On an emotional day for Leeds United, a Jack Harrison goal and assist were enough to see the Marcelo Bielsa’s side victorious on Saturday’s Yorkshire derby as the club mourns the loss of club legend Peter Lorimer.
Marcelo Bielsa made one change to the side that beat Fulham ahead of the international break, with Liam Cooper taking his place in the Leeds back line in place of Pascal Struijk. Leeds United also welcomed back Pablo Hernandez and Rodrigo onto the bench following their injury troubles this season whilst Mateusz Klich was passed fit enough to also make the squad after being ruled out of Poland’s recent international games due to a positive coronavirus case.
Paul Heckingbottom, returning to the Elland Road for the first time since his ill-fated spell in charge of Leeds three years ago, opted to leave his team unchanged from the FA Cup loss to Chelsea two weeks ago. The Blades had made it tough for Thomas Tuchel’s team that day and would be hoping to do the same at Elland Road to their long-time rivals.
Within a minute, Leeds had won a free-kick in a dangerous position via the dedication of Tyler Roberts. Raphinha has proven himself to be a threat from set-pieces but was unable to keep this attempt on target, with the ball ballooning over Aaron Ramsdale’s crossbar.
It seemed as though a willingness to commit fouls would be a theme of Sheffield United’s play on the day as John Lundstram found himself booked before five minutes had passed, his hack on Roberts halting a Leeds counter-attack before any momentum could be gathered.
Paul Heckingbottom’s side showed some willingness to venture forward in the opening exchanges but it was his replacement’s team that had the better in front of goal. Kalvin Phillips pounced on some lackadaisical passing from the travelling defence and had Aaron Ramsdale scrambling across his goal line to keep the shot out. The former Bournemouth ‘keeper had to make another important save from Stuart Dallas before the first ten minutes had ticked past but it didn’t take too long for the breakthrough to come for Leeds United.
Tyler Roberts, who had been growing in influence and confidence for his side ahead of the international break, picked up the ball wide on the right and played an incisive ball into Raphinha. The tricky Brazilian got to the byline and pulled the ball back to the feet of Jack Harrison who, finding himself two yards out with nary a defender in sight, couldn’t miss.
The game continued in the same vein for a while, Leeds’ constant pressure punctuated by the odd Sheffield United foray forward, without any team presenting a major threat to the other. Ezgjan Alioski, controversially linked with Galatasaray, forced an important block with a first-time shot from the angle with a Raphinha volley and a few dangerous Jack Harrison crosses also creating worrisome moments for the makeshift Blades backline.
As the half-hour mark drew near, Leeds had another great chance through Jack Harrison. Patrick Bamford this time picked up the ball on the counter and played it into the centre of the pitch, Raphinha dummied and Tyler Roberts bravely knocked the ball on as George Baldock threw himself recklessly at the young Welshman. The ball got to the feet of Harrison who attempted to tuck it under the approaching Ramsdale but the lightest touch from the goalkeeper’s leg was enough to knock the shot wide.
A timely reminder of the tenderness of Leeds’ advantage though came courtesy of some nice work from the fine-wine-like David McGoldrick, whose dangerous cross towards Illan Meslier’s near-post couldn’t be turned towards goal by Oli McBurnie.
Tyler Roberts, despite his positive performances in recent times, has found himself unable to get on the scoresheet in the Premier League and decided to take matters into his own hands with a fizzing shot from distance that had the travelling goalkeeper worried.
There was an overbearing feeling that if Leeds didn’t take one of their chances soon, they risked inviting their Yorkshire rivals back into the game, and so it proved. As the half-time break edged closer, David McGoldrick, so vital to his team, picked out his strike partner inside the Leeds area. McBurnie’s shot was well-blocked by the sliding Liam Cooper but the ball bobbled back into Ben Osborn, lurking at the back post, his finish seemed to have been cleared by Luke Ayling, but the ball had crossed the line and the arrears were level.
The referee blew the whistle not long after and Leeds’ players and fans were left baffled as to how their team was heading in to the break at 1-1.
Leeds had to overcome the disappointment of conceding just before half-time quickly, and Bielsa’s men wasted no time at all. Tyler Roberts picked out an unbelievably accurate cross-field ball to Jack Harrison, who put in a threatening cross himself and, with Raphinha arriving quickly to meet it, Phil Jagielka swung out a foot and found himself scoring his tenth Premier League own goal.
Normal service resumed then. Leeds kept pushing and creating chances. Ethan Ampadu, on for the injured George Baldock, made a vital tackle to stop Patrick Bamford from unleashing a shot on goal. Ramsdale was then called into action to prevent the English striker from smashing in a volley from a delicious Roberts ball over the top. Alioski then had a massive chance as Leeds countered from a corner. The ball was worked out to him by Raphinha and Ampadu made another massive sliding challenge to keep Leeds from scoring another.
Changes were made by both teams as the visitors chased another equalizer. Patrick Bamford made way for the returning Rodrigo for the home side, whilst Paul Heckingbottom decided that more attacking impetus was required for his team. On came Oli Burke for Norwood.
Despite Leeds’ dominance, there is always a fear for the Whites due to their poor defensive record this season and it was only the intervention of Luke Ayling that stopped Jayden Bogle from troubling Illan Meslier.
Sheffield United’s attacking intentions were cemented when Rhian Brewster stepped onto the pitch in place of Bogle, though that was somewhat undermined by John Egan’s introduction at the expense of Oli McBurnie a few moments later.
The returning Irishman was called into action immediately when a Roberts through ball threatened to send Rodrigo through on goal. Egan’s tackle dispelled that threat and gave his team the chance to keep fighting into the last ten minutes.
Leeds have been extremely impressive from counter-attacks this season and threatened a few times here, first when a Stuart Dallas shot flashed just wide of Aaron Ramsdale’s post and later, just as Jack Harrison’s pass seemed destined to give Rodrigo the freedom of the opposition half, a Jagielka interception saved his team.
Time ticked down and Sheffield United became more desperate. Going to ground whenever the opportunity presented itself and shooting from distance whenever the space opened up. Rhian Brewster, yet to score a Premier League goal for the Blades, put a few hearts in mouths when his vicious volley from 30-yards dipped wide at the last moment and Oliver Burke threatened as well with a low drive from range.
Leeds had chances again through a Harrison effort from the edge of the box and a Raphinha cut-back that needed yet another timely intervention from Phil Jagielka as Rodrigo looked to nick a goal.
And that was the game. Leeds United take themselves over 40 points ahead of their intimidating run of games in April and can now play with the pressure off whilst Sheffield United, already seemingly doomed to relegation this year, fade further into oblivion. Manchester City up next for Bielsa’s Leeds. They couldn’t, could they?