Mason Mount
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Mason Mount Return: Fresh Conundrum For ten Hag

With the litany of injury and off-field problems that Manchester United and Erik ten Hag have faced this season, it’s been rare for the United manager to face many selection headaches in any position.

Take Jonny Evans for instance, who was brought in to be the backup to the backup. He must wake up every morning in sheer disbelief that he’s already started 12 league games this season. Competition for starting places has been sparse.

In recent press conferences, ten Hag confirmed that he expects the return of Mason Mount after the upcoming March international break. But Mount’s career in the iconic Manchester United #7 shirt hasn’t gotten off the ground. He’s started just four league matches to date and it begs the question: When he does return, where will he play?

Ten Hag’s first summer at the club began with a lengthy and seemingly never-ending pursuit of Barcalona’s Frenkie de Jong, which ultimately never came to fruition. What was clear, however, was that high on ten Hag’s list of priorities was a central midfielder that could transition the team from defence to attack and get the ball up the pitch with carries or line-breaking passes.

After the recruitment of Casemiro as a traditional defensive midfielder, it appeared that Mount was brought in to fill that transitional, progressive role alongside him. However, during his lengthy spell on the sidelines, a new kid on the block emerged. Kobbie Mainoo.

Mainoo is probably one of the only major plus points in Manchester United’s season and is easily one of the first names on the teamsheet in the role he’s been playing alongside Casemiro. And therein lies the conundrum for Erik ten Hag. What does he do?

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Surely he can’t drop the rising star to facilitate a player who has been MIA practically the entire season? There is the possibility that he could drop Casemiro and move Mainoo to a more defensive midfield role. But playing one of your best-performing players out of position to accommodate someone who has hardly had a good performance in a United shirt doesn’t feel like the right route either. So does Mount have to fight for his place?

If he does opt to try and play Mainoo & Mount as a midfield duo behind Bruno Fernandes,. It also has to be considered that Casemiro, despite a relatively poor season so far, is still probably the most defensively astute of the three midfielders. The largest of the recent criticisms levelled at Manchester United is that they are conceding too many shots. Removing Casemiro from the lineup is likely not to resolve that and may even worsen the issue.

That’s not to say he wouldn’t try it, though. In hindsight, Manchester United’s pre-season was a disaster. There were far too many games, all spread out at different ends of the United States and by the end, it felt like the ‘Best XI’ had managed 45 minutes on the pitch together at best. But during one of the better performances of the trip (a 2-0 win against Arsenal), he did precisely that and played them together in midfield…for 45 minutes and changed the entire team.

Machester United's line-up Vs Arsenal in Pre-season 2023
Credit: Sofascore

The two of them in midfield seemed to work that day but because of injuries to both of them throughout the season, the two of them haven’t played together since that afternoon in July

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It will be interesting to see how ten Hag manages this selection headache. However, I’m sure if you asked him, he’d tell you that he’s just happy to have a selection headache for once.

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