The ‘Leeds born’ Duracell Bunny from Ulster
01 Feb 2021 06:41 pm, by SLadley17
There has been some amusement within the world of Leeds United fans on social media over the past few weeks. At least twice (rumours of a third) in recent games has Leeds United’s number 15 been described as ‘Leeds born’ by the commentators reporting on the game live. We can only smile and assume it is their notes that are letting them down; knowing every Premier League player’s details is a difficult task and if anyone was to go under the radar and have his details and facts left until last to be checked it would of course be Stuart Dallas. The man who never stops running is slowly but surely being realised as a key cog in this Leeds United system.
Dallas’ equaliser at the King Power Stadium yesterday was his 4th league goal of the season as he latched on to a pass in behind from Patrick Bamford to fire expertly across Kasper Schmeichel. Leicester’s record of 10 wins from 10 games flashed across the screen shortly after they took the lead through Harvey Barnes’ goal but Dallas’ intervention just 2 minutes later ensured they weren’t ahead for long enough to settle into their lead. The goal itself highlighted so much of what Bielsa’s Leeds look like in full flow: A full black marauding forward in possession, a number 9 able to link and create and a midfield runner eager to penetrate the opposition’s back line.
For large parts of this season Dallas would have been part 1 of the goal described above, with his energy and drive seeing him often deployed at full back for Leeds over the past 18 months. But since Bielsa made the decision to not pick a fit and available Mateusz Klich in a league game for the first time in 2 and a half years (post-promotion hangover at Derby aside) against Newcastle on Tuesday, Dallas’ position has once again shifted. Selected in central midfield in the last two games, Dallas has slotted in seamlessly and perhaps brought a new level of resilience to the Leeds spine. It was telling that in the second half at Leicester it was Dallas tasked with man marking Leicester’s main creative threat in James Maddison, leaving Phillips and Klich (on for the injured Rodrigo) to pick up the two orthodox opposition midfield players. Telling in the sense Dallas is the man trusted by Bielsa perhaps more than anyone else in the Leeds squad and regardless of who is fit and in-form around him it is not a question of whether Dallas starts for Leeds but a constant question of where.
Trying to break down where Dallas has played this season is not a straightforward task as it is he who normally adapts to any formation change that Leeds employ within games. The Northern Irish international has started all 20 Premier League games for Leeds this season, playing every minute except the last 10 in the 4-1 defeat to Leicester. During this time he has started at right back, left back, right wing back and central midfield, as well as often changing position mid game as Leeds bring fresh legs on to the pitch in place of those around him. If that is not enough demonstration of his versatility then the 4 goals he has scored so far maybe hammer home the point: A cross from the left that crept in the far corner at home to Leicester, a 25-yard strike from a central area into the top corner at Old Trafford, a marauding back post header from right back against Newcastle and a midfield burst in behind Leicester’s defence to equalise on Sunday are about as varied as 4 goals could possibly be.
Bielsa spoke briefly after the win on Sunday about his pride in the players who played under him in the Championship now adapting to the Premier League. He also made a point of insisting they are there on merit and off the back of their own work rate and improvement and not any divine intervention from himself and his coaching team. Whilst the players seem to be unanimous in attributing much of their improvement down to Bielsa, Dallas perhaps epitomises their rise more than anyone. Seen as a reliable but fairly limited Championship level wide player, both when he joined and throughout his first 3 years at Leeds, no Leeds fan could have foreseen his game reaching the heights it currently is. Where many looked at Dallas and saw a lack of flair or finesse, Bielsa looked and saw work rate combined with an all-round strong technical game that made him adaptable and valuable in the Argentines eyes. Even coming into this campaign many would have seen Dallas as someone who may struggle at this level but now more than ever before his importance to Leeds and Bielsa cannot be under stated. Whilst his accent may not be Leeds, his playing style and energy certainly is and it is for this reason that the Ulsterman will continue to thrive under Bielsa wherever in the team he is selected.