Opinion

Jesse Marsch gives Leeds fans reason for optimism despite Leicester defeat

Matt O'Connor-Simpson
Marsch will be pleased with the performance if not the result against Leicester
Marsch will be pleased with the performance if not the result against Leicester / Michael Regan/GettyImages
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It did not take long for Leeds' travelling support to belt out their first rendition of 'MAAARRCEELLLOOO BIELSA' at King Power Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

And who could blame them.

During his three-and-a-half seasons at helm, Bielsa's genius did not just lead to a Premier League return. El Loco also managed to energise an entire football-mad city that has been deprived of pride in their team for far too long.

The bonds forged between man and club over the past few years will never be broken with plans already in the works for a monument of some description at Elland Road.

However, there was no time for sentimentality on the pitch this weekend. For all of his brilliance Bielsa departed with Leeds in serious relegation trouble.

Although they began their trip to Leicester two points above the drop zone, all four of the teams below them had games in hand. Their form has been awful too – four big defeats on the spin.

The man Leeds have entrusted with correcting the slide this season is Jesse Marsch, of various Red Bull teams fame. In his first press conference in the hotseat the American was understandably deferential to Bielsa's work, while also hinting that changes would be made for their trip to the Foxes – both in terms of tactics and personnel.

That was exactly how it transpired with Diego Llorente and Adam Forshaw taken out of the firing line in favour of Mateusz Klich and Rodrigo.

There was a formation tweak too. The fluidity with which Leeds played throughout made it hard to pin down exactly what the system was, but it most closely resembled a 4-4-2 or 4-2-2-2.

In a decisive departure from Bielsa ball, Klich and Koch formed a solid double-pivot in midfield. This was a direct reaction to one of Leeds' biggest issues of late – the borderline-comical spaces they have been leaving in the middle of the park for other teams to exploit.

There was also a noticeable shift in what Leeds were doing off the ball. While they were still pressing high and with intensity, the line of engagement was deeper and the starting point was often a flat bank of four consisting of the attacking quadrant of Jack Harrison, Rodrigo, Daniel James and Raphinha.

The much-maligned man-to-man system was not abandoned entirely, but there were signs of more zone-based closing down with players sometimes caught in two minds.

These tweaks worked well before the break. Leicester may not be the top four contenders they once were but their squad was still assembled with considerably more pound notes than Leeds' was. The fact that the Foxes were not able to build how they pleased in midfield is testament to the Whites' application and Marsch approach in the first half.

The Leeds boss did not rip up the entire Bielsa playbook, though. One of the most striking features of his side at their peak has been their ability to flood the box with players, seemingly out of nowhere, as they career forward in transition.

There were plenty of examples of this cavalier approach in the East Midlands, with quick exchanges between the front four and the overlapping runs of Junior Firpo and Stuart Dallas causing Leicester's back five serious issues throughout.

All of the above was extremely promising and while it does not distract from the fact that Marsch's side could end the week in the relegation zone after somehow losing 1-0, the American could not really have hoped for a better performance to kick off his era at the club, especially away from home.

Per Fotmob, Leeds finished the game with a startling 1.95 xG from 19 shots, and the fact they did not convert was not down to a failure of their approach. Instead poor finishing and the heroics of Kasper Schmeichel were to blame.

Thus, while it is only one game, the early signs are extremely favourable for Marsch's Whites. Keep putting in performances of this magnitude and there is no chance they will be playing in the Championship next season.


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