How Ryan Mason fits in to Mauricio Pochettino’s system

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.


Ryan Mason in Mauricio Pochettino’s offset 4-3-3.

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.


Ryan Mason passes received, Spurs 1 Southampton 0.

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.


Ryan Mason passes received, Arsenal 1 Spurs 1.

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.


Ryan Mason passes played, Spurs 1 Southampton 0.

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.


Ryan Mason forward passes against Southampton.

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.


Ryan Mason passes played against Arsenal.

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.


Ryan Mason in the inside left channel against Soton.

Then, later on Eriksen’s goal, he has popped up in this inside left position once again.


Ryan Mason in the inside left channel once more.

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.


Ryan Mason doesn’t over commit in the inside left channel.

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.


Ryan Mason lets fly from the inside left channel.

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.


Ryan Mason ready to strike from distance at corners.

Defensive duties

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 and Capoue stifle space between the lines.

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.


Mason is slow to react to Ox’s run.

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 failed challenges (circled)

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.


Ryan Mason fronts Aaron Ramsey.

Against Southampton, he was much better at intercepting the ball to stop play through our left hand side.


Interceptions (diamonds), clearances (circles), tackle (cross), foul (triangle).

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.


Mason heading towards Kaboul as he tries to clear.

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.

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12 Responses to How Ryan Mason fits in to Mauricio Pochettino’s system

  1. Nick 10th October 2014 at 5:28 pm #

    Excellent post & analysis as always Mark. Looking forward to seeing Mason play a bit more, I like to see the young English players get a shot. Let’s what happens in the MCI game!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 10th October 2014 at 5:53 pm #

      Thanks for reading Nick and also the article links on Inside FPL. They City game is quite a prosect after last season and players like Mason will have a real test (if selected) with the way David Silva and co drift between the lines.

  2. Cole 10th October 2014 at 5:30 pm #

    I want to thank you for these write-ups. As an American that did not grow up playing the game I did not have a real understanding of the intricacies of the movement, positioning, etc. I love to watch, especially my Spurs, but have always felt a little stupid in not knowing the finer points other than what I could glean from the basics as shown through the camera lens. Your articles – especially the ones throughout the summer – have been a welcomed read for me as I now have a greater understanding and appreciation for the way everything should work together, the system Spurs play, and the players working within the system. I have loved Spurs my whole life, but now have a greater base of knowledge with which to work and love them that much more. Thank you again and keep up the good work – it is much appreciated!


    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 10th October 2014 at 6:08 pm #

      Thanks for reading Cole and for your support of the site, comments like this make it all worthwhile. This article was actually the result of a question from a fellow reader, so if you have anything you’d like written about, then send me a Tweet or hit the menu bar and the ‘contact’ tab to email.

  3. Mat 10th October 2014 at 6:30 pm #

    Very sharp analysis. Usually not a fan of reading such articles but the ones you write are amazing :)
    Keep up the good work!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 10th October 2014 at 7:32 pm #

      Thanks Mat, appreciate the kind words, glad i could make you a fan :)

  4. Mike 11th October 2014 at 1:52 am #

    Mark, thanks for that very insightful article. I too really enjoy your analysis.

    I’ve been watching Spurs since ’72 and it makes me realise when I read your detailed observations that I know bugger all!

    Looking forward to the next one, hopefully you’ll be reporting on how and why we frustrated City…..COYS!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 12th October 2014 at 11:01 am #

      Haha I’m pretty sure you’ll have seen some great players and sides over the years. COYS!

  5. Soulchan 12th October 2014 at 12:07 pm #

    Got a question for you Mike lol

    I rememeber that when you were writing about Poch’s Soton, you said Schnei plays to the left side and Wanyama plays to the right.

    But at spurs, seeing heat maps and passing maps, I think Mason plays to the left but Capoue plays at the center not to the right.

    Guess the role has changed a bit from Southampton. And I think maybe Lamela and Eriksen could be the reason. But I can’t make it clear.

    So what do you think about it? Any thoughts on this?

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 12th October 2014 at 1:27 pm #

      Good question Soulchan. Yes he has altered it from Southampton where Schmeiderlin and Wanyama covered the full backs on their side. Capoue is playing much more in the centre, but he does still cover his right back now and then, as you can see here.


      He is slightly more central though and their could be a number of reasons for this which include getting room for Lamela to run by removing players from this side. Our play is also alot more down the left side where Mason etc are, so if opponents win the ball back this side they have to transfer it across, which gives the right side time to recover.

  6. Brandon 12th October 2014 at 5:49 pm #

    Mark, first time comment post, but I’ve been following your blog from Chicago as a Spurs fan for a little over a year now. Great reading during my lunch breaks and it has really helped me learn the small tactical details that are so hard to observe on the television when the camera is solely focused on the ball. I’m happy to see Capoue cement a place in this team. After his outstanding showing as a sub against Arsenal at Emirates last season, he looked like a keeper but I had no clue he offered the range of passing that he has put on display for Spurs this year. I’m not surprised by Mason’s ascent into the squad after seeing him play well on the U.S. tour this year, but my gosh I never would have guessed he’d be in the first team so quickly.

    This must be quite a statement about the Poch’s perceived passing limitations of Paulinho and Dembele, much more credentialed and expensive players, right? Do you see either or both of them sticking around past January? As I see it, Capoue has Stambouli deputizing behind him, and Mason and Benteleb seem to be competing for the box-to-box role at the moment. I love Dembele’s on the ball skills, but by the time he picks a pass, the opposition has already been allowed too much time to recover and find their defensive shape.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 13th October 2014 at 11:11 am #

      Thanks for reading Brandon and supporting the blog.

      Some good questions. Mason’s inclusion so quickly does point to the passing limitations of Paulinho and Dembele. Paulinho is more of player that arrives later in the box to try and score goals unmarked. Dembele shifts the ball more through dribbling, but can play neat passes further up the pitch around the box. The problem for Pochettino is that he needs someone to move the ball forward from deeper. Lewis Holtby did this, but doesn’t appear to be in Pochettino’s plans. Dembele and Bentaleb often pass the ball sideways in this zone, so someone like Mason is different in this regard.

      I’m not sure how long Paulinho will stick around. I don’t see him fitting in to Pochettino’s system on a regular basis. The only question is whther the club will take a loss on him as they will struggle to recoup the £17 million outlay.

      Dembele still serves a purpose for me. What he lacks in passing forward from deep, he makes up for in strength and physicality. No one shrugs him off the ball when he has it and there are few players that are better at just rolling off and past opponents with the ball due to the sheer size of his frame. He is able to win the ball back much better than Mason and will be a selection against bigger, more physical midfields away from home. He provides Pochettino with options, as do Stambouli and Bentaleb, all of which further negate the influence of Paulinho.