After Kalvin Phillips was ruled out with a calf problem against Arsenal in the Premier League last week, Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa turned towards young starlet Jamie Shackleton as one of the players to be thrown into the starting line-up.
The 21-year-old started the game at the Emirates in an unfamiliar role at right-back, before being asked to play in central midfield in the mid-week clash against Wolves.
Though both games ended in a Leeds defeat, there were promising signs from Shackleton, with Leeds Live declaring that his passing against Nuno Espirito Santo’s side showed decision-making and maturity beyond his years as he operated in a more no.6 role.
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But with Bielsa confirming that Phillips is once again set to miss another Whites game, this time at home to Southampton on Tuesday night, the Leeds boss may be more inclined to unleash Shackleton as a more box-to-box presence.
Speaking in his pre-match press conference ahead of the game against the Saints tonight, Bielsa said: “I believe in Shackleton as an important alternative for Leeds United. He’s in a similar process to that of Pascal (Struijk).
“The only thing is that Pascal has a continuity that Shackleton hasn’t been able to have. I conisder him a player that I can trust and I’m satisfied with what he has brought to the team. Apart from that, he is a very serious player, very applied and very conscious of what is needed to play at this level.”
Against Wolves, it was Mateusz Klich operating in that box-to-box role, but Shackleton’s youthful energy and dynamism could be exactly what is needed to pose the opposition a slightly different threat than the ones they’ve faced over the past couple of games.
Speaking after his cameo in that 5-0 win over West Brom earlier this season, the Leeds boss said of the 21-year-old: “Good organisation, energetic, he’s quick, he can surprise opponents, plays in a position which has many varieties as a box-to-box midfielder.”
And, after he produced an energetic display against Aston Villa, Leeds Live’s Beren Cross wrote: “Settled in so quickly and linked up the play between midfield and attack beautifully. So important for his confidence and visualising himself in this team going forward. Tireless running and helped Klich win that midfield battle with McGinn and Barkley.”
Allowing him more licence to roam and join up with Leeds’ attacks may be the third successive different role that Shackleton has been used in over the past week or so, but it could be the key to getting the best out of him, and in turn change the Whites’ fortunes.
Bielsa desperately needs something to click in Phillips’ absence, and giving Shackleton the chance to break free from his more defensive-minded shackles and keeping things simple against Wolves, could be a real game-changer for tonight.