The Leeds United video Jesse Marsch needs to watch before Manchester City's Elland Road visit

If Jesse Marsch takes the time to check out Leeds United’s 2020/21 win over Manchester City, he will like what he sees.

By Graham Smyth
Friday, 29th April 2022, 4:40 am

The Whites boss, who chuckled wryly when corrected over his belief that it was Leeds and not last season’s champions who went down to 10 in that match, was honest enough to admit he hadn’t yet watched the encounter and told his Thursday press conference that he might just do so. “That’s a good idea,” he added.

What that game will show him is that many of the same players he will put out onto the pitch at Elland Road on Saturday evening to try and contain Pep Guardiola’s light blue juggernaut, are those who showed complete concentration and defensive discipline en route to the most unlikely of results.

Leeds lost Liam Cooper to a first-half red card, did what was almost unthinkable under Marcelo Bielsa and retreated into a defensive shell, and held out until they saw an opportunity to win and seized it, ruthlessly. Stuart Dallas’ winner astounded everyone, including his own team-mates judging by their expressions as they celebrated, and silenced what had previously been a hyperactive and overconfident Manchester City bench.

Sign up to our Leeds United newsletter

It was perhaps the most smash and grab of all Bielsa’s wins and proof that while, as Marsch admits, conventional footballing wisdom expects City to win this game every time, this sport can always lob in an anomaly. Repeating the feat would be just as shocking, if not more so, this time around because no one ever anticipates lightning to strike twice and Manchester City, having lost just one Premier League game since October, are locked in a relentless two-horse race for the title. The knowledge that they cannot make a mistake and drop points, with Liverpool breathing down their necks, could heap the pressure on but clubs like City build squads full of men well accustomed to high-stakes matches and Leeds must expect to face Guardiola’s very best.

“That team is full of winners and professionals and, of course, it’s a massive goal of theirs to win the Champions League, and at least get to the final,” said Marsch. But how do you compare that versus winning the league? If they have a slip-up in the league, then that title is in jeopardy, so I expect a good team on the pitch, I expect a clear team on the pitch, and I expect them with a mentality to make sure that they do everything they can to get the result. They can’t afford to slip up and we know that.

“In some ways you can say there’s nothing to lose, right? We’re expected to lose this game every time. I don’t believe that, but I can see why that’s the expectation in some ways.”

Expectation was confounded twice last season, thanks to the most compelling and exhausting of 1-1 draws at Elland Road and then the miracle at the Etihad. Earlier this season reality bit Leeds to pieces, in a 7-0 drubbing. Kevin De Bruyne gave Adam Forshaw, in the latter’s own words, “a run-around” and the Leeds midfielder vowed to give the Belgian and his ability to run in behind ‘more respect’ next time, by not going beyond the ball so much - in other words adopting a more pragmatic approach. The Whites left themselves horribly exposed at the Etihad, in a game Marsch has watched, and although a fractured kneecap has robbed Forshaw of the chance to contribute, the gameplan will centre around pragmatism.

BIG CHALLENGE - Jesse Marsch says his Leeds United side need to be completely clear on the gameplan if they are to get a result against Manchester City. Pic: Getty

“I think I’m going to be pragmatic but aggressive,” said Marsch. “And we are going to be pragmatically aggressive. I think if you analyse them, they overload wide areas and they’re so good at crossing situations. Even though they don’t have much height up the field, they score almost every goal from wide areas. So we have to manage that.

“We have to understand what that means, and then what options they create and movements they create, and how to try to limit those. And then, when we win balls, how to try to be effective to catch them on the counter. And then in possession, to still be confident and try to unbalance them.

“For me, that’s why I say they’re the best team in the world. It’s the quality they have, but also the way the manager teaches them to play the game. It’s such a high level, such a high level.”

To do all that, Marsch requires his men to be completely switched on at all times and adhereing 100 per cent to the game plan, just as they did to pull off their shock victory last season.

Simply defending for 90 minutes might get a point, which would still be a terrific result, but Marsch doesn’t want his team to fall into the trap of letting City have it all their own way. They have to make and seize their own moments, like Dallas did when played through by Gjanni Alioski.

“What you see more often than anything is that Man City has an ability to control the match over time, by their quality and their movement and their ideas and their ability to unbalance you, and they often unbalance you in one area and then attack you in another,” he said.

“So we will have to be very clear exactly what our tactics are for the day, what our strategies are for the day, and we have to find moments to not just be passive throughout the match. Because that’s what happens - they can put so much pressure on teams with the ball, and then with their counter pressing that they just suffocate teams, and we have to be confident and better with the ball. And then we have to understand the moments when, strategically, we can still be aggressive. That’s not easy, but a massive challenge, but, hopefully, on the day we can use our crowd and find ways to find advantages and see if we can fight for a result.”

Marsch had a long video session with his team this week to help them fully grasp his plan. It’s unlikely they need another to re-watch their Etihad win, for that game will live with them forever but, if Marsch takes a look, it might just reaffirm his belief that what he wants to do can be done, because it has been done.