February hasn’t been kind to Leeds United. They’ve conceded 20 goals during a month that saw them draw one game and lose four more as they tumbled closer to the relegation zone. What has happened to last season’s Premier League darlings? How did they go from a newly promoted team that finished ninth to a team at risk of dropping back to the Championship? Questions were asked about Marcelo Bielsa’s extremely open style of play, but before analyzing that, it’s important to note that he was without Kalvin Phillips, Patrick Bamford, Diego Llorente, Robin Koch and several other members of the team for large portions of the season. Leeds had a thin squad to begin the season, so the numerous injuries have cut extra deep.
But even so, enough losing and a contract that runs out at the end of the season caused even the most loyal of front offices to move one from their manager in order to save them from freefall, especially after losing their last two matches to Liverpool and Tottenham while being outscored 10-0 over that span. The hallmark of this Bielsa side had been that they’ll score plenty of goals to make up for an open but that hasn’t been the case as of late. As the defense has gotten worse, the attack has as well.
The losing skid was enough to see Biela officially get the pink slip on Sunday, with American Jesse Marsch appointed as new head coach, the club announced on Monday. His managerial debut in the Premier League will come Saturday against Leicester City.
“One of the things I love about this team right now is their commitment — no matter how difficult the games have been — to play ’til the end, to fight for each other, to never stop, to give everything they have to each other at every moment,” Marsch said, via the team’s social media. “So this mentality, this mindset to play for the fans, to fight for each other, this is what I love.
“For me, I just want to help take the torch to the next phase and understand that everything that’s been done has laid an incredible foundation coming into this moment. I just want to try to do everything I can to help take the club into the next phase of our history. And I think my style of play, my aggressiveness, the desire I have for teams to be intensive and to run and to make things difficult for the opponent fits with what has been done here in the last three-and-a-half years. So it will be a big challenge to do it in a short period of time and I’ll make sure that we evolve in a way that can be successful for what the future may bring, but [doing] it now. So I have to really identify how to do the important things and the simple things right away then build complexity as we continue to move forward.”
“We are really pleased to have quickly secured the services of our first-choice head coach.
“Whilst the short-term objective for Jesse is obvious, we believe he has the courage and ambition to build on the strong foundations we have created over the last four years and elevate the performance of the club over the long-term. He had a great deal of success with New York Red Bulls and Red Bull Salzburg and has demonstrated during our many meetings that he is a great fit with the footballing culture of Leeds United.
“At this challenging time, it is important that the club remains united from top to bottom. The fans have been amazing throughout Andrea [Radrizzani]’s tenure and we have no doubt they will unite behind Jesse and ensure the team quickly returns to winning with style.”
The former RB Leipzig boss, who just recently left the Red Bull football group, had been linked to a move to Leeds since the summer, according to The Athletic, which is why CBS Sports’ Jamie Carragher tried to get an exclusive on his next destination in the lead-up to Champions League matches.
Marsch was dismissed from Red Bull Leipzig on Dec. 5 after their loss to Union Berlin was the final straw. At the time, Leipzig sat 11th in the league with a plus-seven goal difference. By most metrics, the team was underperforming their expectations and performances have picked up since Marsch left seeing the team rise to sixth in the league and be in striking distance of a Champions League spot. But Marsch’s style of pressing would translate to Leeds who are an extremely up-tempo team already under Bielsa.
It’s a tough job because a new coach doesn’t magically heal Leeds’s injuries nor changes the fact that they’ve played two to three games more than the teams that trail them in the league, but there could be extra incentive for Marsch to avoid relegation as he could be rewarded with the team signing Brenden Aaronson.
Leeds pushed hard for Aaronson in January but RB Salzburg wanted to keep him for their knockout stage games in the Champions League. Considering his performance in the draw versus Bayern Munich where Aaronson created five of Salzburg’s seven total chances, had 10 passes in the final third, five take ons, and an assist, that decision was justified.
But with Raphina’s future also in doubt, Aaronson is someone who could play with or replace the Brazilian playmaker making him a ready made transfer target for Leeds United. They’ll probably have to stay in the Premier League to make that happen though. Whether that’s up to Marsch or someone else to make that happen remains uncertain.
The board will want to react swiftly as time is the one thing not on Leeds’ side.