Spotlight on Sam Greenwood's FA Cup performance as Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa hands youngster full debut against West Ham United - YEP 10/1/22
On his full debut for Marcelo Bielsa’s side, Sam Greenwood showed glimpses of what he can offer Leeds United as the Whites fell to a 2-0 FA Cup third round defeat to West Ham United on Sunday.
By Flora Snelson
The 19-year-old was handed the chance after Patrick Bamford, who was due to start for the Whites for the first time since September, sustained another injury during training this week with Joe Gelhardt, the teenager emerging as his deputy, joining him in the treatment room.
Little more than the buds of Greenwood’s first-team potential was visible in Sunday’s FA Cup tie. With laudable workrate, and a tenacious refusal to shrink to the occasion - and how intimidating it must be to make your first start in such a cavernous venue - Greenwood made a strong account of himself.
When the teams were released, Whites fans were relieved to find a natural striker leading the line after Bielsa’s makeshift attack has forced players out of position in recent weeks, though Greenwood himself had some adjustments to make having mostly played as a number 10 for the Under-23s this season.
The striker had his first sniff of the ball in the fifth minute when, setting his sights on a cross-field switch, Greenwood's long-range pass failed to find Jack Harrison.
Greenwood, who has scored eight goals in all competitions this season, made his first attempt on goal eight minutes into the tie. The teenager and Mateusz Klich worked together to dispossess West Ham from Aphonse Areola’s goal kick, before the Pole laid the ball off for Greenwood to shoot. His powerful strike was blocked by Issa Diop.
Refusing to be cowed by the occasion, Greenwood showed creativity and flair, as well as footballing nous. In the 11th minute, the 19-year-old made an intelligent run between the Hammers’ centre-backs, which was spotted by Harrison. Controlling the ball in the area, Greenwood attempted to backheel it into James’ path, but was thwarted again by Diop.
Greenwood’s hopes of showing the best of himself were limited by circumstance, as the attackers failed to link as fluently as would a more familiar offensive unit. For example, as James broke down the wing, Greenwood’s smart front-post run was not anticipated by the Welshman, who misread the striker’s intentions and crossed the ball towards Greenwood's starting position.
He would not be prevented from taking his chances, though, and made an ambitious attempt on goal in the 21st minute. Seizing a mishit pass, Greenwood advanced with nothing to lose and, when confronted by Dawson, the teenager continued gaining ground on the experienced defender before knocking the ball onto his right foot and letting fly from 20 yards. His effort blasted over the bar to a cheer from the home crowd.
Greenwood’s battle with the Premier League veteran went on in an entertaining fashion throughout the half, with the two players taking it in turns to get the better of each other. The youngster did well to frustrate Dawson, who gave referee Stuart Attwell an earful after Greenwood took him out just inside the Leeds half.
Twice, Greenwood was sought by Luke Ayling to no avail, with the right-back’s delivery missing the mark on both occasions but Greenwood showed instinct as Harrison’s efforts to provide for the teen fell similarly short; with the winger’s pass arriving behind him, Greenwood improvised by flicking the ball goalwards with his back foot, but Areola collected with ease.
Shortly before half-time brought his FA Cup showing to an end, the 19-year-old, who has registered four Premier League 2 assists this season, delivered a good-looking cross, which was on track to meet James before Dawson cut it out.
Given more opportunities, the instinct and awareness which were just slightly out of kilter at the London Stadium will sharpen and bear fruit.