Leeds United loanee Jack Harrison looking to seize opportunity under Marcelo Bielsa
The terms of Lewis Baker's loan from Chelsea meant Leeds United were powerless to block his recall even though the club planned to keep him.
Baker’s appearances fell short of the number stipulated by Chelsea and he was gone within days of the January window opening.
Jack Harrison’s involvement under Marcelo Bielsa has been regular enough to deny Manchester City the same right and there is no suggestion that anyone at Eastlands has an issue with the winger seeing out Leeds’ season.
Baker and Harrison were in the same boat before Christmas - in and out of Bielsa’s line-up and never able to properly impress - but the latter has been the better fit.
Harrison is 22 but a late starter in English terms. He cut his teeth with MLS club New York City, part of the stable of teams controlled by Manchester City’s owners, but four games as a substitute on loan at Middlesbrough last year was the sum of his Championship experience.
It has, in the main, been a challenge for him to exert himself at Elland Road. There were flashes of promise in the first half of the season - an 89th-minute equaliser against Millwall, a win over Preston North End in which something lit his fuse - but Harrison said himself that his influence under Bielsa should have been “a lot better.”
His past two league appearances, though, have been two of his more effective: a strong first half away at Nottingham Forest and a goalscoring outing in Friday night’s 2-0 win over Derby County. Harrison admitted his 47th-minute tap-in against Derby, a tap-in laid on by Gjanni Alioski, had lifted a weight from his mind after four months without a goal or an assist.
“As a player looking back at my performances, I think of late I know myself that I can definitely do a lot better,” Harrison said.
“I’ve been working hard to improve on that and getting the goal was a bit of a relief, even if it was only one yard out. It was nice to be able to do that.
“As of now, I’m just focused on doing what I can for the club and improving as a player. I know it’s been a bit of an adaption for me and I’ve learnt a lot since I’ve been here but I need to learn more and keep on improving.”
The door was opened to Harrison recently by Samuel Saiz’s exit to Getafe, a departure which required Pablo Hernandez to move from the right wing to the number 10 role.
Over the course of four starts around the turn of the year, Harrison was replaced at half-time on three occasions and on the hour in United’s crazy Boxing Day win over Blackburn Rovers. The opportunities were there but the impact was not.
At Forest on New Year’s Day, however, he was the unfortunate victim of Kalvin Phillips’ first-half red card, a dismissal which came with Leeds trailing 1-0 and forced Bielsa to go for broke. Harrison had been United’s best player but Jack Clarke replaced him at the interval and, true to the 18-year-old’s form this season, helped to turn the game early in the second half. Defensive errors ultimately consigned Leeds to a 4-2 defeat.
Harrison was given 63 minutes by Bielsa on Friday before being replaced by Jamie Shackleton; a different type of tactical switch which seemed designed to shore up a 2-0 lead. “It was a smart decision from the manager, to carry out the game,” Harrison said. “I think it was a good decision.”
While Harrison’s finish put the game beyond Derby’s reach, the show on Friday was stolen by Clarke, an effervescent winger who created both goals by tearing County open down the right.
“He’s a brilliant young player and he only gets better every time he plays,” Harrison said. “He gets more and more confident and that’s massive as a player. It’s almost as if nothing can stop him.”
Bielsa was so keen on signing Harrison in the summer that he spoke directly with Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola in an effort to sell the Spaniard the merits of a season-long loan.
Guardiola and Bielsa are kindred spirits, like-minded in a tactical and philosophical sense, and Guardiola spoke over the weekend about his hope that Leeds would force their way into the Premier League next season.
In Championship terms, Bielsa’s football is about as close as anyone is coming to Guardiola’s.
Harrison felt Friday’s dismantling of Derby was one of United’s best performances of the season.
“It’s probably the closest thing (to Manchester City’s style), as far as what we’ve been playing,” Harrison said. “It’s definitely a goal to be able to play like that.
“As a team we’re only growing.”
Leeds had previously routed Derby on the second weekend of the season and on Saturday they meet the Stoke City side who were brilliantly swept aside by Bielsa-ball during the first round of league fixtures.
Stoke were favourites to win the title back then but are still stuck on the starting blocks, minus any momentum and 15th in the table.
They jettisoned Gary Rowett last week, sacking him after 29 mediocre results as manager.
Stoke are a contradiction: a side whose form promises no more of a challenge than Derby did on Friday but a squad with more than enough talent to come good from nowhere.
Rowett’s replacement, Nathan Jones, is looking for that to happen after his first game ended in a 3-1 defeat to Brentford.
“It’s important at this point in time not to get complacent,” Harrison said. “We need to keep our heads down and keep working - to prepare for the next game just as we prepared for the last one.
“That’s what we have to do to reach promotion, which is obviously our end goal. We should not get ahead ourselves. It’s another tough game coming up.”