Inside Lane: Will Ryan Mason stay ahead of Nabil Bentaleb at Tottenham?
11:58 30 September 2014
Tottenham blogger Chris Miller discusses Ryan Mason’s promotion to the first team and where it leaves another academy graduate, Nabil Bentaleb, in Mauricio Pochettino’s pecking order.
In both of Spurs’ last two matches away at Arsenal, a new coach has boldly played 4-4-2 and handed a first league start to a previously untested central midfielder.
Tim Sherwood selected 19-year-old Nabil Bentaleb in January’s FA Cup tie and, on Saturday, Mauricio Pochettino went with 23-year-old Ryan Mason, who had made his first Spurs appearance almost six years ago.
In truth, Pochettino’s selection was arguably more of a 4-2-3-1 formation, and was certainly more defensive-minded than Sherwood’s brave (and, in hindsight, foolish) system.
Where Bentaleb was thrown in at the deep end in a two-man midfield, Mason was brought into a more structured - and therefore more suitable - team, and he took his chance to impress.
Mason, so comfortable in pre-season, picked up an injury just before the campaign kicked off - we might have seen him before now had he been fit.
His injury record means that he requires careful management, and he was given two run-outs for the Under-21 team before he was brought back into the first-team fold.
But when he came off the bench against Nottingham Forest last week I doubt anyone could have imagined the influence that he would have on the result.
First he smashed in the equaliser, and then he had a hand in our second goal. His forward passing and intelligent movement added a sense of purpose to our play.
Mason has been highly thought of at Spurs since he scored 29 goals in 31 appearances for the Under-18s in the 2008/2009 season.
On Saturday, Sky pundit Jamie Redknapp mentioned in the pre-match build-up that he thought a lot of Mason, and that Sherwood was a big fan.
It was Sherwood who arranged for Mason to join Swindon Town on loan last season - his friendship with Swindon’s then director, Lee Power, meant a number of our young players headed west.
Mason’s season at Swindon was - as has so often been the case for him - disrupted by injury. But when he did play, he impressed.
Mason and Bentaleb’s paths have rarely crossed in the Under-21 side, but they have similarities and could easily dovetail. Both are blessed with natural technique and both want to get their heads up and play football.
Where Mason started as a striker or second striker and has slowly moved back into central midfield, Bentaleb has played a number of midfield roles - from No10, to out wide, to a dedicated holding player.
On Saturday, it was Mason’s discipline that impressed. He sat in and was happy to bide his time to move forward. When he did have a chance to carry the ball, he chose his moments well and generally used the ball intelligently.
He also made five tackles and three clearances, which is - I think - notable, given that defending is not his natural game.
Mason possesses qualities that we simply do not have in our other central midfielders and, as such, he could be a vital player for Pochettino - at least until the transfer window opens again.
It is unlikely that he will play every game, but I fully expect that we will see more of him over the coming weeks. Bentaleb, on the other hand, might have to bide his time and try to impress in Europa League matches.
He is an excellent young all-round midfield player, but he perhaps does not possess either the defensive ability of Etienne Capoue, or the attacking vision of Mason. With Mousa Dembele his main competition, he will need to show patience.
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