Inside Leeds United training camp as Jesse Marsch proves exception to first impression rule

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Keeping Leeds United in the Premier League makes Jesse Marsch the exception to the rule that says you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

It's no secret that the head coach would rather the overriding memory of his first 12 games in charge be survival and the fortitude it required to make that happen. He would be the first to admit that the football they played, the football they had to play, was not an exact reflection of the style Leeds will have when his tenure is properly underway, with his players in place.

It's a point the squad themselves have been keen to make Down Under.

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"Working under Jesse for this six-week pre-season will give him more of a chance to get his ideas across, get us playing the way he wants because I think last year he did a fantastic job doing what he had to do to keep us up, whilst trying to kind of implement some of his ideas," said Patrick Bamford at the outset of the tour.

"But now we've got the whole focus and that pre-season where there's not that pressure of needing to win each game, to focus on everything we need to."

This summer is a fresh start for Marsch and Leeds and on August 6 he will begin to introduce himself properly to a fanbase yearning for a season that delivers more than the last one.

Results are only part of what they want, though, having been thoroughly entertained for such a long time under Marsch's predecessor.

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Last season and a relegation scrap was clearly not the time to be majoring on aesthetics but already this summer there have been tentative signs of something more attractive, attacks that were more cohesive and players more clearly understanding what possession should look like.

FRESH START - Jesse Marsch has the benefit of a full pre-season and an influx of signings to properly introduce his football to Leeds United supporters. Pic: Ryan MillerFRESH START - Jesse Marsch has the benefit of a full pre-season and an influx of signings to properly introduce his football to Leeds United supporters. Pic: Ryan Miller
FRESH START - Jesse Marsch has the benefit of a full pre-season and an influx of signings to properly introduce his football to Leeds United supporters. Pic: Ryan Miller

Some of that was on display in the 2-1 win over Brisbane Roar and again at Suncorp Stadium against Aston Villa, who provided the first real test of pre-season. Although the second fixture of the Tour Down under got away from Leeds for spells, there were some tidy moments, hints of football that could be quite fun.

The games have not been the only window into his football, however.

Leeds have now held a trio of open training sessions for their adoring Australian public and certain themes have stood out.

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Marsch wants intensity. When the press is triggered it's all go, bodies hurtling towards the man on the ball and making life and the next pass desperately uncomfortable. When the ball is won, it's all go again, bodies hurtling forward to support the man on the ball and making life uncomfortable and bewildering for defenders. That's the aim, anyway.

He does want Leeds to play quickly and directly, but it's not route one and nor is it rudimentary. At Fremantle, on a soft pitch that was cutting up, there were some lovely little flicks and bits of interplay to put men in space behind the defence.

And there was width. Last season Marsch insisted it was a myth that he didn't play in wide areas and in every session to which the public and press have had access so far there has been an emphasis on getting the ball wide - not always but often touchline-tight - in order to supply central attackers. .

Whenever Rasmus Kristensen, on the right, or Jack Harrison on the left, have been played in behind their marker they have looked up to see multiple options, targets to hit at the near post, back post and bang in front of goal.

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When it works, it looks simple but it's satisfying. One particular Fremantle Oval training goal, scored by Patrick Bamford from a Pascal Struijk cross, drew appreciation from the hundreds watching on the perimeter fence. The players themselves enjoyed that one.

Another, from the boot of Harrison after a Kristensen delivery, was equally valued.

The one-touch nature of the initial drills was harder to replicate when Marsch added more game-like stipulations but that's where individual skill and technique in tight areas comes into play, something the American believes he has in sufficient qualities in attacking areas. That's where Kristensen has tipped Brenden Aaronson to shine.

Of course the trick is to make it work in real-life scenarios, with Premier League opposition doing the defending and points on the line, but practice makes perfect and Leeds were relentlessly drilling back-to-front attacks, under pressure, for a good proportion of the 90-minute-plus session on Wednesday.

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Working in the full view of the public is nothing new to Marsch, it's very much part of footballing life in Germany, and he believes there are benefits - if only the extra energy it gives his players.

Whether it was the presence of fans or just the natural competitive spirit you find in footballers, there was an edge to the pursuit of the ball and no reluctance to go in hard for it.

There was an accountability too, for anyone not making the right pass or spotting the right run.

Elland Road will add an extra level to that, but before then, the Crystal Palace game at Perth's Optus Stadium will represent a chance to show a little more again of what it is Marsch has been working on in training and what it is he wants Leeds to be.

Marsch has earned the right to pen a new chapter of a book that will be judged on its cover and its content – its football and its results.