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There were many things that Leeds fans got excited about during their 5-0 win over West Brom on Tuesday night.
The visitors dominated in every sense of the word, enjoying a staggering 76% possession and not giving their opponents a moment of peace. Kalvin Phillips put on one of his best performances since promotion, defending superbly and also wreaking havoc with his trademark, cross-sweeping passes.
Three of his goals were also fantastic. Raphinha’s gorgeous left-handed curling iron was probably the best pick of the bunch, but a thunderous punch from Ezgjan Alioski and a good solo effort from Jack Harrison brought it very close.
In the midst of all this excitement, one positive that went unnoticed was Jamie Shackleton’s heartening 34-minute cameo. Substituting for the impressive Mateusz Klich just before time, Shackleton was not wrong.
Yes, Leeds already had a 4-0 lead against a horrible West Brom team when they came in, but they were still one of the best players in the second half of their team, managing to rack up one tackle, one interception, three pressures and 14 complete passes. before full time.
The highlight was his involvement in the fifth white goal. It started with Stuart Dallas advancing, before attempting a double with Shackleton. Despite being under heavy pressure from two opponents, he managed to direct his pass back through the eye of a needle, allowing Dallas to take it in stride and then unload it on striker Raphinha.
The swift counterattack move was one that Leeds fans have seen countless times since Marcelo Bielsa took office in 2018 – Shackleton’s involvement in it was evidence of how the tenacious 21-year-old has formed in the picture. of El Loco in the last few years. seasons.
Since Bielsa arrived at the club he has taken on shine. Shackleton came in as a backup in his second game in charge and was then allowed his first senior start two weeks later.
In the last of these appearances he even recorded an assist, setting up Kemar Roofe’s draw from the right side. Despite this, most of Shackleton’s appearances have come in central midfield. Well that’s what the stat sheet says anyway.
In practice, thanks to the pressing based on the Bielsa man marking, the positions are often mixed into one. Understanding what is required to make this high-risk, high-reward system work requires a high level of football intelligence, something Shackleton possesses.
Although he has often appeared in mentally challenging situations, such as well-balanced matches against West Ham and Burnley, as well as in the middle of Leeds’s attack at the hands of Manchester United, he has never been seen as the weak link in his team.
Shackleton is not a mere bystander to the controlled chaos that ensues around him, he is always involved in the game, and his manager is clearly confident that he will understand his complex role.
Knowing the system like the back of your hand is not the only evidence of El Loco’s influence. Shackleton’s Limitless Energy is another classic trope of your archetypal Bielsa gamer. Not to mention his supreme technical ability that also suits a team that has enjoyed the third highest possession in the Premier League so far this season.
There’s a growing sense that it won’t be long before Shackleton makes his way to the starting eleven. Although whoever does so will be affected by the hierarchical order, a player this perfectly adapted to Bielsa’s system cannot be on the substitute bench for much longer.