Jesse Marsch action confounds expectation - Graham Smyth's Verdict on Leeds United 2-1 Wolves

Football's unfailing ability to confound expectations shone as brightly as the August sun that bathed Leeds United's 2-1 opening day win over Wolves.
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It is so hard to know what this season will look like for Jesse Marsch and a Whites squad that was given more than a lick of paint in the summer transfer window, but as starts go this was ideal.

Even with the absence of a few key players, Bruno Lage's visitors had more than enough in the way of technical ability and creativity to trouble Leeds and did so.

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Leeds, however, produced fightbacks from an early goal and then an early second-half wobble, en route to a deserved three points.

And for all the shiny new signings on display, on whom very good money was spent this summer and upon whose shoulders the future appears to rest, it was long-serving 'old boy' Mateusz Klich who provided much needed second half impetus and, as is his wont, the pass before the pass that led to the winner. There is, evidently, life in the 32-year-old dog just yet.

What might please Marsch most about the way the goal arrived is how players who pre-dated him linked up with new faces in a slick move that left Wolves chasing their own tails.

The head coach has gone to some lengths to dispel any notion that Brenden Aaronson, Rasmus Kristensen and Tyler Adams, with whom he has previously worked, are any more 'his players' than those he found when he first rocked up at Thorp Arch.

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Taking the squad on a 10,000 mile journey to Australia forced them out of any comfort zones or cliques and into each others' pockets, with the desired effect quite visible. It will take time for Aaronson to know instinctively where Patrick Bamford will be when he picks up the ball but by getting their recruitment work done so early Leeds have given the new boys every chance to start building all-important on and off-field relationships.

WINNING START - Jesse Marsch and Leeds United have been tipped for a relegation battle by the national press but began confounding expectations with a 2-1 win over Wolves. Pic: GettyWINNING START - Jesse Marsch and Leeds United have been tipped for a relegation battle by the national press but began confounding expectations with a 2-1 win over Wolves. Pic: Getty
WINNING START - Jesse Marsch and Leeds United have been tipped for a relegation battle by the national press but began confounding expectations with a 2-1 win over Wolves. Pic: Getty

Pre-season has also given supporters the opportunity to pick new favourites and Kristensen was heavily tipped to hit the ground running hardest and fastest.

The opening day, though, is the time to expect the unexpected and the sight of the burly Dane being shouldered off the ball by Pedro Neto was exactly that.

Full-back areas were a concern for the Whites last season and Neto leaving Kristensen for dust put the hosts in a situation from which there was no recovery. A ball to the back post and a downward Hwang Hee-chan header later, Daniel Podence was striking the ball into the ground and up over Illan Meslier's despairing grasp.

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The clock showed six minutes and Marsch's brave new dawn was clouding a little.

Elland Road wasn't quiet for long, thanks to a mix of their own defiance and Wolves doing very little to change the Yorkshire perception of their approach to sportsmanship.

Visiting players hit the deck with frequency and theatrics that referee Robert Jones did well to ignore. Marsch failed to hide his fury, however, and his reaction to Hwang collapsing and holding his face sparked the first spat between the two managers. That got the West Stand right into it.

The entire stadium, away stand excepted, united in fury when Kristensen was flattened by Sa in the area and Jones saw nothing wrong with it. Jarred Gillett in Stockley Park did little to change the Elland Road perception of VAR's competency by agreeing with him.

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Not only were the fans bang up for it, the Leeds players were too, pressing and playing at 100 miles an hour, sometimes to their own detriment but often to Wolves' discomfort.

When an attack faltered Aaronson refused to give up the chase, forced an error and although Harrison lost the ball he put a foot in and deflected it to Rodrigo, who jinked away from Ruben Neves and fired a shot inside the near post. Lift off.

It was going Leeds' way for the most part but danger was never too far away. Pre-season showed a perilous tendency to be caught short from attacking corners and they needed Harrison to take a yellow to halt a counter attack.

The majority of the Wolves threat came from diagonal balls to men in space outside or in behind the full-backs. Centrally though, Leeds looked solid with Marc Roca reading the game well enough to jump up into the play and disrupt Wolves possession. On the ball he proved a threat from deep, sending raking long balls in the direction of Bamford's runs.

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Anticipating where the ball was going to go and arriving there at the right time meant Leeds could make more trouble.

Pascal Struijk won a header in the opposition half that put Harrison away and his cross eluded both Rodrigo and Bamford, but only just.

Leander Dendoncker's stoppage time header, kept out by Meslier, was a portent of things to follow the break, however.

Leeds lined up in their half as the game kicked off and scarcely left it, Wolves piling on the pressure. Meslier tipped another Dendoncker header over then got down to Morgan Gibbs-White's shot.

With his side pinned, Marsch looked to his bench.

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Despite the influx of signings, pre-season niggles left him with a bench every bit as young as last season's. The difference this season, crucially, is that when several seniors return from injury, Marsch will have real experience to call upon during games.

On Saturday, Klich was very much the odd man out and indeed the old man out, in a group containing 16-year-old Archie Gray.

There is a rising expectancy that Klich could leave due to the competition for places in the midfield and his need to get minutes ahead of a November World Cup.

But this is a funny old game and it was to the Pole that Marsch turned, replacing Rodrigo.

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Almost instantly, Leeds broke the Wolves spell and won a couple of corners. Klich popped up in space, ran around a lot and helped link the play.

Sam Greenwood came on too for a fading Roca and the substitutes both played a part in the winner.

Greenwood found Adams, he found Klich in space and he slid it nicely into the area for Bamford whose pass begged a final touch. Whether it was Aaronson, who deserved a goal for his industry and intelligence, or Rayan Aït-Nouri who got it mattered not a jot as Elland Road erupted.

From then on it was about killing the game and even though Leeds couldn't manage it with a third goal - Bamford's header from Harrison's perfect cross was clawed out by Sa - they did so with game management and the energy of two more substitutes, Joe Gelhardt and Crysencio Summerville.

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The full-time whistle brought a further clash between Lage and Marsch that added to the talking points but took nothing away from a fun game and a fine start for the Whites. There will be those who came out of pre-season worried about the vulnerability to counter-attacks and those who formed a quiet confidence that the energy of Leeds’ press and the ability of the new signings will make for a good season. Both groups likely emerged from this game with their bias confirmed as Leeds emerged with a result that could not be argued.

The national press seems to hold a general expectation that the American will either take Leeds down or keep them up by no more than the skin of his teeth. He has work to do to confound them, and so too do the owners with a striker and left-back still needed, but Leeds have started as they mean to go on.

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