Stuart Dallas has proven his importance to the Leeds side once again, proving crucial to the Whites largely thanks to his incredible versatility. The Northern Ireland international has now played in four different positions this season and without that ability to adapt so quickly, Leeds might have struggled. Turning 30 in April, though, he won’t last forever.
The 29-year-old started the season at Anfield on the left side of the defence – and has featured at left-back more than any other position so far. But with Luke Ayling moving into centre-back to cover the earlier defensive crisis, Dallas was used at right-back by Bielsa – despite being left-footed. More recently, he has adopted a different position in the middle of the park.
Replacing an out-of-form Mateusz Klich, he has played in the eight role – and even with Rodrigo suffering a groin issue against Leicester, Dallas has even played in attacking midfield. This is, despite naturally being a winger – at least, that is what Leeds signed him as back in 2015 from Brentford. 220 appearances later, and he is firmly the club’s utility man.
His importance could not be higher given his enormous quality, and his ability to produce said quality in numerous positions. But given he enters his thirties in April, Leeds will not be able to rely on the 52-time international forever. But luckily, Bielsa may have just hinted that he has the ideal long-term replacement for Dallas – and he is already at the club.
Speaking about Niall Huggins, the 20-year-old who made his debut in the 4-2 defeat to Arsenal, Bielsa told his pre-Fulham press conference on Wednesday that the Wales Under-21 ace can basically play anywhere: “He can play as a full-back on the left or right, or as a midfielder accompanying a more defensive midfielder.
“He can play with ease on both sides, left or right. Originally he was a winger/offensive midfielder,” Bielsa continued, as quoted by Leeds Live during Wednesday afternoon’s press conference. “This gives him more resources in possession and he can play in all three heights of the pitch. Apart from that he has a physical performance above the norm.”
While Dallas seemingly has the stamina and capacity to continue for at least the next three years, Leeds already have the ideal replacement in Huggins – if Bielsa’s claims about his versatility are true. Having initially started in attack from either flank, Huggins has since been used on either side of the defence or in midfield by Mark Jackson.
In a shorter space of time, the Wales youth international has copied Dallas’ progression through numerous different positions. He is the eventual heir to utility player Dallas.