What relegation looks like as Jesse Marsch is left clinging to Leeds United mystery

The Premier League trapdoor is yawning and Leeds United have been sleepwalking so determinedly towards it that a last-gasp reprieve will result in little more than grim satisfaction.

By Graham Smyth
Friday, 13th May 2022, 4:45 am

Relegations take place in slow motion, at first, because there are almost always positives to cling to and chances that can still be taken.

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Call it blind faith if you will but anyone who has experienced a relegation up close will tell you that they didn’t want to believe it would happen and shut their eyes to the approaching disaster, until it is too late.

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DEFEAT: Jesse Marsch dictates from the sideline as Leeds United succumb to defeat against Chelsea (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images)

When the crash comes, it’s painfully abrupt and the final jolt, whether in the last game or a couple before that, has the effect of organising thoughts and concerns that had been rattling around in minds for weeks and months.

Suddenly it all becomes clear with the dawning realisation that, actually, everyone should have seen it coming.

It’s almost always deserved; league tables cannot lie when all the games have been played and there are no false positions.

If Leeds fall out of the Premier League, it will feel appropriate given the season they have had and it will be impossible to spin as anything other than an avoidable, yet just fate.

There are hallmarks to look out for, themes that run through the heart of relegation seasons at various clubs, writing that was on the wall as all and sundry did their best to avert their gaze.

Maddeningly avoidable red-card tackles and ghastly individual errors all add up to paint a depressing picture.

Changes of formation, tactics or personnel that carry more than a whiff of desperation lead to blind panic on the pitch and fury in the fanbase as players and managers, who in reality can say nothing to change the situation, then stand accused of saying exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time and doing none of the right things.

Leeds are not the first club to go through any of this and will not be the last. It’s what many relegations have looked like.

But here’s the thing, they have not been relegated yet. With a bit of help from elsewhere - here’s looking at you Spurs, Villa and Newcastle - and by snapping out of the punch-drunk stupor that has befallen them in recent weeks, they can change course at the last minute. Even if there are but one or two grains of sand yet to fall, time has not yet run out. There is at least one chance still to be taken.

The problems for Jesse Marsch are so numerous and varied that it’s difficult to know where he can even start to fashion a plan to extricate the team from the mire. He can’t even put his best XI on the pitch, tell them to ‘just play football’ and hope it’s enough because injuries and suspensions have left a battered squad on its very last legs.

There is no momentum to carry into the Brighton game, no platform to build on and no form players to make central figures of.

This feels very much like starting a meal from scratch five minutes before guests arrive, after making a complete hames of it and having to discard some key ingredients.

Serving up something remotely palatable this weekend may come as a surprise to Marsch himself. How he will do it is a complete mystery and perhaps that is an advantage, because Graham Potter would need a crystal ball to predict the Leeds line-up, formation and style of play.

Clutching at straws? Absolutely, there’s little else to hold on to.

Expecting the same ill-discipline and pin-ball mayhem we’ve seen of late to yield goals, dominance and points against a team as well-coached and in-form as Brighton would, or should, result in the same astonished criticism aimed at Marsch’s predecessor for going toe to toe with the likes of Liverpool.

It has to be better than that. It doesn’t have to be free-flowing and easy on the eye but it has to make sense and, more than anything, it has to work.

The home fans will, once again, provide the necessary supportive backdrop - a luxury so few relegation candidates can afford at this stage of a poor season - and then it’s down to Marsch to prove he has a plan fit for the occasion and his players to prove they can execute it.

If they are good enough to stay up then the league table will say as much.

There are many who can see relegation coming. The hallmarks certainly appear to be there.

Proving everyone else wrong between now and May 22 will give no-one at Elland Road cause for smugness but it will at least save the fans from a fate they do not want, need or deserve.