The Evolution of Jack Harrison

Jack Harrison last week completed his long awaited permanent move to Leeds, signing for a reported £11 million from Premier League champions Manchester City. This fee is brilliant value for a player who is yet to reach his peak and who has shown promising signs of improvement during each season that he has played at Leeds. Very few could have predicted how important Harrison would be become after a lacklustre first season at Leeds. He admitted when speaking to LUTV that his first season wasn’t the best and also how much he struggled to cope with the demands of English football and of Marcelo Bielsa. Some players would have dwelled on this and looked for an easier move however as we have all witnessed from his social media activity in the off season, Harrison instead chose to work hard. Of the three years that he has been at the club, each year he has gotten better and better. His goal contributions have improved and he has gotten fitter, stronger and works even harder. We’ve seen the progression with our own eyes, but what does the data say?

There are just a few things to clarify before we get into the data: first, during each season Harrison has played a different amount of minutes. Although this doesn’t really effect his per 90 stats it will have an impact when looking at the total amount later on in the article. He has of course played two seasons in the Championship and one in the Premier League so there is the obvious difference in quality between the leagues which also needs to be taken into account. For the next section I will look at a number of stats that I believe are important when looking to assess a winger. All of the data comes from Wyscout or manually plotted.

Winger Radar

The first thing that stands out is how his passing metrics have remained pretty consistent over the course of the three years that he has been at the club. When looking at the amount of crosses, progressive passes and passes into the penalty area he ranks in the top 75 percentile. This is one indicator of how consistent his playing style is and how his role within the Bielsa system hasn’t really changed. The big difference we can see from his first season at the club to his second and third is an improvement in his dribbling success rate. Whilst it has only gone up slightly, it is enough to make a big difference when it comes to being better in 1v1 situations. In his first season in 2018/19, he struggled as he was a bit lightweight and did not have the speed to counteract this. The improvement in this particular metric is likely down to the hard work he put in during the off season, coming back much stronger and much quicker. This also helped to improve his ability to carry the ball more frequently, more than doubling his progressive runs in the 2019/20 season when compared with his first season at the club. 

The most impressive thing is how he has been able to maintain his numbers in the 2020/21 season despite stepping up to play at a much higher level in the Premier League. For the majority of players, you naturally see a drop off in numbers when moving to a league that is of higher quality, particularly in their first season. Whilst the numbers are down compared to the previous season, they’re still better than the 2018/19 season, which is a good sign going forward. His metrics show a winger who is very good at getting the ball into the box via passes or crosses and who is pretty reliable when it comes to dribbling. In this section we have looked at his per 90 numbers across different metrics, for the next section we will be focusing more on the areas of the pitch that Harrison competed a number of his actions. This will include his defensive actions, chances created, assists, shot locations and goals to see if they have changed over the three years. 

Defensive Actions

For his defensive actions, they are made up of the following:

  • Tackles won
  • Tackles lost
  • Interceptions
  • Blocks
  • Clearances

When looking at the locations of Jack Harrison’s defensive actions in the 2018/19 season, there  aren’t any large clusters. They are quite spread out on both the left and right, which I believe is down to him playing on both sides as well as the odd minutes as a striker (Millwall away for example). 

This significantly changes in the 2019/20 season where we begin to see large clusters of actions either side of the half way line on the left. These are the areas of the pitch that Leeds look to press  when the ball goes out wide to the opposition full back or wing back. There were also a large amount of his actions taking place in Leeds left back position and with good success. His improved conditioning and understanding of his role meant that he was able to get up and down the pitch and have a positive effect. As we know, Leeds like to push their full backs high and therefore leave a lot of space for the opposition so Harrison was required at times to help out and cover that space. 

In the 2020/21 season we can see similar action locations from the season before, this time with more success with his tackling on the left side in the opposition’s half. Harrison also had good success rate high and wide on the left. More teams in the Premier League look to play out from the back when compared with the Championship. This allowed him to win the ball back higher up the pitch and put Leeds into a dangerous position. Like with his first season, we saw Harrison and Raphinha swap wings quite a lot so that is the reason why we see some of his defensive work show up on the right hand side again. This happened mainly in the right back area and against teams that had attacking full backs. 

Where does Jack Harrison create his chances?

Similar to his defensive actions during his first season at the club, the areas in which he created chances from were scattered. A good proportion were created from central areas, this is likely to be due to two reasons. The first being that when he played on the right, he looked to cut inside onto his stronger left foot. The second is that he wasn’t as confident or capable of going on the outside of defenders on the left to get into the positions to create chances without overcomplicating things. There is a small cluster of chances created around the left half space which come from cut backs towards the penalty spot area. Both of his assists for the 2018/19 season came from passes outside the area.

In his second season we saw him create 51 more chances and register 6 more assists than the previous season. A large amount of these chances came from a high and wide position on the left, with end locations being in around the penalty spot. In the 2018/19 season we saw very few chances created from inside the area however this changed the following season. He averaged more touches in the box in the 2019/20 season which show his understanding of space and the system improving. This therefore allowed him to get in better positions to create higher quality chances with all but one of his 8 assists being passes into the penalty area. He managed to carry this form into last season where the zones that he created chances from were very similar. Despite creating less chances high and wide on the left, we saw Harrison provide 4 more assists, and improvement on the 2 he made in the previous season. This is down to him crossing the ball in behind defences that are retreating rather than defences that are set with players behind the ball, like we would see in the Championship.

Whilst the viz above shows the overall amount of chances created, I thought I would add onto each season what his xA (expected assists) per 90 was to provide more context. xA is a good way to measure the quality of chances a player creates. In the 2018/19 season he put a pretty average 0.11 xA per 90, whereas in the two seasons that followed we saw this improve to 0.19 in 2019/20 and a very impressive 0.20 in the Premier League. To be nearly doubling his expected output in two seasons shows rapid improvement in decision making and quality. 

Where does Jack Harrison shoot from?

Arguably the biggest improvement we saw from Jack Harrison last season was his shooting. In the 2018/19 season he managed just the four goals but slightly underperformed in xG by 1.07. His shot locations were relatively good with many coming within the width of the goalposts and inside the area. There were a number of shots from outside the area, these are considered low quality shots with him scoring just one from the edge of the box. 

He more than doubled his xG the following season but massively underperformed scoring six goals from an xG of 10.68. You can see a number of these shots came inside the area in the left half space or to the left of the penalty spot and this is where four of six goals came from. He missed a number of chances inside the six yard box which is why this is one of the seasons where he underperformed his xG. Once again we saw a number of shots from outside the area, which is a result of the opposing teams having men behind the ball. 

Last season in the Premier League was his most productive, both in goals scored but also in terms of him over performing his xG. Despite taking just one more shot in the 2020/21 season when compared with his first season at Leeds, he managed to score four more goals. This highlights just how much his composure in front of goal has developed. Similarly to Patrick Bamford, he is taking shots at goal without having multiple bodies in front of him or rushing out to him to apply pressure. His slight over-performance comes from two goals at the edge of the box (Liverpool away and Newcastle at home). Once again there is a cluster of shots in the left space but only two goals coming from this area. 

Conclusion 

The main aim of this article was to see if the data married up with what we have all seen on the pitch over the course of the last three seasons. We have seen that in most situations this is the case, especially with his finishing and the quality of the chances he has laid on. With increased competition he has responded by getting even better. The squad team levels have gone up each season and he has more than been able to match it. Leeds are in the market for another winger to offer even more competition but don’t be surprised to see the new signing spend a lot of their time on the bench as Harrison continues to improve each season. An England call up could well be on the horizon.  

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