How Stuart Dallas has epitomised Marcelo Bielsa's 'side before self' spirit at Leeds United

Leeds United's Stuart Dallas celebrates at Stoke City.
Leeds United's Stuart Dallas celebrates at Stoke City.
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Under Marcelo Bielsa’s regime at Leeds United versatility is a prerequisite.

The Argentine demands a lot from his players and his players demand a lot from themselves. To Bielsa they are cogs in a machine, with the whole at Elland Road greater than the sum of its parts.

Stuart Dallas, perhaps, is a player who epitomises Bielsa’s way more than most.

A player who sees his natural position as a winger is showing some of his best football since joining the Elland Road ranks, but as a full-back.

Dallas returned to Thorp Arch a week earlier than required after a busy summer schedule in a bid to hit the ground running, with heartbreak from the play-offs lingering.

Amid the madness in LS11 in May, he was a shining light as he ignited United’s Premier League hopes not once but twice, before they were duly extinguished.

As he celebrated his second goal with a beat of the chest and a loud exclaim, his drive to succeed with the Whites couldn’t be questioned.

He has, though, had his doubters during his four-year stay at the club. And circumstance has provided him with his chance to prove his worth this term. No matter the position.

First choice right-back Luke Ayling has played no part this season due to injury, leaving the door open for Dallas to find a way into the side.

It was left-back in the play-offs, now it’s the right side of defence. And you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who argues against him being Bielsa’s player of the season so far.

“I just want to play football,” Dallas said.

“I give 100 per cent every game. I’m enjoying it. At the end of the day it’s not about me or individuals. It’s all about the team. As long as we keep winning games everyone is happy.

“We know what to expect from each other now. Last season we bought into it from day one. Unfortunately we just couldn’t finish it off last season.

“We’ve learned a lot from that. Everybody is fit. We’ve had a good pre-season and it’s one thing about us that everyone wants success.

“We’re determined to get it this season.”

That determination is evident in the way in which Leeds have started this season. There has been no play-off hangover, but a willingness to right the wrongs of a season in which supporters felt they were destined for so much more.

Bielsa’s men returned to pre-season with a purpose this summer, and Dallas has too. As an attacking full-back, with the attitude of whatever it takes.

The Northern Ireland international celebrated his 150th appearance for the club at Stoke and capped off the afternoon with a 15th competitive goal in a Leeds shirt as he set United on their way to victory.

Dallas, though, was a doubt for the fixture in Staffordshire, but as it turned out he was the key to unlocking the Potters door as Bielsa recorded his fourth win from five league outings this term.

His head coach has praised his qualities, and his team-mates see him as a dependable figure. The ultimate professional as the saying goes, playing and doing whatever is asked of him. It is perhaps that drive that saw him clamber onto the team bus in the first place.

“I keep saying it but we work really hard,” he continued.

“We like to get our full-backs into attacking positions. Gjanni’s worked his socks off up and down the left and he’s been involved in two goals (at Stoke) as well.

“We showed a lot of maturity. We defended when we had to and we attacked really well when we had to.”

Dallas’ opener was prime Bielsa-ball. A move that involved a passage of one touch passing before Pablo Hernandez’s defence-splitting pass allowed Dallas to pounce as he beat James McClean for pace to slot home.

“There was only one thing in my mind,” he said.

“Pablo on the ball, he picks that pass. We’re fortunate to have him at the football club. We’re fortunate to play with him and he’s able to do that.

“You know whenever he gets the ball he can come up with that bit of magic and it’s just a pinpoint pass. Pablo does that all the time. There’s probably no better player to have on the ball.”

It’s the measure of Dallas that he’s quick to praise his teammates rather than take the adulation himself.

And in equal measure he refuses to get carried away by an unbeaten start.

“We can only beat what’s in front of us,” Dallas admitted.

“So far we’ve started really well. But we started really well last year and ended up with nothing so we’ve got to keep ourselves focused.

“We need to keep taking it one game at a time. We don’t look any further forward now than the next game, which is Stoke again.”