Mason Mount already looks a shoo-in for Gareth Southgate’s Euro 2020 squad and recent evidence suggests he will have a place in the starting line-up too.
The 22-year-old followed up his eye-catching performance in the 5-0 victory over San Marino with another impressive showing against Albania on Sunday as England continued their winning start to World Cup qualifying with a 2-0 victory in Tirana.
Southgate praised Mount for “setting the tone” against San Marino and he was similarly influential against Albania, scoring his fourth England goal in his 15th appearance when he latched onto Harry Kane’s pass and finished coolly into the corner.
Mount was one of five players to keep his place in the side from Wednesday’s win at Wembley but what’s more telling is he is the only one to have started their last seven in all competitions.
It’s a run which dates back to the Nations League win over Belgium in October and it reflects his growing importance to Southgate.
The England manager praised his versatility and intelligence after the San Marino game – “he can play four, eight or 10,” he said – and it was in the latter position that he shone against Albania.
There was a rare moment of sloppiness early on when he gifted possession to Albania following an England corner, allowing the hosts to break forward, but he barely put a foot wrong after that.
As always, he was instrumental in England’s pressing game, chasing down red-shirted defenders high up the pitch and tracking back diligently too. No England player made more tackles.
It was that off-the-ball alertness that put him in the right position to double England’s lead midway through the second half.
Mount was already sprinting towards Qazim Laci, the intended target of Keidi Bare’s pass, when Raheem Sterling made the interception, and simply continued his run from there.
The subsequent finish showed his ruthless streak, something Southgate will be eager to see more of, and it was not his only eye-catching moment on the ball over the course of the 90 minutes.
Indeed, while the main protagonists in England’s opener were Harry Kane, the scorer, Luke Shaw, the crosser, it was Mount who kept the move alive before that, holding off his man and steering a high ball into the feet of Sterling using the outside of his boot.
Mount linked up well with Sterling and Phil Foden in the wide positions and there were glimpses of his passing ability too.
A superb through-ball put Sterling in behind the Albania defence shortly after half-time and he almost repeated the trick a few minutes later – only for goalkeeper Erit Berisha to come charging off his line and clear the danger.
Mount was a source of energy and attacking threat right up until the final whistle and earned more praise from Southgate afterwards.
“He’s an exceptional player,” he said. “He finds space intelligently, manipulates the ball very well, creates chances, scores goals. I thought his performance was excellent.”
It has been a similar story for Mount at club level this season.
Thomas Tuchel actually dropped Mount for his first game in charge against Wolves in January, a hint he may not feature as prominently as he did under Frank Lampard, but since then he has become as important to the new manager as he was to the old one.
Tuchel revealed he told Mount he wanted him to become “more decisive and dangerous in the last 20 metres” following his appointment and the academy graduate has responded with three goals in his last six Premier League starts.
“I cannot tell you where his limit is,” said Tuchel.
Southgate is evidently just as excited about Mount and his goal against Albania was just the latest example of what he is adding to his game. With nine goals for club and country so far this season, he has already matched his total for the whole of the last campaign.
Mount looks set to play a key role both domestically and internationally in the months ahead and, despite his growing status, there seems little danger of complacency or a loss of focus.
In fact, when asked about his performance in a press conference after Sunday’s game, the first thing Mount mentioned was the first-half error that allowed Albania to break forward. “The little mistakes are always the ones that stick in my head,” he said.
He was pressed on his chances of starting in England’s clash with Poland on Wednesday too. “My mentality is always to just keep working hard,” came his answer.
Responses like those are just another reason why Mount is so highly valued by his managers.
It is only a few months ago that Southgate was facing fierce criticism for preferring him to Jack Grealish, and while there are plenty who would still like to see the latter included at this summer’s Euros, there cannot be too many left objecting to Mount’s place in the side.