Jesse Marsch took over at Elland Road with a demanding task. Not only did Marsch take over a side in the relegation battle in a massively competitive league. He replaced a fan-favorite manager and battled a pre-existing stigma against American coaches in Europe.
On one hand, he replaced a manager that got Leeds back to the Premier League for the first time in 16 years. Marcelo Bielsa, who revolutionized Leeds in the English Championship, won the Championship in the COVID-impacted 2019/20 campaign.
In the club’s first season back in the top flight, Marcelo Bielsa coached the side to a ninth-place finish. However, a sophomore slump for Leeds followed. With the club struggling just above the relegation zone, Leeds sacked the Argentine.
Jesse Marsch appeared as the most likely candidate. However, it was always going to be a tall task to replicate the successes of Bielsa in his first three seasons. The first role for Marsch was, of course, to save Leeds from relegation. When the American took over, the odds stacked against him.
Leeds sat in 16th, two points above the drop. Plus, the two sides directly beneath Leeds, Everton and Burnley, had two games in hand. The West Yorkshire club gave Leeds a winless run of six games, which included five losses.
Yet, despite having managed just five games at the helm of Leeds, Marsch seems to have reignited Leeds. Two wins, two losses and a draw is not the perfect record some fans dreamed of. Still, it did create a six-point gap with the relegation zone.
While Burnley and Everton still have games in hand on Leeds, momentum is on the side of Marsch.
Here is how he is turning around the club after just five games.
Jesse Marsch: Leeds’s American savior
In the Premier League, the top teams are incredibly rife with talent. Clubs bouncing between the Premier League and Championship do not have the star power of Liverpool, Manchester City or Chelsea. Rather, clubs must find value in the transfer market and outsmart the opposition. Or, more bluntly, clubs like Leeds can beat the inferior clubs and survive against the big clubs.
That is where Leeds struggled this season. In 2020/21 Leeds beat the teams that finished in the bottom four eight times. Comparatively, Leeds under Bielsa had just three wins and two draws and one loss to the bottom four prior to Marsch taking over. It is a slight difference, yes. However, in the competitive nature of the Premier League, these games hold just as much importance as, for example, Manchester City against Liverpool. Albeit, this is for relegation, not the title.
Jesse Marsch’s style as manager
Managers often have a particular way to organize their squads. For Jesse Marsch, that means utilizing a 4-2-2-2, something he did during his tenure at RB Leipzig and RB Salzburg. Bielsa opted more frequently for 4-1-4-1, which cost Leeds dearly in Bielsa’s last two games, a combined 10-0 against Liverpool and Tottenham.
Fortunately, Marsch seems like Bielsa’s natural successor when it comes to Leeds. Had Leeds wanted to just survive in the Premier League, it could have sought the expertise of someone like Sam Allardyce or Alan Pardew. Jesse Marsch is meant to improve the side, not keep it afloat.
Therefore, when looking at Jesse Marsch’s offensive priority, it reflects the aggressive nature of Bielsa. talkSPORT’s European football expert Kevin Hatchard says Leeds did not want to reform its plans for the future. Bielsa’s offensive-minded nature got the club to its current spot. Marsch, like Bielsa, will not sit back and hope for a draw. He wants all three points.
“Marsch plays that press, counter-press, work rate, attacking football. He won’t dig in and try to nick a point because he’s not capable of it. It’s not what he does.”
Therefore, it is no surprise that Marsch’s biggest results came when he sought out all three points.
A flair for the dramatic
In Jesse Marsch’s first two games leading Leeds, a pair of midtable teams put the Whites further into the relegation battle. However, two added time winners within six days of each other changed the complexion of this team and this season.
On March 13, it appeared Norwich’s Kenny McLean stole two points from Jesse Marsch and Leeds in the 91st minute. However, Joe Gelhardt bagged three minutes later to secure a dramatic, and invaluable, win against Norwich. That win stopped Leeds’s bleeding. Plus, it showed that Jesse Marsch could be Leeds’s American savior.
To bolster that feeling, a comeback win against Wolves came just days later. Trailing 2-0 at the half at Molineux, Jack Harrison and Rodrigo leveled the game inside four minutes of each other. A dramatic conclusion followed in the 91st minute. Luke Ayling slotted home the winner to provide Leeds’s second-consecutive win.
As commentator Peter Drury described it, this game was ‘transformational’ for Leeds. To quote Drury, it represented “Leeds from the dead.” Not only did Leeds come back from a helpless situation in the game, but Marsch put the club on track for survival via offensive prowess.
Also, it helps when a manager has the emotions that reflect the players when moments like this happen.
Embracing the American stigma
Despite the celebrations from Leeds fans from these two wins, they were not so quick to accept Jesse Marsch as manager.
Disregarding similarities to Ted Lasso, English fans of the sport often consider the American product subpar. With just a handful of player like Christian Pulisic or Weston McKennie breaking on to the world stage, Marsch acknowledges that there is reason to cast aside Americans on the English scene.
Marsch is just the third American to manage a Premier League side. Bob Bradley struggled leading Swansea City, while David Wagner had some success with Huddersfield before the two sides parted ways midseason.
Wagner is the most successful manager in Premier League history to call himself American. Albeit it is a small sample size. That being said, Jesse Marsch likely has the best resume of these three.
Based on his first handful of games, Marsch is working to change the stigma towards American soccer players and managers. He embodies his Argentine predecessor in terms of play style. He’ll hope to replicate Bielsa’s early success as this season concludes.
Gauntlet to close the season
If Jesse Marsch wants to tackle his goal as Leeds’s American savior, he’ll use the remaining seven games to solidify his spot as manager. These games are a daunting task of teams in the hunt for European competition.
Watford and Crystal Palace, both away from Elland Road, are winnable fixtures for Jesse Marsch. In the reverse fixtures of both, Leeds picked up 1-0 wins under the guidance of Bielsa. Marsch seeks a similar result, especially considering the three games that follow.
Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea are three opponents before games against Brighton and Brentford close out the season. While Leeds’s opposition have games in hand, Leeds closes out the 2021/22 campaign with a brutal stretch of fixtures.
Jesse Marsch may have struggled with RB Leipzig this season, but he could use the talent at his disposal at Leeds to pick up results.
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