Urgent priority for Jesse Marsch as twists of fate hand Leeds United international break boost

Jesse Marsch found himself temporarily intoxicated on the heady elixir of an implausible Leeds United victory and declared a day off.

By Graham Smyth
Monday, 21st March 2022, 4:40 am

Regardless of whatever he originally had in mind for the first couple of days of the international break, those first few ecstatic moments at Wolves decided the schedule.

“In the euphoria of the game, I gave them tomorrow off then, 10 minutes later, I thought why did I do that?” he laughed, afterwards.

Rest and recovery will be a big part of the agenda during a two-week break that comes at a very good time.

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In other circumstances, a pair of huge, dramatic wins may have left the Whites frustrated by an international interruption, yet the dressing room at Molineux once again resembled an audition for the next Netflix zombie thriller. There was Mateusz Klich with his grotesquely misshapen cheek and blackened eye, as Patrick Bamford, Illan Meslier and Diego Llorente limped and shambled around favouring injured body parts. Stuart Dallas was suffering too from that X-rated João Moutinho tackle and Joe Gelhardt wasn’t fit to start thanks to back spasms, while Raphinha sat at home, in Covid quarantine, watching the chaos unfold on his wide-screen television - Netflix and thrill, when Leeds are on the box.

Two weeks will bring the Brazilian back into club action, his hopes of joining up with Tite’s squad dashed, and it will bring so many so much closer to a level of fitness that has eluded an astonishing number of Leeds bodies this season.

Yet it can’t all be relaxation as spring is sprung. There is serious work to be done.

Up to this point, with the fixtures coming thick and fast in Marsch’s first three weeks, he has had to major on video analysis to rapidly instill the crux of his philosophy. The abrupt nature of Marcelo Bielsa’s departure and Marsch’s arrival has kept all hands to the pumps, with just two staff members - Cameron Toshack and Franky Schiemer - coming in with the American.

TEAM SPIRIT - Leeds United have won the last two games thanks to sheer fight and will-power rather than the strict adherence to a battle plan but Jesse Marsch how has time to work. Pic: Bruce Rollinson

“We will add to the staff eventually,” he said.

“Right now, it’s a little bit of just trying to get the rhythm with everybody we have here and I’m very thankful for you [them].

“So we’re cranking every day. We’re probably all doing about two, three more jobs than we should be. But it’s also worked. I haven’t had enough time to even think about how to build things out from now.

“Once we get to the FIFA break, we’ll be able to take a little bit of a pause and then we play once every week and then we’ll have a little bit more time to really sort everything out more and more, for what things need to look like.

“There’s been a lot of work put on all of our shoulders, which in the moment is okay. But the way we’re managing things, I think has been very effective.”

The performance at Leicester City, in Marsch’s first game, suggested he was able to get some ideas across with impressive speed. The last two wins, however, saw Leeds running on character and adrenaline, their inner fight rather than a strict adherence to a battle plan earning them points.

This fortnight is a chance to more comprehensively steep the squad in what exactly they should be doing in certain game scenarios.

There have been big positives - Leeds are creating chances, finally scoring goals and showing a level of spirit and hunger that is absent at other troubled teams - yet all four games have highlighted aspects that require urgent work.

Preventing teams from taking advantage of the space left out wide by Leeds’ new narrow system will surely be a priority, because it has quickly become a thorn in the side.

At the King Power, when Tielemans picked up the ball midway inside the Leeds half, seven white shirts stood between the Belgian and Illan Meslier’s goal. The back-four was a little ragged, Luke Ayling and Stuart Dallas positioned deeper than Pascal Struijk and Junior Firpo, but Jack Harrison was in a midfield line of three along with Robin Koch and Mateusz Klich.

The issue was the position Harvey Barnes took up, wide to the left of Klich, so with Raphinha coming back too late, the attacker looked up and saw yards between him and Dallas in which to build up some steam. A quick one-two took Dallas out of the game and it was 1-0.

Against Villa, there seemed little danger when a throw was sent in the direction of Lucas Digne but, when Dallas tried to nip in and didn’t get the ball, the visiting full-back flicked it to Danny Ings who got there before Ayling and headed Digne in behind.

That’s where the trouble really began, with a low cross that could easily have been converted by Olly Watkins going out the other side. Watkins’ run pulled Junior Firpo out of position, Robin Koch felt compelled to move towards Matty Cash but ended up in no man’s land and, with Forshaw sucked towards Ings, Philippe Coutinho was free to receive the ball and finish.

Space, ball watching, reactive defending and a cut-back did for Leeds.

Later in the game, Digne and Ings drew Dallas to the touchline, Digne’s run took Koch away and gave Ings room to nip beyond Dallas’ challenge and pick out Cash. Firpo was nowhere near, overcompensated by flying to his left and Cash simply cut inside to drill home.

Norwich found the Leeds net with a route-one move, centre-half Ben Gibson finding time to send the ball forward for Teemu Pukki to get there ahead of Pascal Struijk and cross to Kenny McClean, with Koch ball watching and Diego Llorente slow to react.

With Struijk pulled out of position towards halfway at Molineux, Wolves played a ball in behind Dallas, who had tried to jump forward to spring an offside but, instead, gave Trincao a free run, before he found Jonny and he found the net. Space and a cut-back, again.

The problems had started farther forward, though, with Wolves playing expertly through the Leeds press in the first half. That will be something else for Marsch to look at, even if other teams might not be quite as adept as Bruno Lage’s men when it comes to restarts.

Wolves’ second originally came from a Leeds throw in the opposition half, Harrison’s hopeful hooked ball falling to no-one before Struijk found himself in a foot-race with Raul Jimenez, who went to ground theatrically. A quickly-taken free-kick caught Harrison with his back to the ball, realising too late that Daniel Podence was on the move, and the same pass into the left channel gave the Wolves dangerman time to find Trincao, who found the net. Space and a cut-back, again. Leeds were reactive, in a situation that called for focus, awareness and spot-on positioning. That was the second set-piece from which they’ve conceded in four games, giving Schiemer more to address in his dead-ball work at Thorp Arch.

Thanks to a red card and Leeds’ grit, those goals at Wolves didn’t cost them points so they can become positive learning experiences, cautionary tales for the final eight games.

Marsch has barely had time to think since he rocked up on February 28. Now he has some, once the players have enjoyed a few days with their families. He has time not just to show the players on a screen but to walk them what he expects and requires, on the grass. He has a decent number of players to work with, too. Fate has conspired to keep some at Thorp Arch who might otherwise have been away on international duty. Klich's pending suspension convinced Poland that the midfielder would be better served with his club during this time. Gelhardt's injury status has kept him out of both the Under 20s and Under 21s for England. Raphinha will not have to isolate for the entire break. Phillips wasn't fit enough to join up with England, nor was Cooper to be with Scotland. Rodrigo isn't in the Spain squad and Llorente has had to withdraw from it. What will be a blow for individuals is a boost for the collective.

How Marsch uses this time, with these players, will help decide how many more moments of euphoria engulf him between now and May 22.