Chelsea play Sheffield United on Sunday and just, three games into the job, there are signs Thomas Tuchel has plans to reinvent the image of one of Frank Lampard’s ‘favourites’ (7:15pm kick-off).
Mason Mount played the ‘false No.9’ role in the win against Tottenham Hotspur on Thursday, his first time in the new position, and showed signs of emulating a certain former Chelsea star who had history in the role under Antonio Conte and Maurizio Sarri.
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When Frank Lampard was sacked by Chelsea and replaced by Tuchel, one of the things that had been speculated was the dropping of Mount. The Englishman had been a key figure of Lampard’s team and found himself in the team more often than out. This perceived favouritism didn’t go down well with sections of the Chelsea support, who believed Mount was picked ahead of more capable players at points.
The beliefs had some ground, as Mount was utilised across the pitch, sometimes as a winger ahead of Christian Pulisic or Callum Hudson-Odoi, or deeper over one of N’Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic, Jorginho or Ross Barkley. But he was largely picked and fit into most teams because he was Chelsea’s best player; the man who best fit what Lampard wanted from his team, which a mixture of passion, hard work and ability.
When Mount was not named in Tuchel’s first starting XI against Wolves, there were talks of Mount’s downfall, but he came on from the bench and made an impact – albeit with not enough time to inspire Chelsea to break the deadlock. The foundations were there, however, for Mount to embark on his new role under Tuchel as a false No.9.
The false No.9 isn’t a new role at Chelsea, it has been brought out on occasion in recent seasons but often reserved for one Eden Hazard. A Hail Mary of sorts, the false No.9 was primarily used by Conte and Sarri when their patience with the struggling Alvaro Morata had run thin, and neither Olivier Giroud nor Gonzalo Higuain suited the particular game and opponent.
On paper it should have worked, given Hazard’s ability on the ball and his eye for goal. Dropping deep to pick the ball up, Hazard should have been waltzing through opposition defences to either score or set up his attacking teammates. But it rarely clicked.
However, in Mount, Tuchel has a different player. One who, although he is good moving with the ball at his feet, is much better at picking a pass to running forwards, which he had in Timo Werner and Callum Hudson-Odoi against Tottenham.
Speaking after that win, Mount told BT Sport: “Me today, I was playing a bit like a false nine, dropping into that ten position and helping the midfield out. We’re all learning but it’s going well so far.”
And he helped out the midfield brilliantly, creating three chances, joint-most on the pitch alongside Reece James. Compared to Hazard’s final two seasons at Chelsea, Mount has outperformed the Belgian in the false nine role with regards to creativity, though he has been missing the killer touch from his teammates in converting.
But where Mount massively pales in comparison to Hazard is in his shooting, and it’s what Tuchel wants the Englishman to be working on if he is to succeed in the false No.9 role. In the aftermath of the final whistle, Tuchel was seen on camera talking to Mount, giving him a Pep Guardiola-esque talk, which the German revealed was about his finishing.
“I told him he could be more decisive and dangerous in the last 20 metres,” Tuchel told reporters.
“You can be very sure that Mase leaves his heart on the pitch for Chelsea and this is what we need so I was just happy that we won. He’s an absolute team player, he’s still young and there’s still room to improve so I told him not to worry. I was happy with his performance.”
There were occasions against Tottenham when Mount’s decision making in front of goal cost him, either delaying a shot too long, allowing the defender to make a block, or not shooting at all.
And when Mount did manage to shoot, he hit the target once (from a joint-high three shots in total). This isn’t new for Mount, who has a shooting accuracy of 28.57% in the Premier League this season, but it is something that will need to change if the Englishman is to be used as a false No.9 on other occasions.
Mount himself admitted: “We should have scored more. I had a couple of chances, we had a couple of other chances, we should be more clinical.”
In the three games under Tuchel so far, Mount has hit the target with just 14.29% of his shots. Comparing this to Hazard’s time as a false No.9, the Belgian had a shot accuracy of 48.54% and scored five goals in 14 games across his final two Chelsea seasons to add to his four assists.
Mount is never going to be Hazard in that role, and Chelsea may be hoping he isn’t, as it was a last-chance system that barely worked (Chelsea failed to score in six of the 14 games Hazard was false No.9 in his final two season). But if the Englishman does improve on his shooting, Mount could be an excellent false No.9 and support for two firing forwards, once they get up and running too.
Scoreline prediction: Sheffield United 0-2 Chelsea
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Sheffield United vs Chelsea build-up, previous line-ups & injury news:
Sheffield United may still be 11 points from safety, but in recent weeks they have looked more likely to actually put up a fight than they had at any other point this season. The Blades went into 2021 still winless in the Premier League and in danger of replacing Derby County as the worst team in the competition’s 29-year history. But a win over Newcastle United on January 12 has changed things.
Having earned two points in their opening 17 Premier League matches, Sheffield United have now won nine in their past five, moving them up to 11 points. They have moved clear of Derby’s record for fewest wins in a Premier League season (one) and are level on points with the Rams’ all-time lowest record, but they have the benefit of 16 more games to get one more on the board. Of course, that won’t be the final goal for Chris Wilder, but a milestone to tick off on their way to what would be one of the greatest escapes in Premier League history.
This weekend they face a Chelsea side that has found form since replacing Lampard with Tuchel, unbeaten in three games, conceding no goals, and winning twice. On Thursday they were 1-0 winners against Tottenham, which re-opened the possibility of a top four finish, with the Blues now sixth, just four points behind fourth-placed Liverpool.
In the previous meeting between these two sides this season, Chelsea ran out 4-1 winners, though Sheffield United did end the Blues’ clean sheet run at that time. The Blades may also take heart from their 3-0 win over Chelsea towards the end of last season, but Tuchel has his side playing with the utmost confidence right now.
- Sheffield United (vs West Brom): Ramsdale; Basham, Ampadu*, Egan; Baldock, Fleck, Norwood, Lundstram, Bogle; Sharp, McGoldrick.
- Chelsea (vs Tottenham): Mendy; Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Silva*; James, Kovacic, Jorginho, Alonso; Mount; Hudson-Odoi, Werner.
Sheffield United have a host of players out injured, with Sander Berge, Jack O’Connell and Jack Robinson all ruled out, while Enda Stevens and George Baldock’s involvement remains to be seen. Ethan Ampadu cannot face his parent club.
Thiago Silva is expected to be out for a few weeks after coming off against Spurs with a thigh injury, while Kai Havertz and Kurt Zouma were missing from the trip across London and may not return in time (though the former has been pictured in training). Tuchel has hinted at rotation for the weekend, as he looks to keep sharpness and physicality high after the strong start.
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Premier League 2020/21 recent form:
- Sheffield United: WLWLW
- Chelsea: WWDLW
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