Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Mason Mount will be used like Ryan Gravenberch

July 13, 2023 — Manchester United’s match against Leeds United in a preseason friendly confirmed my suspicion of what Mason Mount’s role will be and how they will be structured next season.

Figure 1.1 - Aaron Wan-Bissaka pushes forward from right-back, and Raphael Varane passes to Amad Diallo.

The hypothesis was that Erik Ten Hag was rebuilding Manchester United to better match the system and profiles he had in his 2021/22 Ajax team. The question of that post has been answered. Mason Mount will be used like Ryan Gravenberch at left center-midfield. It is what makes the most sense.

  • Sitting deeper than the right center-midfielder, who today was Hannibal Mejbri, but will be Bruno Fernandes.
  • Shifting between the lines, in the tight spaces, playing through balls to the wings.
  • Helping the pivot deeper in defense to sweep in front of the backline.
  • Drifting out wide if needed when the left-wing inverts.

I was happy to see Aaron Wan-Bissaka making runs forward into the right half-space. That means he’ll be useful and used. That’s what Ten Hag wanted from Noussair Mazraoui and what he’ll need from Diogo Dalot.

Figure 1.2 - Aaron Wan-Bissaka continues his run.

Amad Diallo was the standout in the first half with the rest of the regular first-team players, with Hannibal Mejbri in a close second.

When Amad touched the ball, it was with purpose. There was no second-guessing. Quick step count. If he could get his knee over the ball, he would have stood out on the scoresheet. When he cuts infield, he makes you feel like something spectacular is going to happen.

Hannibal made some great runs and, in general, looked very lively further forward sitting behind Jadon Sancho. He always looks a little off balance yet sharp on the ball. Very shifty. He executed a couple of crisp first-time passes. High defensive awareness with well-timed tackles.

Both looked like they could be given a chance; they didn’t look out of place on the day.

Figure 2.1 - Manchester United's rotations in the midfield as Álvaro Fernández inverts further forward.

United’s midfield structure was very fluid. Constantly rotating, never static, like a spring. When one player enters a space, another fills the space.

This is good news for Casemiro. That rotation will give him the cover to get forward. There’s always someone sitting in front of the back-line to protect at least two midfielders can attack.

Figure 3.1 - Omari Forson inverts as Álvaro Fernández makes a run up the left-wing.

They favored overloading the left-wing, like Ajax favored overloading the left-wing. There was tons of space for Amad Diallo on the right-wing.

If Álvaro Fernández wanted to get forward, then Omari Forson would have to invert.

Figure 4.1 - Manchester United 4-2-3-1 counter-pressing structure.

United initially pressed zonally in a 4-2-3-1, which then shifted to man-to-man once the ball was worked into their half.

Figure 5.1 - Manchester United maintain a +1 out of possession.

They are the masters of rest defense, so they, of course, need to maintain a +1 versus Leeds’ front three forwards.

Figure 6.1 - Mason Mount plays a through ball to Amad Diallo.
Figure 6.2 - Amad Diallo receiving the pass in space.

Finally, the thing all Manchester United fans wanted to see: a Mason Mount through ball. I can picture him making these types of passes into Antony and Marcus Rashford this season.

His chance creation, paired with his intensity and proficiency when pressing, will be a game-changer. Christian Eriksen can pass, but he can’t press like Mount. High work-rate and an even higher IQ.

The fact that they could not score at least one goal in the first half was a bad look. They had no bite in attack. They should be able to bury one. I love seeing Jadon Sancho in the central position, but not as a false 9; it doesn’t work. Shows the desperation of the situation right now. Even if you were to add Bruno Fernandes, Luke Shaw, and Antony to that squad, I don’t think that would elevate them enough to a level where they could be considered ‘threatening.’

They must sign a more reliable, non-injury-prone, clinical number 9 to be an outlet for Mason Mount, Bruno Fernandes, and Jadon Sancho.

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