Leeds United Jack Harrison reminder needed amid unclear Jesse Marsch claim and fan frustration

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
As Jack Harrison became a target for months of bubbling Leeds United frustration at Stamford Bridge it felt like everyone, including Harrison himself, needed a reminder of what he can do.

There is no debate to be had, Harrison has gone off the boil. While he wasn't as bad as the howls of anguish aimed at him on 74 minutes suggested, nor was he particularly good. And he hasn't been consistently good for quite some time. In a season of such collective struggle and just weeks on from a day when the club almost sold him to Leicester City, maybe that isn't such a surprise.

By mid October, up to and including the Arsenal game, the winger had created five big chances. Since then, in 14 Premier League appearances, he's created just one.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The season started with promise - three of his tally of four league assists came in the opening three fixtures, along with his lone top flight goal - but that soon fell away. A Grade 2 tear in his hip, two tears in his calf and inflammation hampered him immediately prior to the World Cup break. Muscle tightness kept him out of the Real Sociedad friendly and he was an unused substitute in the Premier League re-opener against Manchester City, but he's played in every league game since. He just hasn't ever rediscovered his early-season form.

Marcelo Bielsa, a man who should be considered an authority when it comes to Harrison given what he elicited from the wide man during his Leeds tenure, considered the best version of the former MLS man to be hugely influential. Bielsa also believed that Harrison's best chance of finding his best version came through regular starts. That made Harrison a joy to watch as Leeds set about the Premier League for the first time and his influence was unquestionable, eight goals accompanying eight assists.

When he was on, he was capable of producing dazzling moments of individual brilliance, like the footwork that took him into the West Brom area and away from a last defender as he sent a beautiful shot into the top corner, or the thunderous drive he uncorked to end a counter attack against Newcastle United in the most perfect way. That season started well enough too, with that superb touch and skill that allowed him to run directly at the heart of the Liverpool defence to score the first post-promotion goal.

His creativity benefited others, too. The pair of assists at Burnley for Rodrigo's eye-catching brace, the drilled, pinpoint crosses, with no time to think, for Patrick Bamford and Rodrigo against Fulham and Newcastle and the whipped cross Bamford converted at Bramall Lane all stood out. That last one, like the Anfield goal, showed Harrison at his decisive best, knowing exactly what it was he was about to do.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It is in moments when Harrison acts upon instinct that Leeds arguably get the best of him. His most recent assist, the impudent backheel to put Junior Firpo in for his winner against Southampton, was just that. When he has time and space he can conjure up end product, but he can frustrate, wildly, with too many touches, a run into a cul-de-sac or a poorly executed cross.

FINDING JACK - Leeds United need the Jack Harrison who plundered 16 goals in the Premier League in his first two seasons and they need him at his creative best. Pic: GettyFINDING JACK - Leeds United need the Jack Harrison who plundered 16 goals in the Premier League in his first two seasons and they need him at his creative best. Pic: Getty
FINDING JACK - Leeds United need the Jack Harrison who plundered 16 goals in the Premier League in his first two seasons and they need him at his creative best. Pic: Getty

And so to Chelsea, where an over-hit delivery that sailed out of play provoked an angry response from fed-up visiting fans. It was a bad one, no doubt, because at 1-0 down Leeds were building some momentum and pressure and Harrison, running onto a Weston McKennie pass, had opportunity and motive but not the means to make a difference. The exasperation on the face of Willy Gnonto was matched only by that on Harrison's.

It would be unfair to pin anger that has built up due to a second successive season of suffering squarely on Harrison's shoulders - his overall performance at Chelsea wasn't entirely without merit and included three decent deliveries into the area. He leads the Whites in assists, key passes, successful take-ons and completed crosses. The quality, plainly, isn't there often enough but the effort absolutely is.

It cannot be overlooked that his impact as a substitute at Fulham created danger, two crosses in particular leading to panic in the Cottagers’ penalty area, even if the Chelsea display was a lot less potent.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

And in a relegation battle, a player who almost always declares himself fit for selection should be attributed a certain value. He played 71 of the club's first 76 post-promotion Premier League games and this term has sat out just two. Only once in the last 10 games has the 26-year-old not found himself in the starting line-up. Alas, all that regular football has not done the trick when it comes to finding the player he can be.

But there is a player in there, one who played himself to the fringe of the England conversation and scored 16 goals in his first two top flight seasons. A player who can strike a ball so sweetly past a goalkeeper or curl it perfectly onto a striker's finish. A player who has, in the past, linked up with both Bamford and Rodrigo to devastating effect. Javi Gracia needs to find that Jack Harrison.

The mental side of the game is evidently massive, Harrison has spoken often enough about his off-field efforts to get himself into the right head space, and so the events of January deadline day and their effects should be taken into consideration. A club suddenly wavering on how content they are to keep you around could do little to inspire confidence, even if what followed for Harrison was a love bombardment from Jesse Marsch and the Leeds hierarchy.

"I think his head is really clear," said Marsch. How accurate that was is not clear. How he felt as frustration rained down from the Stamford Bridge away end was etched on his face. Understandable as that reaction might be - wingers can be among the most maddening of operators because they aren't taking on short, safe passes but the risky and the difficult - its helpfulness is also unclear.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Ultimately, Leeds have in Harrison a player who can create and score goals and at a time when that is exactly what they need, he cannot be discarded or discounted. Benched, perhaps, but only if it comes with a reminder of who he is and how important he remains.