How Ryan Mason cemented his 'undroppable' reputation at Sunderland
It took Tottenham 82 minutes to find the breakthrough against a badly disorganised Sunderland side, but it was entirely fitting that the goal came from Ryan Mason. The English midfielder rounded off an excellent exchange with Erik Lamela by running through on goal and dinking the ball over Costel Pantilimon for the winner. It was his final contribution of the game – the collision with Sunderland’s goalkeeper meant he could play no further part. But the goal was worth the injury, and Mason would have travelled back to London safe in the knowledge he has become almost undroppable.
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Mason was quietly impressive last season, forming a reliable central midfield partnership with Nabil Bentaleb. Still, it was the Algerian who impressed more with his command of the centre, with Mason buzzing around and doing the unfashionable, unnoticed things – pressing well, keeping his distribution simple, sometimes making good off-the-ball runs.
This season, Bentaleb has faded. He was wretched in the opening-day defeat at Old Trafford and has more recently been injured. Mauricio Pochettino has been using Eric Dier in central midfield, and as a converted defender he doesn’t quite have the technical qualities needed in a more advanced role. Therefore, it’s encouraged Mason to step up, take responsibility and start commanding matches regularly.
The Stats Zone statistics summarise his dominance against Sunderland. He played the most passes – 69, some 21 clear of his nearest challenger in this respect, Ben Davies. Crucially, 29 of these passes were played into the final third, also the most in the game, and he also created 2 chances for team-mates.
Against a Sunderland side which applied little midfield pressure, Mason helped put Spurs in charge, and then gradually helped them make inroads, too. Mason’s reliable distribution is nothing new, but this weekend it was obvious that he’d become more adventurous with his use of possession.
He repeatedly switched play out to the right flank towards Kyle Walker, which was crucial as Sunderland left-winger Fabio Borini made little effort to track back, meaning Spurs’ best chance of attacking dangerously was down their right. Mason recognised that, and directed play to that side efficiently.
Mason also created a couple of chances with neat forward passes, although it would be good to see him locating Harry Kane more frequently. Kane is still developing tactically, but tends to drop into deeper positions between the lines to collect the ball from midfield – and without significant movement past him from the two wide players, he needs balls into feet for this movement to be worthwhile. Those reverse runs from the wide players might become more common when Son Heung-min settles into the side.
Still, in this match it was Mason who provided the crucial run in behind. The space was created by Younes Kaboul sticking too tight to Kane, which created the room for Mason to burst into – and he took full advantage by scoring only his second Spurs goal. It’s arguable that Mason has been Tottenham’s most impressive performer this season, and he’s also increasingly becoming a symbol of the team, too.
"The club now look for players who fit the bill: players who want to work hard, who want to do the work in training,” he told Sky Sports before his starring contribution on Sunday. "The focus is on players coming through the youth system.” As a player who first joined the club nearly 15 years ago, and is now providing match-winning contributions, Mason is the perfect example.