After seeing Kalvin Phillips limp off in the dying minutes of Leeds’ 2-0 win over Crystal Palace, Marcelo Bielsa will no doubt be sweating over his talisman’s fitness during this week.
The Athletic’s Phil Hay revealed after the game that it was “too early to say” about the midfielder, but considering that he initially seemed to go down with a calf problem, he faces a real race against time to make the Premier League game against Arsenal at the Emirates on Sunday.
But in Jamie Shackleton, Bielsa could find his saviour.
The 20-year-old has been on the fringes of Leeds’ long-awaited return to the Premier League, playing just 296 minutes of football in the top-flight.
And quite recently, Bielsa hasn’t even turned to him as an option off the bench – barring the two minutes that he came on to replace Phillips against Palace last time out, Shackleton remained an unused sub for the past four Premier League matches.
But with question marks over Phillips’ availability, Bielsa must unleash Shackleton on Sunday when they travel to north London to take on Arsenal.
Speaking after his cameo in that 5-0 win over West Brom earlier this season, the Leeds boss said: “Good organisation, energetic, he’s quick, he can surprise opponents, plays in a position which has many varieties as a box-to-box midfielder.”
Shackleton wouldn’t exactly be a like-for-like replacement for Phillips, but his extra energy and dynamism could counter Arsenal’s young guns well.
The likes of Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka have been two of Arsenal’s stand-out players in recent weeks, and Shackleton’s own youthful endeavour could be key to combating that – his average of 0.8 interceptions per game in the Premier League ranks him seventh among his Leeds teammates, while he actually gets dribbled past the least amount in the squad, just 0.5 times per match.
And, after he produced a tigerish performance 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.”
On Sunday, Leeds will need every bit of that tireless running as they try and find a unique way to replace Phillips. Shackleton’s introduction to the starting eleven could prove to be a masterstroke from Bielsa and one that helps the Whites boss forget all about his main midfield man.