playing his football at Old Trafford next season thanks to a deal which could be worth up to £60m.

It’s an intriguing move from just about every angle, but especially tactically. Mount is a versatile player but at that kind of money – and with a player of Mount’s quality – he hasn’t been brought in solely as a rotational player to plug gaps. Erik Ten Hag presumably has a plan for the England midfielder, and one can safely suggest that Mount wouldn’t agree to join if there wasn’t a clear vision for his role within the first team.

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So where does Mount, who has played as an attacking midfielder, an inside forward on either side and even occasionally as a false nine, fit in? And what would the knock-on effects for other members of the squad be?

Attacking midfielder

Arguably the role in which Mount is at his most influential. All but one of his goal contributions this past season came from playing through the middle, and it was where he played virtually every minute of the 2021/22 campaign, his best individual season when he racked up a superb 23 goals and assists across all competitions.

You would expect it to be the role any team buying Mount would be eyeing him up for – but that seems unlikely given that United already have Bruno Fernandes, one of their most influential players, in that role. Sidelining Fernandes would seem like a non-starter, even for Mount.

There has been some suggestion that Mount could play in a deeper central midfield role, a position occupied at times by the likes of Christian Eriksen and Marcel Sabitzer in recent months – Mount has played that sort of role once or twice but it would seem like a strange fit, given the Englishman’s strengths revolve heavily around his deft interplays around the area and late movement into the box.

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Fernandes is also all but rotation proof – he missed just one of United’s games in each of the Premier League, League Cup and Europa League and played in every round of their run to the FA Cup final. There is no meaningful need for a player who can give the Portuguese time off.

All of which logically suggests that Mount will either be played out of position, or elsewhere on the field – and while has plenty of experience as an inside forward, he hasn’t played regularly there for quite some time.

Inside forward

It’s been a couple of years since Mount regularly played wide left – and in truth, he’s only ever played in that position a handful of times a year since he became a regular starter at Stamford Bridge. His versatility is slightly exaggerated, although that isn’t to say that he isn’t effective as a narrower version of the left-sided inverted winger that has become a stock element of the modern 4-3-3.

If Marcus Rashford plays primarily as a central striker, then that leaves a fairly clear space for Mount to occupy on the left. Jadon Sancho is the only other obvious candidate for that role in the squad – apart from Rashford himself, who is arguably at his very best there – and Sancho has struggled to put two good games together since arriving at Old Trafford. This is the most yawning gap in the front line, and may well be where Mount spends most of his minutes.

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He doesn’t tend to play too close to the sideline when he plays a wider role, instead coming closer to the area in order to play quick interchanges. That makes sense as a pairing with many forwards, but perhaps less so with Marcus Rashford than with many others – Rashford thrives when given space to run into, and that’s more likely with a player who has a more direct passing game or more pace to create openings in the back line.

There’s also the question of whether United try to buy another central striker. They’ve been linked with everyone from Harry Kane to Gonçalo Ramos to Randal Kolo Muani over the course of the window, and if they do spend serious money on a centre-forward, then it creates a situation where one of said striker, Rashford, Fernandes or Mount would have to be left out. Injury, suspension or form may well make that desirable, but it risks leaving a talented and expensive player rotting on the bench too frequently.

Mount could, of course, play wide right, where he has a handful of matches under his belt, but it’s not his natural role nor one he has substantial experience in. He would also be butting heads with Antony with that role – although given the Brazilian’s iffy form over his first season, maybe that wouldn’t be too hard of a contest to win.

False nine

Mentioned more for the sake of completeness than anything else, because he’s only done it a couple of times, but Mount’s proficiency as a number ten does make him an option as a false nine, in this case allowing the likes of Antony and Rashford to run in behind him.

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His relatively strong goalscoring record (before last season, at least) implies that he probably would be pretty decent in this role if asked to play there in the long term, and it could be an occasional tactical option for Ten Hag, but realistically there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that he was bought to play there.

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United’s coach either views Mount as a wide left player, in which any purchase of a striker would be baffling, or as a true central midfielder, in which case he’s being asked to play a role with which he is somewhat unfamiliar and which doesn’t play to his greatest strengths – or he’s viewed as being part of a rotation system which may be unnecessary given the lack of fitness issues among United’s key players. Whichever it is, it will be interesting to see how Ten Hag balances everything out at the start of next season.

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