IAN HERBERT: Jack Harrison bounced back from rejections at United, City and Liverpool to score at Anfield… he is the epitome of Leeds’ superb spirit
- Jack Harrison symbolises the superb team spirit shown by Marcelo Bielsa’s side
- Harrison has suffered several rejections but has managed to bounce back
- The 23-year-old scored a superb goal as Leeds were beaten 4-3 by Liverpool
Jack Harrison has been dealt enough blows by football to have long since dismissed any notion of stepping out on the opening day of a Premier League season and setting the occasion alight.
Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City: they’ve all weighed Harrison up, signed him on and ultimately concluded he wasn’t really for them.
His mother researched American sports scholarships when the United hopes faded and it was via New York City FC that he reached City – where two uncertainly years out on loan have ensued.
Jack Harrison has bounced back from rejection to feature in the Premier League for Leeds
It’s safe to say, then, that a few academy managers would have felt a shudder of apprehension, ten minutes or so into Leeds’ arrival on this stage, when Harrison cushioned a 30-yard diagonal from Kalvin Phillips with his left foot, eased it past Trent Alexander-Arnold with his right without it touching the ground, and had sent the ball past Alisson before anyone in red could get remotely close.
It was a moment of technical excellence that we will still be re-playing nine months from now – enough to have Marcelo Bielsa spilling the coffee he seemed to be drinking pitch-side.
Harrison would have repeated the feat on the hour had he only timed his run onto a long ball fractionally later. The ball was bundled in but he’d been offside. A difficult night for Alexander-Arnold, embarrassed by the long ball again.
Harrison scored a fine goal and gave a good account of himself ín the defeat by Liverpool
Very early days, of course. Time will tell if the testimonies to Harrison’s abilities provided by David Villa and Andrea Pirlo, no less, when they encountered him in New York should have told City and Pep Guardiola to give the 23-year-old a run. But he had done enough by the end to remind us of Marcelo Bielsa’s love of a lost cause.
So had Phillips, player barely given the time of day by some of the managers who preceded Bielsa at Leeds.
Steve Evans would not even give him a place on the bench. Bielsa simply couldn’t fathom why the player was playing in the forward line and not shielding defence. The quality and speed of his distribution on Saturday night suggests he will be another fine addition to this division.
There were others. Luke Ayling, rejected by Arsenal, covered huge ground and was a match for Andy Robertson. Stuart Dallas, an also-ran a few years back, was sure-footed.
Luke Ayling didn’t succeed at Arsenal but coped well in his side’s defeat away to Liverpool
Immediate proof that Bielsa – a coach so obsessed with the technical detail that he ones drew on a player’s boot the place he wanted the ball despatched from – can transcend the lunatic economics of football where players are dropped at a whim and prove that coaching counts. The boys in the old Liverpool Bootroom would certainly have appreciated that.
There were weaknesses of course. The way the Leeds artillery advanced, flooding the Liverpool penalty area with players, left Phillips terribly stranded and overrun at times. For periods, there was not really a Leeds midfield to speak of.
There were defensive errors. A vulnerability to set-pieces that other sides will look to exploit. Three of the four goals conceded were poor.
Kalvin Phillips was barely given the time of day by some of Bielsa’s predecessors at Leeds
But Bielsa’s resolve to stick to his principles – ‘It’s not a question of vanity. It’s a question of conviction and style of play. It’s the only way I know – mean that Leeds will deliver something vibrant and new to a Premier League which can be moribund at times.
They will concede more than most – though Robin Koch will surely improve as he adapts to a pace of football which looked too much for him at times. But sides know that they face some task commanding enough of the ball to exploit the frailties.
Leeds commanded more possession than Liverpool on Saturday night. No-one has left Anfield with that statistic in the past few years. ‘It’s just uncomfortable,’ Jurgen Klopp admitted afterwards. ‘They kill you in a football way. They just don’t stop.’
Mateusz Klich was playing for Kaiserslautern reserves four years ago, the low point of a six-year drifted around the leagues of northern European. Leeds had sent him back out to Italy before Bielsa arrived.
Although he wasn’t happy with the defeat, Bielsa was encouraged by his team’s performance
But he provided all the thinking behind the goal which put Leeds back at 3-3: the ball wide to Helder Costa, the gesture to precisely where he wanted it back and the crashing half volley beyond Alisson.
Bielsa did not actually look that delighted when he arrived to talk at the end of it all. ‘You can never be happy in defeat,’ he said, when somebody pointed this out. But he knew what this performance meant.
‘We are looking to beat the rival in our style,’ he said in the post-match press conference room. ‘Confidence means that you should not be afraid.’ And with his only word of English of the night – ‘thankyou’ – he was gone. This was a serious statement of intent.
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