'I'm always challenging him' - Jesse Marsch hails Leeds United star after heroics at Newcastle

Jesse Marsch praised the growing maturity of Leeds United goalkeeper Illan Meslier after another man-of-the-match performance against top opposition.

At just 22 years-old and even with 99 league starts to his name, the Frenchman is still learning his trade.

As with all goalkeepers, his season has not been without its errors or soft goals conceded, but he made two excellent saves to keep his first clean sheet in 10 appearances at Newcastle United on New Year's Eve.

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Meslier saved with his chest from Chris Wood and his feet from Fabian Schar in the 0-0 in driving rain at St James' Park, although good defensive work in front of him meant he was far from overwhelmed by a side who had not lost since August, and whose only Premier League home defeats since Eddie Howe was named manager in November 2021 were last season against Liverpool and Manchester City.

Illan Meslier clears the ball during Newcastle United v Leeds United. Picture: Bruce RollinsonIllan Meslier clears the ball during Newcastle United v Leeds United. Picture: Bruce Rollinson
Illan Meslier clears the ball during Newcastle United v Leeds United. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

His display came on the back of a brilliant performance when Leeds won 2-1 at Liverpool in late October.

"I'm always challenging him to mature with his presence in goal, with his belief in himself with himself, with his assuredness in decision making and with saves and with crosses," said coach Marsch.

"For me, by being the last defender at the right time, the choices he made with the ball, the saves he made, the crosses that he caught, this is probably his best performance since I've been here, even with Liverpool.

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"I think we're seeing it, seeing a goalkeeper that's growing right before our eyes and that's going to be really important for us."

Jesse Marsch at full time. Picture: Bruce RollinsonJesse Marsch at full time. Picture: Bruce Rollinson
Jesse Marsch at full time. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Meslier had glandular fever during the World Cup break, limiting him to very little training, but took his place in the line-up for the 3-1 Boxing Day defeat at home to Manchester City.

He is due to make his 100th league start for the club at Elland Road on Wednesday, when West Ham United are the visitors.

Before kick-off on New Year's Eve, only four teams had conceded more league goals than Leeds, and changing that was a big focus of their work during the World Cup.

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"We felt going into the World Cup break and coming out of the pause that we had that we gave goals away too cheaply and we really wanted to try to do better with that," said Marsch.

"We talked about both the tactics of what that would mean and then also the mentality to do whatever it takes to defend your goal.

"First half for me, I think we played very, very well. We were in the game, we were managing to find a few chances. Then second half, they decided to play very direct to then try to pick up some set pieces and put balls in our box and then it becomes about momentum and energy and then bending but not breaking. And, in general, I thought we did that really well.

"I believe this (clean sheet) was a combination of the tactical work that we've done with the mentality to do whatever it took to defend and to also require a goalkeeper that's ready to help support the backline in a really good way.

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"I thought that part was good and a big step forward. We need to continue to have that kind of defensive mentality and stability and then build more into the game and how we can be dangerous.

"There weren't a crazy amount of big saves that Illan had to make or, or worrying moments for the group.

"What happened in the Man City game is we defended the whole first half because we gave the ball right back. We were better with that certainly but still more work to do.

"Having two days less rest than the opponent, (in the) second half they're able to put a lot of pressure into it. But (it was an) important clean sheet."

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Leeds have been linked with Red Bull Salzburg centre-back Max Wober in the January transfer window and although Marsch refused to comment on the reports, his choice of words in doing so was perhaps telling: "If and when that comes, I’ll talk about it."

Marsch revealed he is managing the fitness of a number of key players, which in part explained the substitutions made during the game.

Adam Forshaw's starts against Manchester City and Newcastle last week were his first of the Premier League season, and Jack Harrison played for the first time since the November 9 League Cup defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers.

"With Adam we're still addressing his physical issues, so at half-time we felt like we needed to take him out (at half-time)," explained Marsch, who replaced him with Marc Roca.

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"With Jack, with him coming off of injury, we felt like we were getting a lot out of them, but we didn't want to push that too much.

"It's not that we had a cap, I thought Jack played well and was in the match and just wanted to make sure that we didn't risk further injury with him, a little bit with Rodri(go) as well.

"We're getting guys back in when we don't want to have setbacks and then in the meantime, we need to claw through some points which this point that in that sense was valuable."

Suspended against Manchester City, American Tyler Adams improved Leeds' midfield on his first outing since a World Cup campaign which enhanced his reputation.

"I thought he was very good, thought that he was able to help manage the midfield with and without the ball, which was good," said his compatriot Marsch.