London (AFP) – Leeds manager Jesse Marsch suffered a 1-0 defeat at Leicester in his first game in charge of the Premier League strugglers, while Liverpool prepared for their chance to close the gap on leaders Manchester City later on Saturday.
Marsch has been hired to save Leeds from relegation after replacing Marcelo Bielsa.
But he was unable to spark an immediate improvement in Leeds’ fortunes as Harvey Barnes bagged the second half winner in his 100th Premier League appearance.
Defeat was cruel on Marsch’s side, who dominated for long periods, but Leeds have lost their last five games and sit just two points above the relegation zone.
Marsch is just the second American to take charge of a Premier League club after Bob Bradley’s brief spell at Swansea in 2016.
The 48-year-old has already been derided in some quarters as Leeds’ own Ted Lasso, in reference to the hapless American appointed as manager of a fictional English team in a current television comedy show.
Few US coaches have succeeded in Europe and Marsch acknowledged this week that the Lasso character added to the stigma as he prepared for his first taste of the Premier League.
Marsch, dismissed by RB Leipzig in December after a disappointing five-month spell, has a massive job on his hands to change perceptions while keeping Leeds afloat.
Bielsa was worshipped by Leeds supporters after masterminding their club’s long-awaited return to the Premier League.
But, while Bielsa awoke the sleeping giant, his stubborn refusal to change his attacking game-plan was exposed in Leeds’ second season back in the top-flight.
There were signs in this well-drilled display that Marsch may be able to help shore up Leeds’ defence but time is running out to keep them up.
Making two changes to the Leeds line-up as Mateusz Klich and Rodrigo came in, Marsch nearly enjoyed a dream start when Daniel James forced a good save from Kasper Schmeichel early on.
Former Leeds keeper Schmeichel was forced into action again moments later to repel Jack Harrison’s effort.
– Leeds frustrated –
Bielsa was famous for his curious habit of sitting on a bucket during games, but Marsch was a complete contrast as he urged his players on while constantly moving around his technical area.
Leeds fans sung about Bielsa throughout the match, but Marsch’s name was also chanted by the travelling hordes during their team’s promising start.
Rodrigo shot over after Harrison’s pass gave him a sight of goal, while the Spaniard also appealed in vain for a penalty following Caglar Soyuncu’s challenge.
Jamie Vardy was making his first start of 2022 after coming off the bench to mark his return from a hamstring injury with a goal in Leicester’s midweek win at Burnley.
But Vardy’s presence couldn’t inspire Leicester in a spluttering first half for the Foxes, whose best chance was a header straight at Illan Meslier from Wilfred Ndidi.
Leeds kept up the pressure after the interval and James saw his shot deflect narrowly wide off Raphinha before Rodrigo’s header drew a superb save from Schmeichel.
Only Schmeichel stood between Leeds and victory as the Dane brilliantly denied Raphinha’s close-range effort.
But Bielsa’s reign had imploded with 20 goals conceded in his final five matches.
Leeds hadn’t kept a clean-sheet since November and once again they were exposed at the back as Barnes put Leicester ahead against the run of play in the 67th minute.
Barnes played a one-two with Kelechi Iheanacho before guided a composed finish past Meslier from inside the area.
Later on Saturday, Liverpool can move within three points of table-topping City if they beat West Ham at Anfield.
City play Manchester United on Sunday, giving Jurgen Klopp’s side a chance to pile pressure on the champions before the derby at the Etihad Stadium.
Elsewhere, Chelsea visit Burnley for their first league game since Roman Abramovich announced his intention to sell the club amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
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