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How Man Utd’s new signing will fit into the starting line-up, and who could drop out

Mason Mount’s imminent arrival from Chelsea will at least provide some respite for Erik ten Hag and fans as Manchester United’s takeover saga continues.

After weeks of toing and froing, the two clubs finally met in the middle on Thursday night with United agreeing to pay their Premier League rivals £55m up front with a further £5m in potential add-ons for the 24-year-old.

Mount will become United’s first signing since sealing a return to the European top table in May and Ten Hag will be hopeful that the 2021 Champions League winner can prove to be an elite-level recruit.

Ten Hag earmarked Mount as a top target in this transfer window, which is interesting considering he already has de facto captain Bruno Fernandes and the influential Christian Eriksen at his disposal. Upgrading the goalkeeper and striker positions are clearly higher priorities, but that doesn’t mean to say that Mount is not a smart pick-up.

Ten Hag’s admiration for Mount predates his time in English football. The Dutchman reportedly wanted to bring him to Ajax in 2018 after the then-teenager had orchestrated a 3-2 victory for Vitesse Arnhem over the Dutch giants in the Eredivisie. Mount instead joined Derby County on loan before progressing to Chelsea’s first-team a year later.

This time, he has got his wish in a deal that has had the twin effect of uniting one fanbase and splintering the other; Mount has been welcomed with open arms by his new faithful, while his former devotees are either delighting in his departure after a poor season or lamenting the sale of a homegrown asset to another “Big Six” club.

Mount struggled in a poor Chelsea team in 2022-23, providing a meagre return of two goals and three assists in 24 league appearances, but prior to that had emerged as one of the most consistent attacking midfielders in the division. A new environment should do him the world of good, and his versatility will be an asset to United as they look to bridge the gap on their Treble-winning neighbours.

Here’s where he could feature in Ten Hag’s plans next season:

In the Eriksen role

Probably the most obvious place for Mount in United’s side is in Eriksen’s position. The Dane has predominantly played as a No 10 in his career but has been remodeled as a deep-lying playmaker more recently.

Ten Hag has generally used a 4-2-3-1 shape in England, with Eriksen partnering Casemiro in midfield. It was a combination that worked well, particularly in games where United dominated possession given Eriksen’s ability to dictate the tempo.

However, while excellent on the ball, Eriksen is less effective off it. He used to be an excellent presser in Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs side but naturally after playing over 700 games for club and country his physical attributes have waned. He completed the full 90 minutes in only eight of his 28 league appearances in 2022-23.

Mount lacks Eriksen’s composure and class on the ball, but his superior running power and ability to cover spaces would make him a more effective option in Ten Hag’s engine room in matches when they have less of it.

As a No 10

Alternatively, Ten Hag could drop Fernandes into midfield and shift Mount into a No 10 position instead where he has previously flourished for Chelsea and England.

Mount tends to be praised mostly for his work-rate and defensive discipline – traits that have seen him described as a manager’s dream, and less kindly, a teacher’s pet – but that has meant his attacking qualities have often been overlooked.

Removing his annus horribilis from the equation, Mount was one of the Premier League’s most efficient creators in recent campaigns: from the start of 2020-21 to the end of 2021-22 he created 145 chances, a total bettered by only four players.

He was also one of only three players (along with Liverpool’s Mo Salah and West Ham’s Jarrod Bowen) to reach double figures for both goals and assists in the 2021-22 Premier League campaign, with 11 goals and 10 assists.

As one of two No 8s

Ten Hag has favoured 4-2-3-1 in his last two seasons but prior to that he usually set his Ajax side up in a 4-3-3 which featured two box-to-box players who could also create and score goals, including United’s forgotten man Donny van de Beek.

United resembled that shape at times last season when Fernandes dropped in from attacking midfield alongside Casemiro and Eriksen, and given Mount’s qualities in and out of possession, it is a role he is well capable of playing.

In the right channel

United have a good thing going on the left wing. With Luke Shaw galloping forward on the overlap, Marcus Rashford cutting in from the touchline and Fernandes gravitating towards that side, it has become a hotbed of creativity.

That hasn’t been replicated on the right, however, which has made United slightly imbalanced and predictable. Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s attacking deficiencies are well-documented, Diogo Dalot’s output isn’t much better, and Antony’s end product was inconsistent during his debut season in English football.

Incorporating a player of Mount’s intuition and imagination on that side could help to unlock doors previously left unopen and make United a more varied attacking threat.

Mount was frequently deployed on the right wing under Thomas Tuchel, but used centrally rather than out wide to create space for Reece James to attack from wing-back. Depending on the formation used, Mount could play in conjunction with or in place of Antony from that area of the pitch.

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