Ryan Mason does a lot of things well that Mauricio Pochettino wants from his number ten, apart from the finishing touch.
It was an idea discussed on here at length during preseason. Ryan Mason being used as a rotation option for Christian Eriksen at the number ten position.
Given the disconnect between Harry Kane and our midfield away at Leicester, it became a reality at home to Everton, as Mason was moved in to the number ten role. His job was to fill the void that we saw against the Foxes, but also to get a player running forward with and beyond Harry Kane.
He did a lot of things well, but was let down by his finishing, missing two of our three best opportunities in the match. Harry Kane had wasted the best chance of the game, but whilst the Tweets rolled down my timeline of the goals will come for the striker, Mason was subjected to nothing but negativity. Many fans were criticising his selection to be played this far forwards, with a few saying he should never be used at the number ten position again.
Granted Ryan Mason wasn’t clinical in front of goal, but he did do a number of things well that made this trial worth continuing.
Ryan Mason on the ball
Ryan Mason brings energy to the number ten position, but also someone that can play with their back to goal, spin and move the ball forwards. Without Christian Eriksen, Mauricio Pochettino has very few options that can do this. Both Nacer Chadli and Erika Lamela like to play running on to the ball rather than with their back to goal. Mousa Dembele has more strength to hold opponents off and the ability to turn and dribble, but rarely looks to pass forwards.
What was good to see from Ryan Mason was his ability to get up with Harry Kane and also in-between the lines, dragging both Everton defenders and midfielders with him.
He got up alongside Harry Kane in order to provide support for him, something that was missing without Christian Eriksen away at Leicester. He also tried to help overload Everton’s left side, which was their area of weakness without Leighton Baines as Bryan Oviedo stood in.
With his ability to play with his back to goal, Ryan Mason received a number of passes that were played forwards to him between the lines. This then allowed him to try and pick out passes towards the Everton penalty area for his teammates on the run. The most notable of these was his through ball for Harry Kane (1) from deep in our half, but he also looked to deliver through passes from further up the pitch.
Ryan Mason doesn’t have the passing radar of Christian Eriksen in the final third, but he does have a good awareness of what is going on around him. On top of this he instinctively looks to pass forwards quickly. Both reasons why he spotted and put a perfect through ball in behind the Everton defence for Harry Kane to run on to, but also a number of other passes in to the striker as well.
Moving up with and past the striker
But it wasn’t just Mason’s forward passing that caught the eye from the number ten position; it was also his forward runs. The image in the section above showed how he got up alongside Harry Kane, but he also looked to run past him when the striker either dropped in or came short to try and draw out the Everton centre backs.
With Harry Kane coming short, Nabil Bentaleb lobbed an exquisite pass for Ryan Mason to try and latch on to.
Danny Rose then got forward on a counter attack and sent in a ball from the left. Ryan Mason had eaten up the ground in an effort to get himself up in the box and join the striker to offer another target. Rose found him, but Mason saw his side foot effort from the skimming ball blocked by John Stones.
Ryan Mason getting up with or beyond the striker then saw him get in for two fantastic opportunities.
In the first half we pressed well to force the ball back to Tim Howard who only could clear downfield. Eric Dier nodded the header down to Ryan Mason. He then fed it out to Nacer Chadli and set off for the box to join Harry Kane.
Drifting in-between the lines and moving off the back of Gareth Barry, Ryan Mason left the Everton defensive midfielder standing as he sought to get in-behind.
Chadli found him with the neatly played reverse pass, leaving Mason 1v1 against Tim Howard. Unfortunately Mason’s left foot isn’t as strong or as good as his right, and his shot across goal lacked both power and placement.
The passage of play to get Ryan Mason in was perfect; his end product was not.
In the second half and another glorious chance came Mason’s way. Again it was the result of a forward burst in order to get himself up in to the penalty area. Kyle Walker had sent a high ball over the top of Everton’s defensive midfield unit for Dele Alli.
Gambling on Alli winning the knockdown, Mason had sprinted forwards to get in to the box and latch on to the loose ball. It fell perfectly for him and he was in 1v1 against Tim Howard once more.
Again the chance was on his weaker left foot and once more lacked the placement to pick out the bottom corner of the net. Like much of his game, Ryan Mason had done everything right except apply the finish.
Mauricio Pochettino not only requires his number ten to be a passer and a finisher, but also to be active in closing down. This is again where Mason’s dogged energy and hassling of opposition players comes in to its own.
Deployed higher up the pitch, this saw him pushing up with Harry Kane and the wide midfielder on the side that the ball was on when Everton had possession at the back.
Mason’s energy and determined closing down helped create turnovers or forced Everton to clear long downfield with no out ball. A classic case was on the passage of play that started with the Tim Howard being forced to clear downfield and eventually lead to Mason’s first 1v1 chance against the keeper.
If the Toffees navigated our early pressing, then we retreated in to a 4-4-1-1 defensive shape in our half. This saw both Harry Kane and Ryan Mason with plenty of ground to cover as we dropped off. In this phase of the game, Mason was effective at making it difficult for Everton to make the first pass up to or through our midfield line.
Ryan Mason as a number ten
Overall, Ryan Mason did everything Mauricio Pochettino requires from his number ten apart from score. He pressed, passed and created chances for others, even if he couldn’t take his own.
Composure and the ability to finish in the box has been something that Ryan Mason hasn’t shown so far in a Spurs shirt. We only have to think back to the glorious opportunity he had in our previous home match against Stoke. Kane came short and found him with a deft chip over the top that a sliding Mason failed to prod home.
What he is more known for are his long range shots from outside the box. Something he can unleash as he ghosts up the park from either a defensive midfield or number eight position. However, as a number ten in Mauricio Pochettino’s system, he has to get up, join and get beyond the striker. This is a change to his usual mentality, but he did do this well against Everton, finding the positions that were required, even if he couldn’t apply the finish.
Twitter may not have agreed, but as an experiment as to who can be a rotation option for Christian Eriksen at the number ten position, this was a successful audition for Ryan Mason. Working on finishing with both feet is required, but there’s no excuse for Mauricio Pochettino to continually play and burn out the Dane again this season. He has options and Ryan Mason is one of those.