There was plenty for Leeds fans to do in 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’s peace. Kalvin Phillips had one of his best performances since being promoted, defending superbly and wreaking havoc with his trademark, sweeping cross passes.
Three of their goals were also fantastic. Raphinha’s superb left-footed curler was probably the squad’s pick, but a thunderous strike from Ezgjan Alioski and a fine solo effort from Jack Harrison got him close.
Amid all of this excitement, one positive that flew a bit under the radar was Jamie Shackleton’s encouraging 34-minute cameo. Replacing the impressive Mateusz Klich just before the hour, Shackleton was not wrong.
Yes, Leeds were already 4-0 against a horrific West Brom side when they arrived, but he was still one of his team’s best players in the second half, managing to rack up a tackle, interception, three pushes and 14 passes completed. before full time.
The highlight was his involvement in White’s fifth goal. It started with Stuart Dallas up front, before attempting a brace with Shackleton. Despite heavy pressure from two opponents, he managed to steer his return pass through the eye of a needle, allowing Dallas to take it in his stride and then offload it to striker Raphinha.
The fast, counter-attacking move was one that Leeds fans have seen on countless occasions since Marcelo Bielsa took over in 2018. Shackleton’s role in that move was proof of how tenacious the player was 21-year-old has been shaped into the image of El Loco over the past several years. seasons.
Since Bielsa arrived at the club, he took a shine from him. Shackleton came in as a substitute in his second game in charge and then had his first senior start two weeks later.
In the latest of those appearances, he even recorded an assist, setting up Kemar Roofe’s equalizer from the right-back. Despite this, the majority of Shackleton’s appearances have been in central midfield. Well, that’s what the stats sheet says anyway.
In practice, thanks to the pressing based on the marking of the Bielsa man, the positions often merge into one. Understanding what is needed to make this high risk, high reward system work requires a high level of football intelligence – something Shackleton possesses.
Although he has come often in mentally difficult situations, such as well-prepared games against West Ham and Burnley, as well as halfway through Leeds’ mutilation at the hands of Manchester United, he has never looked like the weak link in his team.
Shackleton is no mere spectator of the controlled chaos that ensues around him, he is always involved in the game, clearly trusting his manager to understand his complex role.
Knowing the system like the back of your hand isn’t the only proof of El Loco’s influence. Shackleton’s Unlimited Energy is another classic trope from your archetypal Bielsa player. Not to mention his supreme technical ability which also suits him well for a side that have enjoyed the Premier League’s third highest possession so far this season.
There is a growing feeling that it won’t be long before Shackleton manages to make his way into the starting XI. While anyone who gets dropped in the pecking order will feel difficult to do, a player perfectly suited to Bielsa’s system cannot be confined to the substitutes bench any longer.