Mason Mount has been speaking ahead of our return to European action this midweek, discussing the importance of experienced heads in the dressing room, why the Champions League is so unique and how the team are aiming to be contenders this season…
Having featured in all but one game for club and country in 2019/20, Mount can now count himself as a firm fixture in the team for Chelsea and England. He has four Premier League goals to his name and a string of assists, a start to his career at Stamford Bridge that has even surpassed his own expectations.
As the Blues prepare to host Ajax in a big Champions League encounter at Stamford Bridge, Mount picked out the differences between Premier League and European competition, paid tribute to the influence of Frank Lampard and the experienced players in the dressing room in helping the youngsters settle so quickly, and insisted the team will continue to target trophies this season.
However, the 20-year-old began by reflecting on his own rapid rise from impressing in the Championship to starring in the Champions League.
‘I was always ready,’ he told the assembled media in a press conference at Cobham on Monday afternoon. ‘I’ve been at the club for a very long time so you’ve got to have belief in yourself and be ready for that opportunity.
‘It probably did come a bit earlier than I expected but I was ready and so fully focused on taking my opportunity and trying to play well. It’s been brilliant and I’m loving every moment of it.’
Lampard has shown complete faith in the young midfielder, having worked with him at Derby County last season, although the boss has been consistently keen to point out that performances in training and matches are what has kept Mount in the team throughout the opening three months of the season.
‘I am really proud of him,’ said the boss in his own pre-match press conference. ‘Last season at Derby, I saw first-hand his quality and also his character. Maybe he has exceeded my expectations this season because I wanted him here for sure, I thought he would get minutes and be good for us.
‘I did not realise to quite what level he would settle and produce, so that is all a great story and the next story is up to him. I believe in him, he has to keep working to improve all the time.’
On the influence of Lampard, Mount has always been clear that our former number eight was a midfield inspiration to him growing up in the Chelsea Academy. He used to watch video clips of our record goalscorer so he could take parts of his game and add them to his own, so working with him on a daily basis now presents a perfect learning opportunity for Mount.
‘He’s been a massive influence for me,’ he said. ‘Working under him last season, knowing how he likes to work and how he likes to play, that’s probably given me and Fikayo [Tomori, who was also on loan at Derby last season] that advantage coming back to Chelsea.
‘He’s been brilliant, I’m learning off him every day trying to perfect my attacking and defending and there’s no better person for me to work under.’
Our Premier League and Champions League seasons have followed similar paths this campaign, with opening defeats quickly rectified and momentum established. Victories in France against Lille and over Ajax in Amsterdam last time out have wrestled back control of our Group H destiny, with Mount insisting the limited margin for error in a four-team, six-game group brings with it added pressures.
‘We know how important it is to get results in the Champions League,’ he explained. ‘After the first game, we were a bit down but we took positives from it. We knew that going away to France and Holland we needed to get results, to be professional, and we did that so hopefully now we can bring that form back to Stamford Bridge.
‘There’s a different feel around the Champions League. We don’t have as many games that come around so the focus on winning the game is so important. It’s obviously the same in the Premier League but you have so few opportunities to get points in Europe because there’s so many top teams in the group.’
Mount and his fellow homegrown Academy graduates have taken plenty of the headlines this season, with Tammy Abraham’s goals and Tomori’s defensive contributions allied with the impact of Callum Hudson-Odoi and Reece James in more fleeting appearances.
However, Mount knows how important it has been to have experienced players in the dressing room as well, with the role of Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic behind him in midfield cited as a particular benefit.
‘For us young players coming into the team, we need the experienced players behind us to keep us focused and keep us going because they’re the backbone in the team,’ he continued.
‘You can see how they’ve been performing recently. They’ve been keeping the team together, keeping the ball moving and that’s what we need, players like that to keep us ticking. When we get higher up the pitch, we’re the ones to put the ball in the back of the net but they keep us so strong together.’
The suggestion has been made in recent weeks that the young players in the team have only been afforded opportunities due to the club’s inability to sign players in the summer. It was put to Mount that he and others may have to deal with the threat of additional competition once that transfer ban is lifted, however he claimed any player with over a decade spent at Chelsea was capable of dealing with the competitiveness of football.
Despite the strong competition for starting places in the team, Mount also insisted that the dressing room was a close-knit and happy place, attributes he believes are key as they seek trophies in the future.
‘We’ve had to deal with competition throughout our whole time being in the Academy,’ he insisted. ‘You come into a team and there’s players from all different countries so you have to work to show how good you are. There’s always been that competition within Chelsea so we’re all ready for that and there’s massive competition within the team now to fight for your place.
‘We want to win trophies and we want to be top of the league. We’re so tight as a team, the bond is so good and we’ve got that focus and togetherness that we need to win trophies. That’s our next goal, to win a major trophy. We just need to keep getting better and better, which is what we’ve shown over the last couple of weeks.
‘If we carry on this level of performance, we can definitely be a top contender in any competition.’