As Chelsea prepare to welcome Ajax to Stamford Bridge in the Champions League, Mason Mount discusses his Eredivisie experiences, a coming-of-age win in Amsterdam and his excitement at facing top European sides...
When young players emerge into the senior game so rapidly and so emphatically, it is easy to forget how far they have come in such a short space of time.
Three years ago this week, Mason Mount played at Stamford Bridge against senior opposition for the first time. The visitors to SW6 were Oxford United in the Checkatrade Trophy and Mount was still only 17, starting in the centre of the pitch against a five-man midfield on average six years older than him.
Two years ago this week, he played 90 minutes for Vitesse Arnhem in the Europa League against the Belgians Zulte Waregem. It was his second start in his maiden loan spell in the Netherlands – a topic we will return to shortly – and an early experience of European football at senior level.
One year ago this week, he played at Stamford Bridge against senior opposition for the second time. The opponents were Chelsea, a strange situation for the boyhood Blue, as he was allowed to face his parent club in the Carabao Cup fourth round.
Mount impressed that Halloween night, teeing up Derby County’s second equaliser, before going close to scoring himself in the second half. He left beaten but with his profile enhanced and Chelsea fans eager to follow his progress under the watchful eye of Frank Lampard at Pride Park.
This week, the 20-year-old is back at the Bridge and back in European competition, this time as a Chelsea player in the Champions League as we welcome Ajax to the capital for a key group game. It is an incredible journey that Mount has been on over the past 36 months and the visit of Dutch opposition stirs the young midfielder’s memory of his own time spent in the Netherlands.
‘It was very important for me to go there at 18 years old, moving countries, and it definitely made me grow as a person,’ he reflects, speaking to the official Chelsea website. ‘The technical side of the game out there is so high so it helped that part of my game a lot. It was my first professional loan so getting minutes and playing well was the most important thing and it sort of kick-started my career really.
‘I was playing in the Europa League as well so straight away that gave me the experience of European football. It’s not the Champions League but to start off in that competition was brilliant for me. We played away in Lazio, in France against Nice and Waregem.
‘It gave me so much experience to go into the Champions League where it’s bigger. There’s much more pressure on the games and performances but we can handle that. We’ve shown that after a tough start with the way we’ve bounced back and hopefully we can keep getting the wins.’
Bouncing back was essential following our opening home defeat to Valencia but the performances and results in back-to-back away games since then have been extremely impressive, particularly the 1-0 win in Amsterdam against last season’s semi-finalists a fortnight ago. Mount felt that was a coming-of-age night for Lampard’s Chelsea, a performance that proved they could go toe-to-toe with the best in Europe and come out on top.
‘It was similar to when we went to France [to play Lille], a game where we knew we had to do a job,’ continued Mount. ‘We had to be professional, to grow up and come of age because Ajax are a very good side. They had two 3-0 wins in the group going into the match so we knew it was going to be a tough game but we also knew we could cause them problems if we were on it.
‘With the young players in the team, we all stepped up with the experienced players around us, helping us. We were very together throughout the game and that’s what we felt in the changing room afterwards – how together and solid we were.
‘If I look at big performances this season, that’s probably the number one and the win has put us in a very good position in the group. We know how important this next game is because they’re playing so well but hopefully we can replicate our performance from Holland back at the Bridge.’
The young midfielder has good memories of facing Ajax. He was an unused substitute when Vitesse were 2-1 winners at the Johan Cruyff Arena in September 2017 but had established himself in the side by the time they hosted them in Arnhem six months later, with a 3-2 victory completing an impressive double over Erik ten Hag’s team.
Seven of the Ajax starters from that game featured against the Blues last month in Amsterdam so Mount is well aware of their qualities. Many of them played throughout the team’s excellent run to the last four in this competition a year ago as they were hailed another generation of exciting Dutch youngsters.
Mount has received similar praise and hype since becoming a Chelsea regular this season and he looks forward to these opportunities where the best young talent in the game can pit their wits against each other.
‘I was on the bench for the away game, it was quite early on in the season and I wasn’t playing so much, but I started the second game when we won 3-2,’ he remembers. ‘We beat them home and away that season so I have good memories of playing Ajax and three wins from three - hopefully we can carry that on!
‘They were doing so well in the league. Ajax and PSV are the biggest games in the Eredivisie and we played well against them. It’s great to come up against players like Siem de Jong, Matthijs de Ligt, Donny van de Beek. You see what they were doing then, what they’re doing now, how they’ve progressed and how I’ve progressed as well.
‘We’ve gone down other paths but Van de Beek is still there and he’s a very good player. It’s always good to play against top players that are young and up-and-coming.’
Four years ago this week, a 16-year-old Mount scored a brace for our Under-18s in a 4-4 thriller away at Aston Villa. They were his first goals for the youth team and even then his prodigious teenage talent was being tipped for great things. Yet even his biggest supporters could not have envisaged such a rapid rise in role and reputation.
From Cobham to Arnhem and the Championship to the Champions League, Mount has scaled impressive heights already in his fledgling career. The thrilling thing for him as he prepares to do battle with Ajax again this evening is that the journey has only just begun.
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