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Marsch under pressure already after Villa debacle
Saturday, 12th Mar 2022 13:04 by Tim Whelan

The Jesse March era began so brightly with a much-improved performance at Leicester City a week ago today, but it looks like his honeymoon period came to a swift end during a dispiriting collapse at home to Aston Villa. Already there are many on social media asking if he is the right man for the job.

In many ways, Jesse Marsch has the worst of all worlds when he accepted the challenge of taking over at a crucial stage of the season to try to guide Leeds to Premiership safety. He had very big shoes to fill, but he was succeeding a club legend who had actually left the place in a bit of a mess.

He had the best part of a week to get the players used to a different defensive system at Leicester, and it seemed to be working, with Leeds looking far more solid at the back. We deserved at least a point and arguably all three, with only our familiar poor finishing preventing a better result. And March can’t be blamed for that given the squad he inherited, with it’s excess of wingers and lack of genuine strikers.

But it all fell apart against Villa, as normal service was resumed at the back, with a couple of defenders looking completely lost. This time Marsch has to take at least some of the blame, with three players quite needlessly moved away from their best positions. The obvious set-up was to have Koch in central defence, Ayling at right-back and Dallas in midfield, not to try a Bielsa style rotation into the roles these three actually played against Villa.

It’s one thing to field players in unfamiliar positions when you have to because of injuries, but it’s odd to do so when you have other options. Koch has never looked comfortable as a deep midfielder, either protecting the back four or distributing the ball once we’ve got it. Ayling worked hard as a central defender in this game, but we missed him on the right, and the specialist central defenders would have done at least as good a job in that position.

Leeds actually made a bright start, though we didn’t make any decent chances, as the lack of a focal point for our attack was again evident despite James’ hard work. Our best moment came when Raphinha beat Digne but backheeled the ball past the post, with Rodrigo moaning that he didn’t get a pass. But that didn’t matter anyway, as James had been offside at the start of the move as a blocked clearance came to him.

But the whole direction of the game changed when Villa grabbed the opening goal in the 22nd minute. A one-two set Digne free down Villa’s left, and when Watkins failed to meet the cross he claimed to have been impeded by Firpo. VAR would have looked at that, but they spared the trouble when Cash pulled the ball back to find Coutinho racing into acres of space on the edge of the box.

His shot took a deflection as Struijk tried to block it, which wrong-footed Meslier and gave him no chance. Which was very unlucky, although our general lack of organisation at the back had given Villa the chance in the first place. From then on Villa grew in confidence and went on to dominate the rest of the half.

As the visitors pressed forwards, Struijk seemed to be having his worst game for quite a while, not sure of where he was supposed to be and beaten all too easily by Watkins more than once. The scoreline would have been worse but for a couple of good saves from Meslier, one to keep out a Luiz shot from distance and an even better stop as McGinn curled the ball towards the bottom corner.

There were boos as the players went off at half-time, but a lot of that was to do with the referee, who had irritated the home crowd with one or two decisions. He had tried to let the game flow, but as a result he hadn’t given Leeds a couple of free-kicks we should have had, and a couple of times this had allowed Villa to come forward into dangerous positions.

Marsch had a lot of work to do during the break, and he does at least appear to have some powers of motivation, as Leeds responded to his team talk by giving us the best 15 minutes of the game at the start of the second period. He also replaced the anonymous Rodrigo with Gelhardt, which did of course help us to up the tempo as we approached Villa’s goal. It was Gelhardt who produced our first shot on target, but it was from some way out and lacked the power to trouble Martinez.

At this stage we looked well capable of grabbing an equaliser, the more so when Bamford came on for Harrison, allowing James to go back to being a winger. But once again an Aston Villa goal was to change the complexion of the game completely. This time Firpo was the culprit, neglecting his flank as he was drawn into a central position marking nobody, while completely oblivious to the danger of Cash racing down the Villa right behind him.

Once Cash was picked out by a ball from the opposite flank Firpo belatedly spotted him, then panicked and raced across too quickly, going past Cash as the Villa man cut inside, instead of stopping to block his progress. This left Cash with plenty of time and space to pick his spot, which he duly did by firing the ball past Meslier with his left foot.
Marsch then tried to give the midfield more impetus by replacing Forshaw with Kilch, but Villa sealed the game completely with the third goal on 73 minutes.

A corner was swung in from the left, and Ayling didn’t get the power he needed onto his clearing header. The first to react was Mings, who played it back to an unchallenged Chambers on the edge of the box. The Villa defender can’t have produced many better chips than the one he sent over the defence right into the top corner, so why did he have to do that against us?

From then on our heads seemed to drop, with Villa dominating possession, and it’s not much use having our first choice striking pair on the field if they get starved of service. The once chance that Bamford produced saw him tee himself up for a left foot curling shot (similar to one of his three at Villa Park at the start of the Bielsa period in the Premiership) but this time it was a couple of yards too high and too wide.

In the closing stages the mood started to turn ugly inside Elland Road, with thousands of fans streaming out well before the end, chanting Marcello Bielsa’s name as they did so. On the field some of the players seemed to have given up completely, while Raphinha was losing his rag at the frustration of it all, picking up a needless booking for kicking the ball away.

And we finished the game with ten men, as once again we suffered an injury after all three substitutes had been used. This time it was Firpo, who had to be given Oxygen as he was stretchered off, so it may be a while before we see him again. No bad thing according to many on social media who were very critical of his display during this game.

Though he’s not alone in copping for plenty of abuse online, with the attitude of most of the players being questioned, as well as Victor Orta getting flack for signing the wrong players and Radz for not investing enough money. But it’s the new head coach who has been the prime target in the last two days, with many saying that they hope the ‘Bielsa out’ brigade are satisfied now.

Some fans thing we should have recruited a manager with Premier League experience, that Marsch is out of his depth, and that he might sound good in interviews but hasn’t got a lot of ability to back that up with. And more than a few think that only Bielsa could get the best out of our squad of mostly average Championship level players, and that Marsch won’t even last to the end of the season.

We need to give him a bit more time to get things right and stamp his own authority on the squad, though we urgently need a big improvement in tomorrow’s vital game at home to Norwich. But just one thing Jesse. I know the current squad aren’t the players of your choosing and there’s nothing that can be done about that before the summer, but please make the most of what you’ve got by playing them all in the right positions.


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