Chelsea is in constant flux, in no small part due to manager’s having an average shelf life of a year or so if they are lucky. Part of that flux includes formation changes and, occasionally, positional and role changes. Much has been made out of Callum Hudson-Odoi playing at wingback for Thomas Tuchel, but in the attacking shape his role is little different before. The same can’t be said for Mason Mount who, over two Chelsea managers now, keeps shuffling from role to role.
Frank Lampard preferred a 2-3-5 attacking shape for the most part whereas Tuchel has preferred a 3-2-5 shape in his time in charge. Tuchel’s five is similar to Lampard’s with the key difference being that it is more staggered. It isn’t quite a true 3-2 or 2-3, but it is closer to both of those than it is a five like under Lampard.
Key to this has been the redeployment of Mount, particularly in the last two matches. In the first match under Tuchel, he came on as one of the inside forwards. The shape was more or less a 3-2-2-3 at this point with Mount as one of the two linking up with midfield. That continued in the first half against Burnley, but in the second half Mount was moved more centrally as the front five morphed into more of a 3-2 shape. In this match, Mount operated largely as a 10 trying to feed Christian Pulisic and Timo Werner.
In the Tottenham match, however, Tuchel made some slight tweaks to that. Instead of being more of a 10 sitting behind the strikers, Mount was much more of a false nine. The overall end effect was the same (ending up in the hole to feed the players either side of him or arriving late in the box), but it was much more involved than the 10 position against Burnley or the inside forward position he played against Wolverhampton and quite a few times under Lampard.
The first implication of this is how much flexibility it allows in the front three not just game to game but in game. Acting as a 10, Mount can play behind two strikers. Acting as a false nine, he can roam and link up inside forwards arriving late. It also means, almost regardless of who the other two are, that Chelsea can easily switch between the 2-3 and 3-2 front five.
The second implication is that this role seems tailor made for Kai Havertz. Havertz had his best performances in Germany largely at false nine or as the right inside forward. Should Mount be the prototype for that, Havertz could once again fill a role that suited him in his best season. What that surely means for Mount is he either plays alongside Havertz as an inside forward/false nine or he moves into the pivot.
Lampard used the pivot little this season, but Mount was part of the three in the 2-3 defensive shape that was tasked with cycling possession. It took Mount away from the attacking side of things but it took advantage of him being able to connect teammates. In a way, the current false nine/10 usage of Mount is the middle ground between the two ways Lampard used Mount (the more attacking inside forward and the cycling option in midfield).
Much was made of what Mount’s best role was when Lampard was manager. Lampard took it to both extremes while mixing in some other ideas. Tuchel (with an admittedly low sample size) has blended those ideas into this current role for Mount. Thus far it suits him but it is also a role that could suit Havertz. Again, getting both on the field is far from impossible but getting both on in roles that suit them is still a concern.
And at the end of the day, someone will have to miss out. With the Mateo Kovacic/Jorginho pivot working again (for now, against low possession teams), it is hard to see Havertz coming in and pushing Mount into a deeper role. It’s also hard to see Havertz coming in at all over Mount given how vital the latter is to everything Chelsea do regardless of who is in the managerial hotseat. That is not even to mention the implications for Hakim Ziyech, the strikers, or the wingers (who, under Tuchel at least, have a shout to play at wingback).
The only true certainty is that Mount is going to start. Where may be a question yet to be answered perfectly, but it shouldn’t be a question that he’ll start. It shouldn’t be a question that everything coming and going will go through him either. After all, that’s been the case since he returned to the club last season.