Leeds United eyesore for fans as Marsch claims sight for sore eyes - Graham Smyth's Villa Verdict

There was no sign of Leeds United's incoming striker, Georginio Rutter, on Friday so Patrick Bamford getting off the team bus at Villa Park had to suffice as a sight for sore eyes.
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A second successive season of injury struggle has deprived the Whites of their 17-goal 2020/21 campaign frontman for nine of 20 top flight games. In previous weeks his return would have been quite the story. The excitement over 20-year-old Rutter's arrival - his Thursday flight was tracked online all the way from Frankfurt to Yeadon by thousands of supporters before the trail went cold as he underwent a medical - took the spotlight off Bamford, however, and the man going deepest under the radar – Rodrigo. The man having the season no one saw coming.

Rodrigo wears 19 but his 11 goals, 10 of which have come in Premier League games, have made him Leeds number 9 and vital to their keeping heads above water in the bottom half of the table. A record signing in 2020, the Spain international had what can only be described as a mixed time of it under Marcelo Bielsa and though his all round performances haven't always sparkled in Jesse Marsch's team, no fault can be found with this season's goalscoring record.

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Leeds only boasted four wins prior to Friday night's game at Villa and Rodrigo scored in each of them. Had it not been for the 31-year-old's goals, Marsch might not have made it to Villa Park to see what he called the 'most complete' performance of his Whites tenure. It was one worthy of appreciation, he felt. What a section of the away end saw was a 2-1 defeat, one worthy of calls for Marsch's head.

Seconds before kick-off they were singing Rodrigo's name, which said much about his turnaround in fortunes, and he responded with a tone-setting chase of the very first ball that left Tyrone Mings on the deck. Leeds looked hungry for possession and determined to give Marsch what he wanted from the off - the aggression that has too often only come out once Leeds are losing a game.

That led to a second minute corner, which led directly to the opener. For Villa. A risky approach to the set-piece saw Brenden Aaronson covering in a deeper position, with eight in and around the area to attack a ball that could, quite easily, have been knocked home by Marc Roca. When he didn't connect, Villa streaked away and Ollie Watkins played the ball right into a now depressingly familiar pocket of space for Leon Bailey to curl in the opener.

It wasn't the first time Marsch's men had conspired to create an opportunity for the opposition from their own attacking corner but with results as they are, it might have stung the most.

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Yet barring a Bailey break in behind Pascal Struijk and a wayward cross, that was about it for Villa in the first half as Leeds took over and should have had one, if not two or even three goals.

SEEING DIFFERENTLY - Jesse Marsch saw a performance worthy of appreciation from Leeds United in a 2-1 defeat to Aston Villa that led to angry chants against the manager. Pic: GettySEEING DIFFERENTLY - Jesse Marsch saw a performance worthy of appreciation from Leeds United in a 2-1 defeat to Aston Villa that led to angry chants against the manager. Pic: Getty
SEEING DIFFERENTLY - Jesse Marsch saw a performance worthy of appreciation from Leeds United in a 2-1 defeat to Aston Villa that led to angry chants against the manager. Pic: Getty

Rodrigo had the ball nicked off his toes after Jack Harrison sped down the right and found the striker with a low cross. He was involved again when Willy Gnonto won a pair of free-kicks and the second one was played, a la Holland against Argentina, directly into the path of Rodrigo. He went down under Douglas Luiz' challenge, colliding with Emi Martinez as the chance went begging.

The World Cup winner was soon back on his feet and then down again, hurling his body into the path of Harrison's point-blank four-yard effort at the end of another good Leeds move.

The interval did little to stem the tide, Brenden Aaronson emerging after a poor first half to arrive in the area and have a shot deflected over, Villa doing just enough to get bodies in the way as a Tyrone Mings slip put the Whites in.

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Alex Moreno popped up with a shot when Leeds were played through a little too easily, Meslier saving, and Gnonto had Martinez at full stretch with a deft effort.

In a season where positives haven't always jumped out, Tyler Adams has shone brightly throughout and did so again at Villa. Along with Luke Ayling he brought exactly the right level of physicality to fluster the hosts in possession and win it back with big tackle after big tackle. That didn't completely silence Unai Emery's men - Douglas Luiz flashed a shot just over Meslier's goal - but it did seem to keep the momentum with the visitors.

Until, of course, the second goal went in. Bailey found himself on the ball just outside the area and although Meslier was equal to this shot, he could only palm it to Danny Ings who nodded in off a despairing flail of the Frenchman's glove. The offside flag ruled it out, VAR overruled and Villa celebrated an ill-deserved two-goal cushion.

Leeds for large parts were good. But that, in the Premier League, is sometimes not good enough. And even as Gnonto gamely ran the ball up the left wing, the first 'Marsch out' chants could be heard from the away end.

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There was, as there always seems to be, late hope and Gnonto was, as he always seems to be, at the heart of it. Rodrigo switched the ball out to the left, the little winger spun his man and got on his bike, racing to the area where he beat another and slid a pass into the feet of Bamford to slam home. That was as good as it got as Leeds’ winless run went on and Marsch went in front of an away section that gave him a piece of their mind. Where he saw positives on which to build, they saw a team falling further into trouble.

Leeds were poised, Marsch said beforehand, for something to click. In a good place, he insisted. After the game he was even more adamant that they're going in the right direction, even if results might not be. He brought up, unprompted, the term ‘relegation battle’ and then denied Leeds were in one. He reaffirmed his belief in the process and the team.

Seeing is believing though and his believers appear to be dwindling with each game that goes by without a win. That's seven now. And whether you see it as two victories from 17 attempts or two from the last nine, as Marsch does, an end to that run has to come into sight, and soon, or he isn't going to see out this season.

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