Relegation probability for Leeds United revealed as Jesse Marsch acknowledges his question mark

The statistical probability of Leeds United suffering relegation stands at 76 per cent going into a monumental final day of the season.

By Graham Smyth
Saturday, 21st May 2022, 4:40 am

That's according to data and forecast experts FiveThirtyEight.Even if the Whites manage to beat Brentford, a side who have sailed through the last three months thanks in part to the second wind provided by Christian Eriksen’s signing, the Whites will still require a snooker.

Although level on points with 17th-placed Burnley, who face Newcastle United at home, Leeds are essentially a point worse off due to their minus 38 goal difference and would require a 20-goal swing to overcome it, if both relegation-threatened sides either won or lost.

In reality, matching Burnley’s result will only result in a return to the Championship for Leeds and while Jesse Marsch isn’t thinking about what that might mean, his words on Thursday held a note of acceptance that there will always be question marks over a manager in worst case scenarios.

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“Before I came here I asked the questions about what will it look like if it goes in this direction, and what will it look like if it goes in that direction,” he said, of the owners.

“When we talked about coming in, this was about a long-term project. And I’m thankful that the club committed to me in that way.

“Now, you always know as a manager that things get tough, you never know what the future can hold but I believe that the connections we’ve made and the work, style and ideas of what we think this football life is, really meshed well together.

“The support I’ve had from everyone has been amazing. But again, I’m not thinking about right now in this moment. I’m not thinking about the long-term project. I’m thinking only about Sunday, and doing everything we can to prepare ourselves for that.”

HIGH PROBABILITY - The statistical probability of Leeds United being relegated stands at 76 per cent ahead of Sunday's visit to Brentford on the final day of the season. Pic: Getty

There’s a lot to think about, even without allowing your mind to stray towards events at Turf Moor which hold an equal share in the fate of Leeds United.

In preparing his team Marsch has had to be singularly-focused because every game in the top flight demands that, and because Brentford are a team to be taken with the utmost seriousness.

“They’re good against the ball and in pressing moments, but they also have really good movements when they have the ball,” said the American.

“[Christian] Eriksen is a key for them. He’s had an incredible positive impact on their team, since he’s gotten healthy and started playing again, which is obviously a great story in football. And then, one thing you know about them is set-piece situations. They’re very creative. They have dynamic players, Eriksen puts very good balls in, they have a lot of variance in what they do, and we’ve prepared our team.

“Today it was a set piece day so we worked entirely on video and on the pitch on making sure that we understand what we want those moments to look like.”

Brentford have won seven of their last 10, scoring goals from all manner of situations and if their natural competitive spirit and will to end the season on a high wasn’t enough to guarantee the best version of themselves tomorrow, the little bit of needle that has existed in recent years between the two clubs should do it. A video recorded on the night Leeds celebrated promotion in 2020, one the Whites Tweeted and then deleted, was brought back to the surface by Brentford striker Ivan Toney last week. It showed ex Bees man Stuart Dallas singing 'Mind the gap Thomas Frank' alongside Liam Cooper. There is little doubt Brentford would love to exact a measure of revenge by creating a divisional gap between the clubs on Sunday.

All things considered, Leeds are very much up against it, perhaps more so than at any other point in the season for the simple fact that so much has to go right, in both London and in Burnley.

When Marsch was appointed the probability of relegation stood at 34 per cent and by April 20, in the midst of a five-game unbeaten run, it had dropped to a one in five chance. He maintains that he has never stopped believing the fight would go right to the death but in April, Leeds were living and breathing quiet safely.

However, the failure to beat Crystal Palace – a point and a performance that has looked worse and worse as weeks have passed – three straight defeats at the hands of top-four sides and a draw at home to Brighton, along with a remarkable Burnley resurgence and some crucial wins for Everton, have left Leeds very much on the wrong side of the mathematics.

Add the fact that the Brighton point required a stoppage-time equaliser, the loss of Stuart Dallas to injury, the red cards for Luke Ayling and Daniel James and the zero minutes of football played by potential Sunday returnee Patrick Bamford since March, and it’s not so much a case of the wood being obscured by the trees, but total deforestation leaving a bleak landscape.

Marsch, who will have to not only manage his team’s performance at Brentford but the drip feeding of information from Burnley’s game to his players, insists he’s relishing the moment, despite the steady worsening of Leeds’ situation in recent weeks.

“We went from after Watford being nine points up or eight points up and looking like things were relatively secure to then having a lot of teams around us win matches and being sucked down back into the relegation zone,” he said.

“All I can just say is that we’re excited. We’re excited for this challenge. We know we have to be at our best. I knew we would have to fight for everything and that’s the way it’s been and we’ll make sure, I’ll make sure that that’s what I represent on Sunday and make sure that our team does the same.”

Marsch is yet to get the unadulterated best out of Leeds and expecting him to coax it from this injury-besieged and inconsistent squad, now, at the last second, under pressure the likes of which many of his players will not have experienced, is a big ask. It's impossible to separate the game from its consequences in the minds of the players, as he freely admits.

What’s more, it will take more than Leeds’ best to stay up, because Burnley will have a say too, so Marsch and his men find themselves in the land of hope. Relying on others was never a reliable plan and yet here Leeds are.

Of course strange things can happen in football, things that defy logic and statistics, like when a Huddersfield Town team in the lower reaches of the Championship turned over second-placed West Brom to hand Leeds promotion to the top flight, or any number of shocks and twists you can call to mind.

You can suspect and assume the worst, but you just never know. All Leeds can do is their half of the job.

“We know that we want to win and if we win, we give ourselves the best chance,” said Marsch.

There is no scenario in which tomorrow afternoon will be anything other than tension, torture and tears – of one emotion or another. The permutations are relatively straightforward but depend on so many factors. The individual and collective performances of four teams, the officiating in two games, who the pressure pinches too tightly, who weaponises their support and which managers get it spot on will all play a part.

What it comes down to, after 37 games is, for Leeds, really very simple – win and hope. It’s not probable, but it’s still possible.