EFL Reporter @simgholam
Jack Clarke having breakout season at Leeds
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Last Updated: 02/02/19 5:34pm
Jack Clarke may have made just 15 senior appearances, but the winger has made a huge impression at Leeds this season. We take a look at why the 18-year-old is so special...
It took a couple of months of the season for Clarke to make his debut. As injury problems mounted Marcelo Bielsa was forced to turn to the academy and the youngster was given 20 minutes at the end of their 1-1 draw with Brentford on October 6, helping them salvage a late draw.
A few more cameos would follow but his first major impact would come at the start of December when he came on to set up the only goal of the game against Sheffield United.
His real breakout performance was against Aston Villa, though, in a blockbuster clash just before Christmas. Leeds were trailing by two goals when he was introduced at half-time, but a stunning solo effort - his first senior goal - turned the match at Villa Park on its head and they went on to grab a vital 3-2 win.
"When I started to look at his skills I didn't imagine that he could make the difference as he's making the difference now," Bielsa said after their win over Villa.
"As every young player, I think he can improve a lot, but at the same time he has to confirm his level and he has to show what he is capable of."
A second goal would follow in a 4-2 defeat to Nottingham Forest on New Year's Day, and against Derby on January 11 - in a game dominated by the 'Spygate' build-up and fallout - he was handed his first start by Bielsa and took his opportunity with both hands as he played a crucial role in both goals in a 2-0 win. He set up the first for Kemar Roofe then helped create the second for Jack Harrison.
Clarke's stats are already impressive. His key quality is dribbling and he is already third best in the Championship for dribbles completed per 90 minutes (2.96) for the entire season and second best since his debut.
For Leeds, he has also proven himself to be a key figure. Since his debut he has had more touches in the opposition box per 90 minutes than any other member of Bielsa's squad (6.55) - Kemar Roofe is second (5.43) and Jack Harrison is third (4.79).
He has also almost completed more dribbles per 90 minutes than the next three combined - Harrison (1.35), Pablo Hernandez (1.12) and Mateusz Klich (1.05).
Jack Clarke - Key Championship stats (since his Leeds debut on October 6, 2018)
|Per 90 mins||Leeds rank|
|Touches in opp box||6.55||1st|
|Goals + assists||0.62||=2nd|
Clarke also has the joint-second most goal involvements per 90 minutes since his debut (level with Kemar Roofe on 0.62), with only Hernandez (0.81) ahead of them, and he has created the third most chances from open play (1.72), compared with Hernandez (2.23) and Ezgjan Alioski (1.80).
'Unpredictability the key'
Andy Hinchcliffe has been impressed. The Sky Sports pundit was in the commentary box for the games against Aston Villa and Derby, and believes it is Clarke's unpredictability that has been his key asset so far.
"Clarke is a genuine wide player but he can operate down the right and left," he said. "You saw against Aston Villa and Derby how much impact he can have on either side.
"Most wingers now are either naturally wide or naturally used to playing on the opposite side and coming in, so if you can do both it gives you a huge advantage against your full-back, because he won't know which way to force you.
"Now he has a bit of a reputation and he is a bit less on an unknown quantity, though. So it will be interesting to see how he adapts to that."
Hinchcliffe understands the attention that Clarke is getting due to the dramatic impact he has had, but he feels the best place for him right now is to stay at Leeds and learn under Bielsa.
"We are seeing a lot of these young players now in the Championship getting noticed because they are playing well and playing regularly in an extremely competitive league," the Sky Sports pundit continued.
"He is so young and his game will develop, but he is learning from the very best and he will improve very quickly. Bielsa will put the same demands on him as every other player, regardless of his age, and that will help him grow up on and off the pitch.
"He has played so few games but his confidence has grown immensely and it will be good to see how much he can develop between now and the end of the season if he keeps playing regularly.
"He looks so mature and comfortable already, and he has a massive future ahead of him."