Crystal Palace v Leeds United: Jesse Marsch has White marching together

Jesse Marsch would never cut it as a dictator.

If Marcelo Bielsa sometimes came across as a very distant, authoritarian leader of Leeds United, his successor is trying to get the club marching on together.

Even in a high-stakes relegation battle, Marsch is keen to entrust his fate and the club’s long-term destiny to others, just not other clubs.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Burnley’s second consecutive win under caretaker manager Mike Jackson moved them to within two points of Leeds from an extra game, and dropped Everton, two points further back, into the relegation zone even before their 2-0 defeat at Liverpool.

Leeds United manager Jesse Marsch. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Marsch’s philosophy is about Leeds taking their fate into their own hands and they have done so lately, winning three and drawing the other of their last four matches. Tonight’s televised game at Crystal Palace, who have only pride and prize money to play for, is another opportunity to widen the gap to the trapdoor.

But the course they plot will be a collective one.

Even Bielsa’s bosses seemed to fear rejecting his requests or ideas – even those they disagreed with, such as his refusal to seek the comfort blanket of extra players in certain positions. Instead, the whole club followed with an almost messianic faith.

Marsch spoke on Friday about Adam Forshaw continuing to play an important off-field role despite a broken kneecap but it is not just the seven-strong “leadership counsel” of senior players he is looking to.

Palace’s success this season has come by moving on from an old guard who consistently kept them afloat under Roy Hodgson to a younger breed with more scope for improvement, more risk of disappointment.

Leeds historically aspire to be one of those clubs too. A 21,321 crowd for Friday’s Under-23 home game against Manchester City underscored how much supporters value youngsters at a club whose golden spells were built on home-grown talent.

“I had a long talk with Sam Greenwood and Joffy (Joe Gelhardt) about their role, how much I believe in them and how important they are,” says Marsch. “It’s been a continual process with Cree (Crysencio Summerville), and he’s responded really well. I could go down the list of players.

“Me being here is also, I think, a signal to the academy that we believe in youth and as a club, we’re committed to developing players, much like Marcelo was.

“The people here have been really receptive to trying to learn my playing philosophy and I’ve encouraged them to learn at their own rate, but it’s also their team – I don’t want to be the one making decisions about line-ups, what they do in training every day and what kind of subs to make.

“Each team has to have its own identity but then fit within the construct of how we’re trying to play football as a club.”

Always a risk-taker, Bielsa built his squad so there was no choice but to give young players opportunities but paradoxically it took them a long time to fully win his trust. Judging by his comments on centre-back Charlie Cresswell, Marsch seems less suspicious.

“I consider him a first-team player,” he says. “Against Wolves he looked totally at ease. He’s not afraid of anything. Even in the first training session he was the loudest player on the pitch.

“He doesn’t shy away from big moments. He needs to play.

“He’s a young, talented player that has big potential as a leader of our club, and we just need to continue to give him big experiences so we can develop him as quickly as possible.”

Marsch knows he needs a similarly fearless mindset.

“I’ve worked with so many young players and it was a big part of the philosophy of all the clubs I worked at,” he reflects. “If you want to produce young, brave players, the person that has to be bravest is the first-team coach.

“You have to believe in youngsters, put them on the pitch and challenge them to be their best.”

Last six games: Crystal Palace LLLWWD, Leeds United WDWWLL

Referee: D England (Doncaster)

Last time: Crystal Palace 4 Leeds United 1, November 7, 2020