Leeds United 3 Preston 0 - the final word: Harrison lives up to the hype, Roberts repays faith and Bielsa sticks to his guns
Leeds United defeated Preston North End 3-0 at Elland Road in the Championship on Tuesday evening - but what were the key talking points? Phil Hay has the final word.
Harrison justifies the hype
That Marcelo Bielsa went after the signing of Jack Harrison so directly said much about the winger’s talent and reputation. It was Bielsa who talked Pep Guardiola into releasing Harrison from Manchester City and Bielsa who brought about a loan which Guardiola might otherwise have resisted.
Harrison - a left-footed player who prefers to come in off the right - got his career going in the United States but he has seen little in the way of club football in England and like Lewis Baker, a loan at Middlesbrough last season was largely a waste of time.
At Leeds the first month burned slowly for him: chances in the League Cup, a start against Boro but nothing spectacular. Even on Saturday, when he nicked a late a point at Millwall, much of that game passed him by. But against Preston last night he was in the thick of everything, finding space, passing cleverly and striking a post midway through the second half. Josh Earl will still be trying to work him out.
What looked like a gaping hole created by the absence of Pablo Hernandez might actually be the making of Harrison and as hamstring problems bother Hernandez again, the reality for Bielsa is plain: as gifted as the Spaniard is, Leeds cannot afford to be unduly reliant on him.
Roberts surprises Bielsa - and repays a bit of faith
It was interesting, given Bielsa’s encyclopedic understanding of the game, to hear him say that he had not seen Tyler Roberts as a natural centre-forward. It has long been Roberts’ preferred position and he came good in it during the second half yesterday.
Roberts missed chances at Millwall on Saturday, at least one of which he should have put away, but there was never any suggestion from Bielsa that he would try anyone else up front against Preston. Roberts, after so much time out injured, doubtless needed that faith and support and a very taxing introduction to Championship football will have done him no end of good. In a quiet, understated way, some subtle man-management from Bielsa paid off nicely.
Is Berardi now third choice?
When Pontus Jansson plays as he did against Preston, he looks like the inevitable target of more multi-million pound bids. He was defensively sound to the point of being flawless, even if Preston were less aggressive in pressing United’s backline than they had been in their League Cup win at Elland Road last month.
So which centre-back pairing does Bielsa bank on now? Gaetano Berardi has a knee injury but will be back before long and he is someone who Bielsa warmed to rapidly over the summer. Liam Cooper is United’s captain and suits the way Leeds pass the ball. And Jansson, in Tuesday’s form, makes himself undroppable. Will an unfortunate Berardi return from injury to a seat on the bench?
How long can this unbeaten run persist?
This, now, is Leeds’ best start to a league season since 2009 - eight games unbeaten and counting, as they were under Simon Grayson in League One. Bielsa, though, has some way to go before he beats Grayson’s streak or that seen under Dennis Wise in 2007. Leeds lost at the 13th time of asking in 2009-10 (away at Millwall. Where else?) and went 13 league matches without defeat during Wise’s tenure. If Bielsa equals or eclipses either record, the club will be in business.
Bielsa sticks to his guns - on the field and with the media
It is still plan A for Leeds’ head coach and will be until the day he retires. But off the field there is an equally well defined relationship with the media, a group who Bielsa has always managed in his own way. For the best part of two decades he has done no one-on-one interviews and restricted all access to press conferences alone. On Monday, ahead of Preston’s visit, he made it clear that multiple press conferences in one week were starting to grind his gears - “I do this because it is my obligation,” he said - and at the end of Tuesday’s win, he politely declined a request from a French TV station to speak with him alone. “For the last 20 years I only communicate with the public through press conferences,” Bielsa replied before smiling sweetly and excusing himself. Nice try.