Jamie Shackleton is a player shaped in Marcelo Bielsa's image

Matt O'Connor-Simpson
Dec 30, 2020, 5:45 PM GMT
Shackleton has made a solid start to life in the Premier League
Shackleton has made a solid start to life in the Premier League | PHIL NOBLE/Getty Images

There was a hell of a lot for Leeds fans to get 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's peace. Kalvin Phillips put in one of his best performances since promotion, defending superbly and also wreaking havoc with his trademark, sweeping crossfield passes.

Three of their goals were fantastic as well. Raphinha's superb left-footed curler was probably the pick of the bunch, but a thunderous strike from Ezgjan Alioski and a fine solo effort from Jack Harrison ran him very close.

Amid all of this excitement, one positive that flew under the radar somewhat was Jamie Shackleton's encouraging 34 minute cameo. Replacing the impressive Mateusz Klich just before the hour mark, Shackleton didn't put a foot wrong.

Yes, Leeds were already 4-0 up against a horrific West Brom side by the time he came on but he was still one of his side's strongest second half performers, managing to rack up a tackle, an interception, three pressures and 14 completed passes before full time.

The highlight was his involvement in the Whites' fifth goal. It began with Stuart Dallas driving forward, before attempting a one-two with Shackleton. Despite being under heavy pressure from two opponents, he managed to steer his return pass through the eye of an needle, allowing Dallas to take it in his stride and then offload it to the goalscorer, Raphinha.

Shackleton played his part in Leeds' fifth goal
Shackleton played his part in Leeds' fifth goal | Pool/Getty Images

The swift, counter attacking move was one that Leeds fans have seen on countless occasions since Marcelo Bielsa took over in 2018. Shackleton's part in it was evidence of how the tenacious 21-year-old has been shaped in El Loco's image over the past few seasons.

Ever since Bielsa arrived at the club, he has taken a shine to him. Shackleton came on as a substitute in his second ever game in charge and was then afforded his first senior start two weeks later.

In the latter of these appearances he even registered an assist, setting up Kemar Roofe's equaliser from right-back. Despite this, the majority of Shackleton's appearances have come in central midfield. Well, that's what the stats sheet says anyway.

In practice, thanks to Bielsa's man marking based pressing, positions often blend into one. Understanding what is required to make this high risk, high reward system function, requires a strong level of footballing intelligence - something that Shackleton possesses.

Although he has often come on during mentally challenging situations, such as finely poised games against West Ham and Burnley, as well as partway through Leeds' mauling at the hands of Manchester United, he has never looked like his team's weak link.

Shackleton is not a mere spectator to the controlled chaos ensuing around him, he is always involved in the game, clearly trusted by his manager to understand his complex role.

It surely won't be long before he forces his way into contention
It surely won't be long before he forces his way into contention | David Rogers/Getty Images

Knowing the system like the back of his hand is not the only evidence of El Loco's influence. Shackleton's boundless energy is another classic trope of your archetypal Bielsa player. Not to mention his supreme technical ability that also suits him well to a side who have enjoyed the third highest possession in the Premier League so far this season.

There is a growing feeling that it will not be long until Shackleton manages to force his way into the starting XI. Although whoever does gets dropped down the pecking order will feel hard done by, a player this perfectly suited to Bielsa's system cannot be confined to the substitutes bench for much longer.