Leeds United warned over potential game-changer as 'dark arts' hit Premier League spotlight

Leeds United have tried to use set-plays to their advantage under Jesse Marsch this season
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In a division where financial inequality between the haves and have-nots is so vast, teams in the lower reaches of the Premier League table will try whatever it takes to steal points from the ‘Big Six’.

Last season, Leeds were defeated home and away by Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool – twelve matches which many deemed lost before they had even begun.

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In addition, United conceded the joint-most set piece goals in the Premier League last season with 19, according to WhoScored.com.

Players contest a header from a corner kick during the pre-season friendly match between Leeds United and Crystal Palace in pre-season (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)Players contest a header from a corner kick during the pre-season friendly match between Leeds United and Crystal Palace in pre-season (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)
Players contest a header from a corner kick during the pre-season friendly match between Leeds United and Crystal Palace in pre-season (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Upon Jesse Marsch’s arrival at the club, the American head coach set out his plan to utilise set-plays in a more cunning and specific way.

With particular focus on how Leeds can hurt teams at attacking set-pieces, and fare better at defending them, Marsch has enlisted former Under-23s head coach Mark Jackson as his dedicated set-piece man.

"We’re looking clear in every phase of the game and in set-pieces we were very stable and we are finding ways to be dangerous,” Marsch said following his side’s 2-2 draw with Southampton.

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"I've switched Mark Jackson to be a set piece coach among other things,” he added. “He's put a lot of work into the organisation of what we're doing. He's invested in the guys, the guys have invested in him in that role and I think you see the rewards for that.

"I felt like at almost every set piece situation [vs Southampton] that we could have found a goal, so that will be important for us for sure.”

Given Chelsea’s relative superiority this weekend, set-plays may be of use to Leeds in their bid to remain competitive in the match.

If United can replicate some of the routines on show against Southampton, they stand a good chance of taking something from the game.

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On various occasions last weekend, Rodrigo’s near post flick-on was either met, or close to being connected with, by Leeds players at the back post.

During the first half, Rasmus Kristensen and Tyler Adams could not manage to convert Rodrigo’s flick-on despite being unmarked.

Shortly after the restart, it was Rodrigo’s turn to hover around the back, capitalising on Pascal Struijk’s towering front post flick to add Leeds’ second goal of the game.

It is at the other end of the pitch where Leeds may need to be a touch more careful, though.

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Refereeing decisions and touchline behaviour dominated the back pages following Chelsea’s 2-2 draw with Tottenham last Sunday.

Cristian Romero’s pull on new Blues signing Marc Cucurella’s hair went unpunished as Harry Kane nodded in a late equaliser, much to the dismay of incensed Chelsea fans and head coach Thomas Tuchel at full-time.

Due to the furore surrounding the decision, the ‘dark arts’ defenders often employ at defensive set-pieces – such as Cucurella’s hair pull – has been spotlighted, meaning Leeds will need to be especially careful not to give away any cheap penalties at Elland Road on Sunday.

"For me it is no problem,” Cucurella said when asked about the hair-pull at his official Chelsea unveiling. “Before the game, I spoke with him [Romero] and it is a fight on the pitch. I have no problem with him and it is only an action in the game. Maybe it was an important action as it maybe changed the final result. I think we will have another opportunity in a few months and this is our opportunity."

"No, no. This is my style,” the Spaniard added when asked whether he would consider having his hair cut.

Leeds host Chelsea at 2pm BST this Sunday afternoon.