Kobbie Mainoo’s sharp rise has the potential to scupper Mason Mount’s hopes of becoming a regular fixture in Erik ten Hag’s plans at Man United.
Making just 12 appearances in the iconic No.7 shirt thus far, it is sometimes easy to forget Manchester United signed Mason Mount in last summer’s transfer window.
Moving into the second phase of their rebuilding project under Erik ten Hag, United identified Mount as the ideal candidate to strengthen their midfield pool. After several weeks of negotiations with Chelsea, the Reds announced his arrival in early-July in a deal worth £55million, potentially rising to £60m.
Despite the success of Christian Eriksen’s and Casemiro’s link-up play in 2022/23, United knew they needed to inject fresh energy into their midfield. Mount is seven years Eriksen’s junior, meaning he was widely expected to take his place.
That theory was proved correct right at the very start of the season, with Mount joining forces with Bruno Fernandes and Casemiro in Ten Hag’s trademark three-man midfield. He was tasked with providing energy and control in the deep-lying No.8 position, a role which saw him act as the shuttle between defence and attack.
However, the Portsmouth-𝐛𝐨𝐫𝐧 midfielder has spent more time on the treatment table than the Old Trafford pitch so far this season, playing just 12 times. He has not featured since November 11 because of a calf injury.
Though he is edging closer and closer towards making his return, forcing his way back into Ten Hag’s first-choice midfield is going to be a difficult task. With Casemiro tasked with defending and Fernandes tasked with providing creativity, Kobbie Mainoo currently leads the race to slot it alongside the pair of them and provide the energy and control Ten Hag demands.
The sharp rise of the United academy graduate has been the most successful story within United’s campaign thus far. He has been nothing short of outstanding, meaning the challenge of dislodging him from Ten Hag’s strongest XI looks increasingly difficult.
Mount, upon signing for United, said the No.8 role was his strongest, providing the all-round traits Ten Hag wants alongside a defensive specialist and an architect-in-chief. Unfortunately for Mount, Mainoo has stepped up in his absence and made the position his own.
Looking ahead to next season, United are set to try and upgrade their midfield options again, with a long-term replacement for Casemiro expected to be targeted. United need to replace him with a world-class destroyer who sits at the base of the midfield and is only too happy to do the ugly side of the game.
Should that happen, it is quite possible United’s strongest midfield next season may consist of a new defensive-midfielder, Mainoo and Fernandes. It could be difficult for Mount to wrestle back the position he was expected to make his own only a few months ago.
Though Mount has cited the No.8 role as his best, he is also capable of playing in the No.10 position, meaning he could offer rotational support and backup for Fernandes. United do not currently have a backup attacking-midfielder who specialises in playing as an out-and-out No.10.
Donny van de Beek is supposedly an attacking-midfielder, but he is highly unlikely to play for United again after leaving on loan for a second time last month. Having someone of Mount’s talent, as he has displayed in the Premier League several times in recent years, is not a bad thing for United, but it could see a £60m signing tied to a backup role.
In the event of that scenario, United’s track record of overspending on players is guaranteed to draw attention. However, Mount, despite only turning 25 last month, is a seasoned Premier League operator, who has a respectable record in the goals and assists departments.
It is not impossible for Mount to wrestle the No.8 spot back from Mainoo’s grasp, but the latter is at ease in the position and will only get better the more times he fills it. From Mount’s perspective, it is unfortunate Mainoo’s development has been so fast.
Nevertheless, Mount brings qualities to the table that Mainoo doesn’t at this juncture, not least his experience and respectable goalscoring record. Warming the bench was never likely to have crossed the 25-year-old’s mind when putting pen to paper on a long-term deal last summer, but his debut season in M16 has not gone according to plan.
Becoming United’s backup No.10, as well as continuing to provide competition for Mainoo for the No.8 berth, could be the only avenues that present him with minutes. For Ten Hag, though, it gives him options to think about.