It seemed like it was going to be a hard transition for Leeds United following the departure of the club’s beloved manager Marcelo Bielsa towards the end of the 2021-2022 season. Jesse Marsch came in with doubts surrounding the team’s capability to stay in the Premier League with the thinnest squad in the division. Fast forward to the new Premier League season and for one Leeds is still in the division and is also much improved on the season before. So just how did Jesse Marsch transform Leeds from relegation candidates to mid-table bound in less than a season?
A Smarter Style of Play
Well, first things first the style of play that Leeds was known for under Marcelo Bielsa was never going to be a long-term strategy. It was as high intensity as a team could ever be expected to play. It was a style that required a huge amount of commitment, fitness and frankly luck. It was quite simply amazing that Leeds performed as well as they did for as long as they did with the thin squad they had while implementing Bielsa’s high-intensity football. He must be applauded for this and Leeds fans should be applauded for the way they treated Bielsa even when results had not been going his way for some time. Don’t think that it was just your everyday high-energy football that Bielsa was demanding. It required record-breaking effort from the players in order to play his style. Even among Premier League teams, they stood out.
While this style was very impressive and initially yielded amazing results, there was no way it could succeed long term. Eventually, teams worked out how to combat this style and the injuries mounted for Bielsa.
Jesse Marsch was an excellent choice to succeed the charismatic Argentine. He is a young manager with fresh ideas, and in-depth knowledge of successful recruitment systems and also sends his teams out to play an attacking game with high levels of intensity. While his side no longer breaks records for their style they still rank well above average in their pressing statistics. With 9 games played this season Leeds United ranks 2nd for the number of times, possession has been won within 5 seconds of losing the ball and 2nd for pressures in the opposition’s final third. In terms of attack, they rank 5th in the Premier League for non-penalty expected goals (NpXg) per 90 minutes played. That puts them well ahead of teams lauded for their attacking output like Brighton and big names like Manchester United and Chelsea.
Jesse Marsch hasn’t come in and dismantled Bielsa’s style. He has altered it to improve its sustainability and effectiveness.
After surviving the 2021-2022 season Jesse Marsch earned the respect of the Leeds United board and quickly set about addressing the biggest problems his club faced. Most notably the thinnest squad in the Premier League by some distance. Also one of the most injury-hit squads in the division. It was this that had almost seen Leeds relegated the previous season and it played into one of Jesse Marsch’s strengths as a coach. Very much a system manager Marsch clearly realised he had a squad capable of playing high-intensity football like he desires, but also required system-specific players to bolster the team. Coming out of the Red Bull system Marsch already had the experience of many players that could immediately come to the Premier League and slot nicely into the system he was trying to implement.
The likes of Brenden Aaronson and Tyler Adams already look a success, while the squad has been bolstered by the likes of Rasmus Kristensen and Marc Roca. Most of the guys brought in were identified by the Red Bull scouting network as talents that could fit into their systems and Marsch has taken full advantage of this to improve his squad. It wasn’t guesswork to bring in a player like Tyler Adams was brought in after the departure of Kalvin Philips. The two share similarities in their work rate and general profile on the pitch. The new players brought in by Marsch are already top of Leeds United’s running and pressing charts with Brenden Aaronson, Tyler Adams and Marc Roca being some of the most active pressing players in the league.
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Avoiding The Drop
Despite the excitement around Eland Road, Leeds United fans will be the first to tell you that the priority this season is avoiding relegation at all costs. It wasn’t that long ago that this one-time giant club had been languishing in the English Championship for almost two decades. With Marsch’s sensible recruitment and exciting style, Leeds will look mostly to avoid the drop this season, but can also aim higher as the season goes on. Ultimately the positive changes that the Wisconsin native has made will see Leeds move in a positive direction over the next few seasons.
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