Mason Mount forces ‘honest scuffler’ critics to eat their words

The Chelsea midfielder demonstrated his full range of qualities: good movement, quick thinking and deft footwork in the Champions League win over Porto

Chelsea’s Mason Mount drives home their opening goal.
Chelsea’s Mason Mount drives home their opening goal. Photograph: Angel Fernandez/AP
Chelsea’s Mason Mount drives home their opening goal. Photograph: Angel Fernandez/AP
Jacob Steinberg

Last modified on Thu 8 Apr 2021 03.35 EDT

A common misconception about Mason Mount is that he saves his best work for off the ball, winning over his managers by being a very well behaved boy when his team are under pressure. The teacher’s pet narrative sees the Chelsea midfielder portrayed as little more than an honest scuffler, relying on his pressing and energy to earn a starting spot at the expense of more exciting creators.

During the early days at Chelsea there were claims that Mount owed his place in the side to some mysterious connection with Frank Lampard. It sort of made sense. Consider the evidence: they both know how to score goals from midfield, which made it entirely reasonable to view Mount as some kind of Lampardian heir, Frank Lampard Jr Jr in disguise, and assume that he was forced to spend hours in the analysis room at Cobham watching every last one of the Chelsea legend’s goals.

Only then it turned out Gareth Southgate also liked Mount. This was harder to understand as the England manager was a defender who neither scored nor played for Chelsea. The only possible explanation was that Southgate was picking Mount because he is a defensive manager who harbours a deep-seated hatred of creative players, even though he regularly picks Phil Foden.

All of this, of course, is entirely ridiculous. Anyone who has watched Mount closely can see his ability in his movement off the ball, his snappy passing and the way he twists past defenders in tight spaces, combining quick thinking with deft footwork. Those qualities are more noteworthy than the 22-year-old’s workrate and were on show when he gave Chelsea control of their Champions League quarter-final against a tough Porto side, bending the tie to his will with a moment of sublime invention in the 32nd minute in Seville.

It was a truly brilliant goal from Mount, who offered an exhibition in body positioning and technique to cut Porto’s stubborn defence open with Chelsea’s one piece of high-grade attacking play before the interval.

It came out of nowhere, at a time when Thomas Tuchel’s side looked to be up against it, and left Porto struggling to recover after making most of the early running in their “home” game.

Chelsea had toiled for much of the first half, using the ball poorly and giving chances away. Kai Havertz was peripheral in his role as a false nine and Timo Werner, wounded after that inexplicable miss for Germany against North Macedonia last week, was easily shackled on the left flank. Porto were the more assertive side, pressing Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho in midfield, and twice threatened to take the lead, Mateus Uribe and Zaidu Sanusi volleying over Édouard Mendy’s goal.

With 32 minutes gone Chelsea were yet to have a shot. Perhaps they were nervous after their implosion against West Brom, who stormed Stamford Bridge on Saturday, ending Tuchel’s unbeaten start in England with a stunning 5-2 win. The mood was tense after that debacle. Tensions ran high in the dressing room after the game and emotions spilled over when the squad reconvened at the training ground less than 24 hours later, culminating in Tuchel having to separate Antonio Rüdiger and Kepa Arrizabalaga when the pair clashed during a small-sided game.

Against that backdrop it was no wonder that Porto, who outplayed Juventus in the last 16, fancied their chances during the early stages. Their confidence must have risen as they spent the opening half-hour watching Andreas Christensen misjudge raking crossfield passes out to Reece James, who was always in space on Chelsea’s right.

However there were promising flashes when Mount stirred in his role as a roving inside-right forward. Versatile and intelligent, he has grown in stature under Tuchel, becoming more decisive and taking on more responsibility.

It has not taken long for Mount to win over another manager. He responded perfectly to being left out of Tuchel’s opening game, soon scoring a peach of a goal when Chelsea beat Liverpool at Anfield, and has made himself indispensable. Built in Chelsea’s academy, Mount has consistently outperformed players with much bigger reputations and pricetags.

Not that he beat Porto single-handedly. Jorginho, who had a nightmare against West Brom, was instrumental when he threaded a perceptive pass through the lines to Mount, who produced a beautiful piece of control with his left foot before slipping past Sanusi with a Bergkamp-esque turn.

Chelsea have been slightly minimalist in attack under Tuchel, picking their moments to snipe forward, often restricting themselves to few clear chances. This was perhaps the ultimate demonstration of their approach, a splendid piece of skill catching Porto cold. It happened in a blur and Mount finished ruthlessly, using his right foot to lash the ball past Agustín Marchesín.

There was little doubt about the result after Mount’s first goal in the Champions League. Secure at the back, Chelsea played on the break in the second half and eventually killed the game when Ben Chilwell ran clear to make it 2-0. Yet none of it would have been possible without Mount, a player on a mission to prove his critics wrong.

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