It has not been a happy season for Leeds United at all. Having finished in ninth-place last season, The Peacocks are in a right old relegation scrap this time around. Sitting in 16th-place, just two points above the bottom-three is not ideal and what’s worse is how bad the recent form has been. 20 goals conceded in their last five matches hardly speaks of a team aiming to build up on their past heroics.
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Marcelo Bielsa, the much respected general in the dugout has been finally given his marching orders, a decision that could backfire in the long run. However, time doesn’t wait and games have to be played with a manager. The boardroom has identified former RB Leipzig boss Jesse Marsch as the ideal candidate to take over from Bielsa.
Leeds United have full agreement with Jesse Marsch to be appointed as new head coach. It’s just matter of time, announcement expected next week. ⚪️🇺🇸 #LUFC
Once work permit is completed, Leeds will announce their new manager. pic.twitter.com/wGqqr6C2iW
— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) February 27, 2022
Though the American himself had a very underwhelming campaign with Die Roten Bullen this season before being fired, he does offer a variety of things that are different from his predecessor and is widely regarded as one of the best young coaches in the game currently. So, what can Leeds fans expect from their new boss and can he get the team back on the right track?
Student of Red Bull
Marsch made his name with New York Red Bulls and then RB Salzburg, graduating from the Ralf Rangnick school of “gegenpressing” and high-octane, adventurous football. His teams heavily utlilise the 4-2-3-1 and the 3-4-2-1 with some common traits between both. Marsch’s teams transition quickly from defence to attack, often looking to play long balls over the top to score within ten seconds of winning back possession. Both Salzburg and Leipzig did things quickly- passing, rotation, and advancing the ball.
• Inspiration for aggressive, attacking playing style
• Coaching principles out of possession
• Being tactically flexible
• Tactical changes to score three at Anfield
• Disadvantages of playing expansively
• Long-term goals
Ask the coach with @JesseMarsch … 🇺🇸⚽️
— The Coaches' Voice (@CoachesVoice) February 28, 2022
The fullbacks assumed a fundamental role of joining attacks, and delivering in good crosses into the penalty box or cutting the ball in order for a player to run onto and take shots early. Marsch has spoken of overloading the area where the ball is in order to win back possession quicker and instead of using short passing sequences, the runners get ahead quickly to put pressure on the opponent’s backline. That last action is something everyone has grown to expect from the Red Bull clubs, as they love to try and immediately win back the ball within seconds of losing it. Marsch sometimes used to put two players pressing the opposing player with the ball in order to make him retreat hastily or execute a risky pass that had chances of being intercepted.
🗣️Jesse #Marsch: "We are really pleased with the win. We know it wasn't our best match, and Admira made things difficult for us in the second half, in particular. Ultimately we have something to build on with the last match of the regular season ahead next Saturday." #RBSADM pic.twitter.com/alvQwc0pDz
— FC Red Bull Salzburg EN (@FCRBS_en) March 13, 2021
The role of the pivot is of massive importance as they will have to adapt in accordance to the situation of the game. Sometimes, he drops back in between the two centre-backs when the fullbacks push up the pitch while at other times, they help create the overload in trying to get the ball back. Marsch’s teams, except Leipzig, have all been defensively solid and offensively exciting, all of which has helped him earn considerable success at this early stage of his career.
What a club! What a team!! Very proud of our group! 🏆🇦🇹 pic.twitter.com/NN32JHNJan
— Jesse Marsch (@jessemarsch) May 29, 2020
However, the situation with Leeds is definitely going to be a new sort of challenge, especially coming in towards the end of the season to replace the man who shaped the last few years of the team in his image.
Getting the best out of his team
Bielsa’s side have been the hardest runners in the Premier League over the past two seasons, and that is something which will please Marsch no doubt. However, the Argentine was unlucky as his side were severely hampered by injuries over the opening weeks of the season and never really got going after that. Despite all of it, Marsch has some fundamentally good and a few great players to make his system work and move away from the relegation zone.
20 – Leeds United have conceded 20 goals in February alone in the Premier League, the most a side has ever shipped in a single month in the competition, and most in a month by a top-flight side overall since Newcastle in April 1986 (21). Dire. pic.twitter.com/7OkzzhZn9l
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 26, 2022
Ilan Meslier is one of the best shot-stoppers at his age but the defence in front of him has been leaking goals like anything with a league-high 60 already. Diego Llorente has struggled in a number of games while Liam Cooper has looked far short of his 2020-21 self. The amount of players missing huge chunks of time has meant others have had to play out of their positions with Pascal Struijk, Robin Koch and even Stuart Dallas playing as central defenders.
Leeds' record when Kalvin Phillips is playing:
• 19 wins, 11 draws, 11 losses
• 65 goals scored, 42 goals against
Leeds' record when he isn't playing:
• 4 wins, 2 draws, 14 losses
• 25 goals scored, 58 goals against
What a player. Leeds are screwed without him… 😬 pic.twitter.com/qluIKbeqwZ
— SPORTbible (@sportbible) February 23, 2022
The lack of investment this season meant that several youth players have had to be rushed through to play first team football. In attack, the 29 goals scored has largely come from their wide players. Raphinha has been the standout player with nine goals and two assists, while Dan James and Jack Harrison have four each. Marsch has been famed for using wingers to great effect which is good news for these players but a central focal point of attack is lacking.
Raphinha has scored 9 goals in the Premier League this season, only Raheem Sterling (10), Diogo Jota (12) and Mohamed Salah (17) have more.
The winger puts Leeds level. 🇧🇷 pic.twitter.com/25FyQJmMHm
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) February 20, 2022
Patrick Bamford has missed time while Rodrigo and Tyler Roberts have not been upto the mark. The pivot, so important for Marsch, will be Kalvin Phillips who himself has struggled for full fitness. If these players can keep healthy in the final games, Leeds have a good chance of being in the league for next season.
What will excite the supporters?
The exuberance around Marsch, his intensity in practicing a rigid system of play but being equally flexible to respond to in-match situations. The front three of Bamford, James and Raphinha should finally be able to get a decent run of fixtures together. Junior Firpo and Dallas will be crucial as the fullbacks with both of them being extremely industrious in their approach.
Leeds are now 3 points away from the relegation zone and 18th place Burnley have three games in hand😬 pic.twitter.com/MLgsvPDAWa
— FootballJOE (@FootballJOE) February 26, 2022
The off the ball work will be interesting to watch as Leeds have been cut open far too easily when opponents attack, so Marsch will know that the defensive shape they keep will be key. Apart from the technical aspects of the play, Marsch will need to instill a lot of self belief and confidence in a group of players downtrodden due to some crushing results. The road back up the mountain starts now.