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harrogate town 1–1 leeds united: what we saw

harrogate town 1–1 leeds united: what we saw

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There’s not much to say about preseason friendlies, and so sometimes a code of honour can descend. This game was only about fitness, Uwe Rösler warned in advance, and so it can feel like we should confine our comments to fitness, and not speak of other things we saw.

There isn’t actually much to say. This match had a deadness as a sporting spectacle, without the pleasure of cheering a big score to lighten it. It was more like a grim cup tie in a competition neither side wanted to continue in.

Harrogate’s goal came from a set-piece that had Marco Silvestri and first-half captain Liam Cooper at odds. Silvestri stood in his goalmouth and pointed at Cooper; Cooper backed away from his, his arms spread in a shrug, as if to say he didn’t know why he should be pointed at, least of all by Silvestri.

In the second half Leeds equalised through Steve Morison, who headed home a Sloth cross from close range. That seemed to inspire in Morison a desire to head everything, even when a volley might have been more sensible, which is one reason why he couldn’t inspire Leeds to another goal.

And that’s about as far as it went for sport and thrills. The rest is fitness, formations and hints. Fitness: I dunno, they all looked fine. A team in each half and nobody fainted and nobody got injured. Formations: 3–5–2 in the first half, 4–3–3 in the second, and players were clearly having to operate uncomfortably out of position; we should sell Billy Sharp now, if only so we don’t have to see him wearing 11 again.

There wasn’t much heavy metal football to see, although I think that was what was happening in the first five minutes of each half, as Leeds started with intensity and running and then seemed to tire of that. The first half was notable for some quick and crisp one-touch passing, but it was usually deployed to get Leeds out of a tricky defensive situation. Better than a hoof, but it meant that some of our brightest football was being played too near our goal, and too far away from theirs.

Chris Wood and Lee Erwin had to do a lot of individual work up front, and this brings us to the hints; glimpses, even in the game’s lowly status, of what we might see in the months ahead. With much of the football being played a long way from Harrogate’s goal, when Wood and Erwin did get the ball, they hadn’t much choice but to run with it, and this they did admirably; tall and strong, they were both easily capable of beating three or four defenders and driving forward. The usual end result, though, was that they would drive into the other’s position, or out wide, and the team wouldn’t catch up or adjust quickly enough to make anything of their efforts.

They were the most positive contributors in the first half; at the other end of the scale was Giuseppe Bellusci. Bellusci is obviously the centre of attention as the most Twitter-adamant in the wake of last season’s Charlton no-show, but that’s not remotely relevant here. What is relevant is that, as the central defender of three, he completely failed to deal with and was relentlessly bullied by Harrogate’s striker; even pretending a head injury in order to break the pressure.

This game might only have been about fitness, but there are minimum levels of performance that you expect when a Championship side takes on a team from the Conference North. Each player’s job remains the same, whatever their respective level: do better than your opponent. On the for the second half, Sol Bamba made defending in this game look easy, making it even harder to understand what Bellusci found so difficult.

Lewis Cook, another member of the second half team, also had no trouble playing football and demonstrating that, whatever the level, aim or fitness of this friendly, he was the best player in the game. He didn’t only pass when instead he could invent, and there were few situations when he couldn’t find a way to invent something. Leeds were much better in the second half, and some might put that down to using 4–3–3 rather than 3–5–2, but a lot was down to the simple introduction of Cook’s quality.

There are end the useful observations; among the useless ones are that the kit looked alright and Gaetano Berardi still can’t do throw-ins. And, given the game, there’s probably not much to choose between the useful and useless observations. When we talk about a code of honour or a conspiracy of silence around these games, it’s mindful that last year they were played in Italy, where Leeds scored sixteen goals that were not filmed and have barely been described; and that, after playing York next Wednesday, United will head for Austria and Norway and return a very different team. For now, we can only describe what we see; conclusions can wait, until we know more.

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