Stuart Dallas trajectory not done with yet as Cookstown Cafu eyes further Leeds United progress

Stuart Dallas would do well to repeat last season’s heroics, never mind better them.

Saturday, 14th August 2021, 4:45 am

The Northern Irishman was named both the club’s player of the year and players’ player of the year as part of Leeds United’s long awaited top-flight return.

Completing a glorious awards hat-trick, his strike in April’s memorable victory at Manchester City was also named United’s goal of the season as part of a dream campaign for the Ulsterman.

Not bad for a player signed from Brentford for just £1.3m way back in August 2015 who has occupied just about every position in the Whites team in the six years that have followed.

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MORE TO COME: From Leeds United's player of the year Stuart Dallas, even after last season's incredible displays. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

Yet United’s player of the year believes he has even more improvement in the locker and tellingly reckons he is in even better shape than this time last year.

Dallas played a staggering 51 games for club and country during the 2020-21 campaign which began with Nations League clashes with Northern Ireland before United’s Premier League opener at Liverpool.

But one year on, the player nicknamed the Cookstown Cafu has had a full pre-season with Marcelo Bielsa’s Whites and is champing at the bit ahead of his club’s second season back in the top flight.

Dallas came through his and United’s final warm-up match ahead of the new season by playing the full duration of last weekend’s 2-2 draw against lofty opponents in Europa League holders Villarreal.

This time, a player who was signed as a winger was deployed as a left-back.

Last season, some of the Northern Irishman’s best moments came as a centre midfielder, including his dramatic late winner at champions Manchester City.

But even in spite of last season’s brilliance, Dallas is optimistic the best is yet to come – though in what position remains to be seen.

“I think there’s more still to come, I do,” Dallas told the YEP.

“I’m fit, I have obviously completed pre-season now and I am probably in a better condition than I was last year.

“Whether I start the games or not I don’t know.

“It’s the manager’s decision.

“I am feeling fit and ready to go.

“I was playing left-back again in the final friendly against Villarreal and I don’t know what the manager will do.

“But I want to improve, I want the team to improve as well and I am just looking forward to starting again.”

For Dallas and Leeds it all begins today with a clash against the club’s biggest rivals as Bielsa’s Whites take on Manchester United in a lunchtime kick-off at Old Trafford.

For the first time in 18 months, Leeds will be yelled on by a visiting Whites contingent at another team’s ground as restrictions in the fight against coronavirus are finally lifted.

The Whites will take 3,000 supporters to Old Trafford.

Then, one week later, Elland Road will be full of around 35,000 of them for the visit of Everton.

For Dallas, even this summer’s pre-season friendly against Ajax in Amsterdam whetted the appetite for the return of United’s fans and Leeds supporters were not even there.

Whites supporters were not allowed to travel to the Netherlands due to Covid restrictions meaning only home supporters were in the stands but everything changes from this weekend.

“It will be great to have the fans back in the stadium, of course,” said Dallas.

“And there is no better game to start it than away from home at Man United.

“We are looking forward to having them back and we haven’t experienced that.

“We had a taste as we had a good atmosphere in the Ajax game the other night and it was a bit different again against Villarreal with no fans again.

“But it will be good.

“It’s obviously our second season and we are looking to progress and improve on last season.”

Rather like Dallas individually, Leeds have set the bar high with last season’s ninth-placed finish as part of a campaign that featured some amazing highs; victory at Manchester City, a 3-1 triumph at Leicester and generally goals galore.

Yet Dallas knows there is a definite score to settle in his side’s first game back against their arch rivals, eight months on from being blitzed 6-2 at Old Trafford.

“There’s no denying that it’s a huge game,” said Dallas.

“It means a lot to both clubs and as players we know what it’s about.

“We experienced a bad result at their place last year and of course we want to get revenge.

“But it’s the first game of the season and it’s going to be different to last year.

“There is going to be a crowd in and we can’t start the way we did last year because if we do with 70,000 fans in it could be a whole lot different.

“It’s a game we are looking forward to.

“I think the media will build the game up as much as they can and it’s up to us to deliver.”

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Thank you Laura Collins