Spotlight on Eddie Nketiah after Arsenal loanee is handed first Leeds United league start in Patrick Bamford absence
MARCELO BIELSA felt Eddie Nketiah took a "big step forward" in Sunday's epic clash at Birmingham City in which the forward's passing and not shooting stood out on the figures.
Arsenal loanee Nketiah was finally handed his first Whites league start in Sunday's Championship encounter at St Andrew's with top scorer Patrick Bamford missing the fixture with a slight quad injury.
That settled any debate as to whether Whites head coach Bielsa should opt to start Bamford and Nketiah together either as a front two or with one behind the other and Bamford perhaps as a no 10.
But instead Nketiah was tasked with repeating the tiresome and stellar hold up play regularly produced by Bamford who also now sits on ten goals and two assists for the campaign.
Nketiah, meanwhile, was looking to add to his haul of three goals but the England under-21 international who is regarded as a potent and clinical finisher was unable to fashion a shot on goal whereas Blues lone striker Lukas Jutkiewicz managed four, netting twice.
Jutkiewicz, at six foot one, not surprisingly also won more aerial duels, 50 per cent of those challenged for with seven successful compared to Nketiah who won 30 per cent of his aerial battles, coming out on top in three.
But the overall contribution of Nketiah was praised by Bielsa and the Arsenal loanee outshone Jutkiewicz with a 75 per cent passing success rate from his 16 passes. Jutkiewicz's came in at 42 per cent with 11 of 26 attempted passes accurate.
In total, Nketiah had 31 touches (2.1 per cent of the play) but the forward was only dispossessed once with the young Gunner successful in his only tackle, fouled once and twice offside.
Nketiah's work proved particularly important to United's second goal scored by Jack Harrison and after soldiering on for 81 minutes, the young Gunner was finally taken off for the returning Tyler Roberts who moved upfront.
Roberts had eight touches, making five passes, four of which were accurate with one shot blocked. He was also successful with his only attempted tackle with Roberts and Nketiah both getting a taste of the demands placed on Bamford.
Bielsa is now optimistic Bamford will be back available for the New Year's Day clash at West Brom.
But either way, while uncertainty remains about Nketiah's future and whether Arsenal will recall him, the young Gunner now has 81 minutes from the off as Bielsa's lone striker under his belt.