It’s been a dream of Ryan Mason to play for the first team ever since joining Spurs. The boyhood fan of our beloved Lilywhites was brought to the club by Tottenham legend Micky Hazard aged just eight.
Since then he has been through our academy, out on loan to five different clubs and now has realised his ambitions of playing for the first team.
Mason, who made his debut in the final seconds of our Europa League tie against NEC Nijmegen in 2008, admits the new manager is key to his involvement this term.
“The change in manager helped me. If previous managers were still in charge maybe I wouldn’t still be here. There were a few opportunities [to leave] but I was raring to give it a go and see what happened. He’s the type of gaffer where if you’re training well and doing well then you’ll play.”
So what does Mauricio Pochettino see in Ryan Mason and how does he fit in to his system?
Mason in the formation
So far we’ve seen Mauricio Pochettino use Ryan Mason in two different formations. He was part of a midfield four at the Emirates, but against both Nottingham Forest and Southampton we’ve seen him operate as part of a three.
The new head coach sets up in an offset 4-3-3 formation that sees Ryan Mason play to the left of a midfield triangle.
Mauricio Pochettino wants the player in this role to be a box-to-box type. Covering for his left back as he goes up the flank, but also getting the ball moving through midfield and then arriving later in the attack as play is progressed forward.
Ryan Mason to the left
The reason Ryan Mason operates to this side is two-fold.
Firstly, he has to cover for his left back when he goes forward. The full back on this side has to offer width and crossing support as his wide forward (Nacer Chadli) cuts inside.
Secondly, he has to get the attack moving and get the ball quickly to the players through this zone. Something that Mason does very well, given he gets his head up and looks to pass the ball forward as soon as he can.
We can see just how heavily he works the left hand side of the field against Southampton. Pretty much every pass he receives is through here.
Against Arsenal, where he played to the left side of a four-man midfield, we can see also how he worked this channel through short passes to him.
The reason that Mauricio Pochettino has Ryan Mason work this side, is that on the other flank this creates space for Erik Lamela.
The removal of a player from Lamela’s side creates much more room for the Argentinean to dribble. Lamela is much better running with the ball at his feet towards goal than playing with his back to it. Getting him in space between the lines is key to making this happen.
Whereas Erik Lamela moves the ball quickly forward on his side through dribbling, Ryan Mason does it through passing. Another nice offset.
Ryan Mason passing forwards
With Ryan Mason working the left side, he gets play moving through passing the ball as soon as he gets it, but always in a positive direction by going forward.
Against Southampton, we can see how he predominantly targets the left hand side of the field to pass the ball as he works that side. What’s more, his passing is forward and often on the diagonal as he creates angles.
Of his 46 passes in the game, 23 are forwards (50%) and his top passing targets are left back Danny Rose and left wing forward Nacer Chadli.
Just 9 of his 46 passes were backwards (the rest were squared), with the majority of these going back to Danny Rose.
Despite our deep lying counter attacking game plan against Arsenal, he was even more aggressive with his ability to move the ball forwards.
Of his 37 passes attempted in the match, 24 were forwards (65%), impressive given how we played. Just 5 of his 37 passes were backwards, as Mason once again used his diagonal passing to attack down the left.
Left side support
This left side support sees him get forward through the inside channel on this side of the pitch, as Ryan Mason pops up in here time and time again.
Against Southampton, we can see here how he supports Christian Eriksen, as the Dane has the ball in acres of space having taken a quick pass from Erik Lamela.
Then, later on Eriksen’s goal, he has popped up in this inside left position once again.
In the second half, Erik Lamela had a glorious chance to shoot first time from a loose ball in the Southampton box. Ryan Mason was once more supporting through the inside left channel from his offset midfield role, but doesn’t over-commit, as he can shoot from range.
Being in here allows Mauricio Pochettino to take advantage of his long range shooting.
It wasn’t a coincidence that Mason popped up in the inside left channel to fire his spectacular strike against Nottingham Forest.
It’s also why Pochettino positions him on the edge of the box at corners, to have a go should the ball come loose to him.
The role of the box-to-box player in Mauricio Pochettino’s system also has defensive duties.
He has to cover the left back when he goes forward, but also needs to be a capable ball winner through the inside left channel in front of his defence.
Ryan Mason has been a more attack minded player for much of his career and has been excellent at getting the play going forward. However, the defensive side of his game does need some work.
Against Arsenal, we dropped off and attempted to squeeze the amount of space between our lines of defence and midfield. The Gunners love to get their plethora of small passing players in to this space where they can create chances.
Ryan Mason was tasked of sitting in here with Etienne Capoue, leaving no space between the lines of defence and midfield. The space we conceded was between our midfield and the front two of Chadli and Adebayor, who were looking to get out quickly on the break.
Mason did a decent job in here, but did let players run off and get in amongst him. Here we can see how Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain runs off him, pulling Jan Vertonghen out of the centre.
Oxlade-Chamberlain was able to deliver a dangerous cross that was clawed out by Hugo Lloris with just Younes Kaboul to cover in the centre.
Later Oxlade-Chamberlain had a fierce shot that was saved by Hugo Lloris as he ran off the back of Mason once more. Arsenal were starting to get in to this space between the lines.
Mason did make challenges, but did fail with them in this zone where Arsenal like to get players in to, as we can see from the brown crosses just outside our box.
Ryan Mason has had opponents dribble past him five times in two Premier League matches for Spurs, the highest average per game on our team according to Whoscored. Opponents dribbling past him 2.5 times per match is much higher than the next players on the list in Vlad Chiriches (2) and Jan Vertonghen (1) per game.
What we have to remember he is still just 23 and learning a new position. Here he takes up a much better location to front up Aaron Ramsey this time to stop his centre backs being exposed or dragged out of position.
Against Southampton, he was much better at intercepting the ball to stop play through our left hand side.
Mistakes were still there though. It is harsh to blame him on Kaboul’s sliced clearance that saw Victor Wanyama denied by Hugo Lloris from the loose ball, but he was a factor.
Kaboul did try and hook it with his wrong foot, but having Ryan Mason running towards him also looking to clear it, may have affected Kaboul’s ill-advised swing.
Kaboul really had no margin for error by going at it with his right foot, but having Mason running in too only increased the chances for something to go wrong.
Overall fit in the system
Whilst he is excellent at getting on the ball and quickly moving it forward, Ryan Mason does need to work on the defensive side of his game. He will be in competition with Mousa Dembele for the role and the Belgian is much better at recapturing the ball with his strength and sizeable frame.
However, Mason does have an advantage over Dembele with his passing. The Belgian is a dribbler of the ball and with us having Lamela doing the same on the other side, Mason’s passing is a nice offset to two ball carriers. Also, Dembele’s dribbling can slow the game down, whereas Mason’s passing speeds the tempo up.
It’s been a promising start for Ryan Mason and there is still work to do, but it’s good to see Mauricio Pochettino trusting a homegrown talent.