After a hard-fought goalless draw at Selhurst Park, the Leeds United board’s choice to part ways with Marcelo Bielsa looked vindicated, albeit still a gut-wrenching decision for the majority of fans. Jesse Marsch’s side were five points above the drop having taken 11 points from the previous 15 on offer.
Three games later and defeats to Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea, coupled with Burnley’s revival and Everton picking up important points, leaves Leeds in the relegation zone with just two games to play. So where do Leeds go from here?
The mood has shifted inside Elland Road. Marsch, whose introduction to the Premier League promised high-intensity pressing and slick transitions, cut a very despondent figure on the touchline in their recent defeat at home to Chelsea; his stonewash denim jeans a far braver decision than any of his players dared muster on the pitch in another lacklustre, soulless display.
Whilst meaningful in their own right, Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa quotes aren’t going to keep Leeds United in the Premier League. Nor is playing your biggest, and realistically only, attacking threat Raphinha as a right wing-back.
The silky Brazilian winger, renowned for his flair and eye for goal, undoubtedly works hard, however nullifying his ability to get forward is a remarkable decision with the team so shy in front of goal.
In Marcelo Bielsa’s last game in charge of the West Yorkshire outfit, a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Tottenham, Leeds still managed to record 19 shots at goal. For all their defensive frailties, remnants of the swashbuckling style that had seen them do so well the previous campaign were still on show.
Against Chelsea, albeit a man down, the hosts didn’t have a single shot on target. With the ball, the movement from the likes of Rodrigo was non-existent, and without the ball, the visitors, themselves without a win in three, barely had to break sweat. Leeds offered nothing.
Whilst it is unfair to truly judge Marsch until he has had a chance to bring his own players in and get a full pre-season with the squad under his belt, the common consensus amongst fans asks what exactly is the side’s identity?
They aren’t pleasing on the eye in possession, they are still making the same defensive mistakes they made under Bielsa and the fight and tenacity in the players looks at an all-time low.
Discipline is another area which Marsch needs to stamp down his authority. “He needs to be a son of a bitch on the pitch,” explained the American, when asked of Jack Harrison’s character. The winger and his teammates recently brought up a century of cards for the season, 97 cautions – a Premier League record – and three red cards.
Two of those dismissals came in their previous two outings, with Luke Ayling and Dan James receiving straight reds for shocking challenges in the first halves against Arsenal and Chelsea respectively.
Already behind in both games, these moments of madness took away any slither of a chance the side had in the fixtures and ruled the pair out for the season, adding to Leeds’ ongoing selection issues.
Leeds may yet survive the drop. It is perfectly conceivable that Burnley might not pick up a point from their remaining three fixtures, away to Tottenham and Aston Villa before facing Newcastle at Turf Moor on the final day. But this Leeds side, with key players missing through injury and suspension, and belief wavering need to find every ounce of fight if they are to preserve their Premier League status.
After all, they were never going to do it the easy way.
By: Jack Douglas / @JDouglasSport
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images