Mason Mount Has Become Chelsea’s Best Player
2:39 PM EST on March 5, 2021
After Chelsea's offseason shopping spree, the question wasn't whether the team would be good, but whether it would be good enough to challenge for the Premier League title. The answer to that has been a resounding no, but at the very least, one could have expected that one of the shiny new toys would hit the ground running and finally fill that Eden Hazard–shaped role as the club's leading star. Today, 27 games into the season, a new star has risen, but it's not Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech, Kai Havertz, or even Christian Pulisic. Instead, the best player in this topsy turvy Blues season has been none other than the homegrown Mason Mount, the 22-year-old midfielder who just spearheaded a victory against Liverpool at Anfield.
Sure, beating the defending champions at home has become commonplace for pretty much everyone—Thursday's 1–0 loss to Chelsea was the Pool Boys' fifth consecutive defeat in its home "fortress"—but Mount still rose above the pack with a wondergoal in the 42nd minute that earned the Blues the three points:
The instinct here might be to focus on N'Golo Kanté's incredible pass, or to blame Trent Alexander-Arnold's shoddy defending, but that instinct to overlook Mount's wide-ranging, often subtle contributions goes a long way toward explaining why the Englishman has flown a little under the radar. Especially during the more difficult times of the Frank Lampard era, there was an idea going around that Mount was something of a teacher's pet who racked up his copious minutes on the pitch more because of his relationship with the manager than his actual ability. Indeed, Mount failed to appear in only a single Premier League match last season, and has only missed one so far this year. But in a squad overloaded with attacking midfield options, many of which the club attained at steep cost, Mount must be doing something right to have earned his must-start status.
The answer to the question of what it is that makes Mount so good that Lampard and new manager Thomas Tuchel have both relied on him so heavily is simple: he does everything. His most evident skill is his shooting, and he puts it to good use. After scoring seven goals last year, Mount has added five more this season. For someone who has played so often in true central midfield positions, that is a very strong return. While it's obvious to anyone who's seen more than a couple Chelsea games over the past couple years that Mount loves to shoot (maybe a little too often), his other talents are less flashy, which makes them easier to miss if you aren't paying attention.
Though he doesn't stroke many highlight-worthy through balls, Mount is a more than capable creator, and his 2.8 key passes per 90 minutes in league play lead the team this season. Even more impressive is his tireless defensive work rate. None of Chelsea's other attack-minded players are as willing to run their socks off chasing opposition ball carriers, be it when pressing high or when tracking back, as Mount. In fact, you can trace a large part of Lampard's struggles to the unwillingness of the likes of Pulisic, Werner, and Ziyech to commit to the kind of defensive work Mount happily engages in, and attribute Tuchel's improved results to his focus on shoring up the team's defense with the three-at-the-back formation he's relied upon. Of players who've gotten regular playing time, only Kanté and Jorginho average more tackles per 90 minutes than Mount's 2.2, a stat that is all the more impressive seeing as Mount plays a much more attacking role than those two.
Anyone still clinging to the notion that Lampard was propping up his pet player, and that Mount would be exposed as soon as Lampard left, has been proven wrong with Mount's continued omnipresence since Tuchel took over. To be fair, Chelsea has probably benefitted from Tuchel giving Mount a little less responsibility than he had previously. Lampard at times tried to make Mount the focal point of the entire team, which, for as good as Mount is, is asking too much of his skill set. Tuchel has Mount focusing more on moving and contributing in the final third rather than in the construction of possessions deeper in midfield, and it's there, closer to goal, where his talents on and off the ball are best maximized. He's not being asked to start moves, but finish them, which is more suited to his skillset. But even in this slightly more limited role, Mount is still playing every game, and he's still being the single Chelsea player who most often makes the winning difference.
Mount is far from a perfect player, and he's by no means Chelsea's most talented, even in his own position. For instance, he lacks Pulisic's game-breaking pace, Havertz's world-class technique, and Ziyech's creativity. In a Chelsea that is as good as it aims to be, there is no way Mount is its brightest star. However, that doesn't mean Mount isn't a very good player in his own right, or that he can't maintain his position as a core member of the team in a future Chelsea that actually is ready to contend for titles.
If Chelsea does eventually get to where it wants to be, it will be because it built on seasons like this the most recent two, and on results like the victory against Liverpool, which could be crucial ensuring the club an all-important spot in the Champions League. The club already has most of the raw materials needed to construct a great team, all it takes now is to go about the work of building it and getting the pieces to fit. And Mount, more than anyone else, has already gotten started.