Keep Kalvin Phillips and Raphinha and sort out Leeds United’s defence: Five priorities for Jesse Marsch

Jesse Marsch has got his feet under the desk at Thorp Arch. Stuart Rayner looks at his key priorities as he gets to work as Leeds United head coach.

1. Getting everyone onside

Leeds United wrote the book on managers starting on the wrong footing – or rather David Peace did, when he imagined The Damned United – but first impressions really do matter and without the heavyweight reputation or emotional attachment his predecessor enjoyed, Jesse Marsch needs to hit the ground running.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Marsch’s hugely-respected mentor, Ralf Rangnick, and his coaching staff have been undermined by whispers Manchester United’s players do not rate his training and depressing though it is to admit, the tail will wag the dog in modern football if that is so.

Leeds United manager Jesse Marsch - pictured at Elland Road on the day he was appointed to succeed Marcelo Bielsa (Picture: Leeds United)

A large chunk of the Leeds squad owe the fact they are Premier League footballers to Marcelo Bielsa, and Marsch will need to convince them to buy into his methods immediately through his actions, ideas and demeanour at Thorp Arch. Fortunately he has a reputation as being much more personable than the stand-offish Bielsa.

The Argentinian was sacked before his popularity ran out on the terraces, and supporters will need to be won over too because the backing Leeds have had has been tremendous this season but more will be needed to avoid relegation.

This is familiar to Marsch, who succeeded Mike Petke, the first New York Red Bulls coach to win silverware, Marco Rose at Salzburg and Bayern Munich-bound Julian Nagelsmann at Leipzig.

Perhaps his biggest barrier will be his nationality. There is still a snobbish attitude towards Americans in English football and only Bob Bradley and David Wagner – half-German – have managed in the Premier League. Every reference to “soccer” and the “Premeer” League will work against him.

Leeds United's Joe Gelhardt

2. Sort out the defence

After 20 goals conceded in five February matches, it does not take a brain surgeon to work out this is Marsch’s top on-field priority.

The 48-year-old has the same commitment to attack as Bielsa and is not noted for locking the back door – far from it – but at least seems more open to dealing with the flaws of Bielsaball.

Marsch relies more on zonal marking than the man-to-man approach across the field which could sometimes be Leeds’s undoing.

Kalvin Phillips. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

The suspicion is the back three he used in New York is his preferred formation, but he mainly used fours in Austria and Salzburg in recognition of those club’s traditions and players’ preferences.

Marsch will have the same handicap Bielsa did – injuries to key players such as defensive organiser Liam Cooper, midfield anchorman Kalvin Phillips and press-leader Patrick Bamford.

3. Assess the Under-23s

Those injuries and Bielsa’s insistence on a tight 18-man squad means the club’s second tier of Under-23 players have to fill the gaps.

Since Leeds won promotion and category one academy status there has been a big focus on signing youngsters with huge potential and developing them is high on Marsch’s job description. But it was one of the paradoxes of Bielsa’s outwardly youth-friendly strategy that they remain largely untested even in a season where so many seniors have missed so much football.

Charlie Cresswell, Lewis Bate, the fit-again Sam Greenwood, Liam McCarron and Stuart McKinstry might all be regulars on the bench this season but none have more than 100 Premier League minutes under their belts. The injured Leo Fuhr Hjelde has 150, Crysencio Summerville 122, and Archie Gray, Jack Jenkins, Nohan Kenneh, Kristoffer Klaesson and Kris Moore none. Even Joe Gelhardt only has 393.

Playing exciting striker Gelhardt at Leicester, though, would both help address the squad shortages and win a popularity contest in the away end.

4. Build a supportive backroom

Cameron Toshack, a former Swansea City coach and son of John, looks like being the first addition to Marsch’s coaching staff but when Austrian football expert Anna Konovalova spoke to The Yorkshire Post about Marsch’s last two jobs, she said: “At times (at Salzburg) it looked like he critically lacked experience to solve some of the situations he was facing, but with some support from a well-composed staff he kept his head above water.

“At Leipzig, with no proper backroom support, all of this burst.”

Some heavyweight experience, particularly of the idiosyncratic English football, would be good.

5. Persuade Phillips and Raphinha to stay

Even before Bielsa left there was a sense of foreboding about whether Leeds could keep their prize assets, Phillips and Raphinha, this summer now the cat is out of the bag about how good they both are.

Brazilian winger Raphinha was never likely to be in it for the really long haul, and his elevation to the national team will only have attracted more interest but as a Leeds boy, Phillips is a standard-bearer for everything the club wants to achieve and engaging him in the next chapter of their story would be massive.