Leeds United's message to Jesse Marsch replacement – Graham Smyth’s Verdict after Man Utd draw

Leeds United and Michael Skubala sent a message to prospective candidates in the race to replace Jesse Marsch with their 2-2 draw at Manchester United, reports YEP chief football writer Graham Smyth.
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

Who would be a manager, at Leeds United? Not so much taking a job as climbing willingly into a pressure cooker, whoever replaces Jesse Marsch will need to be made of stern stuff.Even if the Whites were not perched above the relegation zone on a cushion made only of one place and the magnificent point gained at Manchester United on Wednesday, this would not be a job for the faint hearted.

Ask anyone who has walked through the doors of Elland Road and spent any time at all around the place, particularly on matchdays, and they will all trot out the same description. Massive club. As with all clubs boasting size, stature and history, those things breed expectations and thanks to their rise from the Championship back into the Premier League where they belong, Leeds quite naturally place certain demands on a manager.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It takes a big personality, an aura like the one that followed Marcelo Bielsa around, to cope and succeed in this job. But taking over at this stage in the season in particular calls for bravery, the likes of which now sacked Jessie Marsch showed in abundance in February 2022.

This job is an attractive one because the squad is a good one, as they showed at Old Trafford, with very good attacking options and enough technical quality to stay up this year under the right coach. It's also a risk, because if things go awry between now and May then the consequences for all concerned could be dire.

And for the board, the summer picture, should they get the appointment wrong, will be desperately stark. Getting it right trumps getting it done quickly and in one way the scheduling of Wednesday and Sunday's Manchester United double header presented them with a buffer because there would be no real expectation on a caretaker boss, or bosses, against the side in third place.

The brief for Michael Skubala and his fellow co-caretakers was essentially to do a job, avoid a humbling and hold things together, while Victor Orta worked on his brief. A kneejerk appointment is always to be avoided and yet time remains of the essence because beyond the Red Devils games lie Everton and Southampton, fixtures that Leeds cannot afford to lose.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Orta was at Old Trafford for the game, spotted not long after noises emerged from Spain suggesting Andoni Iraola, one of the shortlisted candidates, had turned the job down.Given his obvious coaching pedigree and the football he likes to play, that would be a blow, but the performance and result Skubala and his colleagues dug out in Manchester was more than a consolation. It was a beacon, something positive to cling to and show off to prospective gaffers. This team isn't done, not yet, not on the evidence of the first 65 seconds and the full-time scoreline.

MESSAGE SENT - Leeds United served prospective replacements for Jesse Marsch with a message about their ability and fight, under Michael Skubala's caretaker charge. Pic: Tony JohnsonMESSAGE SENT - Leeds United served prospective replacements for Jesse Marsch with a message about their ability and fight, under Michael Skubala's caretaker charge. Pic: Tony Johnson
MESSAGE SENT - Leeds United served prospective replacements for Jesse Marsch with a message about their ability and fight, under Michael Skubala's caretaker charge. Pic: Tony Johnson

If Skubala and co got any sleep on Tuesday night, even their wildest dreams could not have conjured the events of the opening minute or so. Pascal Struijk's tackle in midfield, Willy Gnonto's one-touch link-up with Patrick Bamford and the Italian winger's drilled shot past David De Gea gave the Whites something precious to hold onto.

Luis Sinisterra limping off on eight minutes with what looked like a hamstring injury to be replaced by Crysencio Summerville took no wind out of the Whites' sails, and they should have gone two up.

Having threatened on the counter after the goal, they created problems from a cleverly-worked short corner routine, Struijk's back post header requiring a hand from De Gea.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It was never going to be one-way traffic, though, and by the 20 minute mark Manchester United had squandered two big chances, Marcel Sabitzer volleying over from a free-kick, Alejandro Garnacho shooting wide at the back post after a Max Wober error.

Injuries have been the bane of successive managers' lives at Leeds and even caretakers are not immune, it seems, Struijk following Sinisterra down the tunnel as Junior Firpo made an entrance.

Wober cleared off the line brilliantly and Illan Meslier palmed Marcel Sabitzer's beauty around the post, Leeds somehow surviving what had become an onslaught. There was a bite to their play, though, Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie bringing physicality along with Ayling, who tackled for his life in the first half.

They were slower out of the blocks in the second half, though, for it took them all of three minutes to find the net rather than one. Having already troubled the hosts through a Summerville, Gnonto double act on the left, Leeds went further ahead. It was the troublesome two, again, after white shirts swarmed to win the ball back in the final third, linking up to force a Raphael Varane own goal.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

There was a too-good-to-be-true feel to it all, as the away end lost their collective minds, yet in a season so far so sour, it was to be relished.

Of course the expected home fightback came and so too did goals. A simple cross from the right and a leap from Marcus Rashford that took him above Robin Koch saw the ball headed past Meslier to raise the home support from their stupor. Eight minutes later Jadon Sancho, on as a substitute, pounced on a loose ball after Leeds had been cut through on their right, and levelled.

At this point Leeds could have gone, completely, and were it not for a Meslier wonder-save, at full stretch for a Varane header, they well might. Tiredness was evident as the Red Devils poured on pressure but when Simon Hooper blew his whistle the score remained 2-2 and the away end celebrated a fine point. Yes, it stretched the winless run to another game, but when a heavy defeat was feared, if not anticipated, then any kind of positive result and movement in the table – Leeds now sit 16th – was more than a bonus.

Skubala’s disappointment that they didn’t win said much about the position they got themselves into, but holding on to a point left him proud, not least after a preparation that consisted of just 20 minutes on shape and some video analysis. And with this result he gives those upstairs just a little more breathing room, because a beating would simply have ratcheted up the pressure further on the recruitment process and its timeframe.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

There was pride in the stands and on the pitch as weary bodies made their way towards the fans for some mutual appreciation. This tired, managerless team that gave its all will live to fight another day, for a fanbase that lives for nights like this one. Who wouldn't want to be Leeds United manager?