Jesse Marsch showing there is life after Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds United but not everyone is convinced by the change yet


Against Norwich, Leeds concede a stoppage-time equaliser and then go up the pitch and win the game all over again thanks to a goal from their teenage striker. Elland Road erupts. This is vintage Leeds, a moment to cherish.

At Wolves, the large travelling support see their team go two goals down at the break but continue to cheer them on. An improbable comeback is completed in the 91st minute, this time the long-serving Luke Ayling, after a man-of-the-match display, is the hero.

Had these moments come during the reign of Marcelo Bielsa – back-to-back stoppage-time wins in the Premier League for the first time this century – they might have entered the pantheon of his greatest hits, lauded as examples of El Loco at his best.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Leeds’ dramatic win against Wolves in the Premier League

Instead, they were Jesse Marsch’s first two wins as Leeds boss.

As a result, the mood among supporters is rather different. There is an unease. Some are happy to move on. They will say that the club is bigger than any one person. Staying in the Premier League is the immediate focus. Marsching on together and all that.

Others are reluctant to let go. They accept that there must be life after Bielsa but that does not mean they have to love it, not just yet. Expecting them to embrace it in the same way, to be imbued with that same sense of purpose when they were all in, is a lot to ask.

This is the problem facing Marsch. If circumstances were different those first two wins would have set the tone, ending debate about whether his style of play would bring an end to the Elland Road run. Instead, there has been chatter about the third win at Watford.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Leeds’ 3-0 win against Watford in the Premier League

A 3-0 victory away from home, Leeds’ biggest of the season, sounds emphatic. But the manner of it has been criticised. It was a stuttering performance, not their best of late, even by Marsch’s own admission. It was enough to leave some underwhelmed.

Leeds’ passing accuracy at Vicarage Road was just 63.8 per cent – the lowest in any game since their return to the Premier League. They had fewer touches in the opposition box against a team outside the top two than in any game under Bielsa.

For many in Leeds’ situation, it was a classic away performance. But the contrast with what came before it, what many Leeds fans had come to believe in so totally, was vast. The most touches by Leeds in the opposition box this season? Forty in Bielsa’s final game.

They lost 4-0 at home to Tottenham.

Rob Conlon, writer at The Square Ball, the popular Leeds United fanzine and podcast, accepts reservations about the style change but takes a pragmatic view. “Ultimately, if we keep winning 3-0, nobody will care what our passing accuracy is,” he tells Sky Sports.

“In terms of what Jesse Marsch was asked to do when he was hired, he has done an impressive job so far. There is an acceptance that this season is all about staying up, and next season will be a fairer time to judge the style of play.

“I have spoken to some friends who remain unconvinced what the big idea is going to be beyond staying up this season – and I share those reservations – but I think a lot of those frustrations are aimed more at those running the club than Marsch himself.

“The difference in playing style is more jarring than anything else, and it goes back to getting used to being involved in ‘normal’ games of football that are evenly-matched and competitive again. We know March’s football is going to be more direct than Bielsa’s.

“Still, those three-and-a-half years under Bielsa felt like absolute magic – I know it sounds like cringeworthy exceptionalism, but they were completely unique to us, so of course it feels like something special has been lost.”

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Leeds boss Jesse Marsch provides an update on their squad before Monday Night Football

Such is Marsch’s predicament. He took this job with the clear remit that there were problems in need of addressing. A team that had lost four in a row, conceding 17 goals in the process, could not be allowed to continue on that trajectory. He had to change that.

Conversely, he took this job with the clear knowledge that Bielsa was a folk hero whose playing style had reinvigorated a city. Marsch might save the club from the drop but Bielsa had saved the club’s soul. Fans still crave that feeling. He had to keep that.

Change too little and his presence is pointless. Change too much and fans are left longing for what they have lost. It is not quite Brian Clough’s desire to ‘win it better’ than Don Revie but the need for delicacy is already apparent.

There was a reminder of that when Marsch gave a radio interview to talkSPORT after the Watford game. Asked about the club’s injury problems, he risked making some not so subtle criticisms, suggesting that his predecessor’s methods had been part of the problem.

“The injury issue had a lot to do with the training methodologies. These players were overtrained. It led to them being physically, mentally, psychologically and emotionally in a difficult place to recover from week to week, from game to game.

“I have had a reputation for high running data, but also having healthy, fit and strong players who can meet the standards in the game that we want. I have tried to put that into place to help the players and I think that has helped a lot.”

Marsch was just being honest. Too honest, perhaps.

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Most can accept the wisdom of quietly dropping the so-called murder-ball training sessions every Wednesday, but those same supporters will find it harder to hear public criticism of the coach whose genius carried them to the Premier League in the first place.

Perhaps those sessions were counter-productive by the end. But only after two pandemic-hit seasons and lifting some seemingly Championship-level players to heights few had imagined possible. After passionately defending Bielsa, it is a gear shift for fans.

“Marsch’s overtraining comment rankled with me,” says Conlon.

“I don’t doubt the players were physically and emotionally drained, but Marsch often talks about how the squad’s mentality is the best that he has worked with, and a huge reason it is so strong is because they were able to survive what Bielsa asked of them every day.

“Marsch has benefited from being able to ease some of that intensity, but still being able to rely on a squad that is responsible enough to maintain those professional standards.”

While Conlon says the comments were “a bit daft” he knows they were also an exception. “Marsch has been really careful to come across respectfully, and seems like a decent guy.” The man himself has since apologised. “It was a little bit careless,” Marsch admitted.

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It is a reminder of the challenge, the peculiar circumstances at Leeds. Where the new manager is picking up points while people in the old manager’s home-town of Rosario in Argentina are picking up their paper to see a full-page advert thanking Bielsa.

“We will never know what would have happened if Bielsa kept his job,” says Conlon. “If Marsch keeps us up, it will be a job well done, but then there will be a lot more expectation next season to be something other than a ‘normal’ Premier League club.

“What is the big idea?”

With a takeover long mooted, that answer might yet come. It all adds to the mood of change at Elland Road. “It feels a bit like we’re stuck between two eras. If that takeover were to go through it might help Marsch in drawing a line under what has gone before.”

The love affair with Bielsa goes on. The new man can never be him.

He can only hope that, in time, being Jesse Marsch will be enough.

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