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Stuart Dallas: Player of The Season shoe-in

The midfielder’s heroic brace against Manchester City cemented his place in contention for back-to-back POTS awards at Leeds.

Manchester City v Leeds United - Premier League
Stuart Dallas reels away in celebration after his and Leeds’ winning goal against Manchester City
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

There was a very brief moment caught on camera during that 2nd half, just short of the hour mark when Ilkay Gundogan replaced Nathan Ake. The camera panned onto the City midfielder who made for Stuart Dallas and the two shared a little pat. A nod. A friendly acknowledgement.

Dallas and Gundogan have no affiliation. They have never been at the same club, nor are they international teammates. There is no burgeoning friendship between the two.

Class recognises class.

And Stuart Dallas is class. His five seasons in the Championship with Leeds United, and more specifically his two seasons in that league under Bielsa, were defined by one football cliche: Utility man. To label Dallas once again this season as a mere utility man is much like describing a Bentley Continental as ‘a good runner, capable of getting you from A to B’.

It’s almost an insult to say his biggest strength is his versatility. Yes, he can play just as well at right-back or left-back as he can in central-midfield, but Dallas is no longer a ‘fill-in’ player. Gone are the days of the Northern Ireland international being drafted in to ‘put a shift in’ in place of a specialist full-back or midfielder. He has made that number eight role his own, and he is quickly becoming the first name on the team sheet - and the front-runner for another Player of The Season.

His brace in the 2-1 win at champions elect Manchester City epitomised everything that makes Dallas the player he is. His first, a beautifully driven shot to follow an intelligent late emergence on the edge of the City box, skimmed across the slick Etihad turf before smashing the inside of the post and trickling into net on the other side - what I like to call a ‘worm-burner’.

The winner was the thing of dreams. I said to my mates at half-time I thought we’d counter and win 2-0. At 1-1 I said I reckon we’ll still win it. I meant neither.

An entire half with a man down, backs to the wall, against one of - if not the - best side in Europe and certain Premier League champions. Yet in the 91st minute Dallas mustered up the energy for one final run. Past Fernandinho. Past John Stones. Through the legs of Ederson. 2-1. Ecstasy.

The final act of an incredible performance.

The goals will get the headlines, rightly so, but Dallas’ performance at the Etihad was one of his best in a Leeds shirt. It’s no surprise, as the game suited him down to a T. An old chant wished for a team of Michael Browns, but nine Dallas’ and Illan Meslier in goal might well have been perfect for today.

He was industrious throughout the first 45, sticking tightly to City’s midfield and bombing forward intelligently. Under City’s 2nd half pressure he and Kalvin Phillips marshalled the space immediately outside their own 18-yard box. It was tireless, yet he still manages to find that final run. His numbers speak for themselves:

With that performance Dallas has again strengthened his claim for Player of The Season. Even in a season that has seen Phillips earn his England spot, Bamford hit 20 goal involvements, and Raphinha be Raphinha, it is Stuart Dallas that, week after week, catches the eye of the majority.

You have to ask whether his performances change the outlook of part of Leeds’ summer transfer plans. There has, since the long-gone Rodrigo De Paul rumours, forever been talk of prioritising a new first-team quality number eight to replace Dallas. But what if Dallas is exactly that? If he has been Leeds’ best player this season whilst playing the vast majority of his games as an eight, then why do we need to replace him?

Reinforcements are needed, but the transfer kitty will be limited this summer and the performances of Dallas have cemented his place in the team. Some would suggest bringing in a younger, cheaper understudy to the likes of Dallas and Klich, someone similar to the understudy they are pursuing for Phillips.

Whatever is done this summer, and whoever comes in to that midfield, there is no doubt that Dallas will be right in the mix as one of Leeds’ best / most important players once again next season. His skills are as important for a top-half Premier League side as they were for a mid-table Championship side. To Bielsa he is invaluable. To us he is irreplaceable.

To the rest of the squad, he is just Stuey.