Leeds United: Not a ‘perfect 10’ but Whites show fighting spirit

Jesse Marsch admitted Leeds United were far from perfect in their 3-0 win at Watford but with the mentality in his squad, the best captain he says he has worked with and the talent in the Under-23 ranks, he sees foundations to progress.

The Whites have taken 10 points from the last 12 available.

When the full-time whistle blew at Watford, Leeds were nine points above the bottom three, but knew Burnley would play four times before they next do, at Crystal Palace two weeks today. Burnley could not close the gap in their first attempt, losing 2-0 at bottom-placed Norwich City yesterday. When Leeds run out at Selhurst Park, they will have a game in hand on the Clarets.

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Everton, still five points back after beating Manchester United, play games in hand against Leicester City and Liverpool in the interim.

Jack Harrison and Jesse Marsch, manager of Leeds United, celebrate with fans after their side's victory at Watford. (Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images)

Leeds were poor on the ball at Vicarage Road but Watford were worse. The visitors raised the standards a couple of times with Raphinha’s wonderful turn and finish and Jack Harrison’s third goal in as many games. Rodrigo also found the net, set up partly by Sam Greenwood’s threaded pass but mainly by Watford’s calamitous defending.

“I will be the first to say in terms of the quality and what we wanted it to look like, it was far from perfect,” said Marsch. “(But) I know I can draw from their mentality, their inspiration, their belief in each other.

“Now we’re able to do certain things effectively and fighting in the match is incredibly important.

“I want us to play better, be more confident on the ball, some of the combinations and ideas, I want to get better in those areas.

“On Saturday we were better at (winning second balls). We need more moments where we press, win balls and calmly, cleanly find actions that lead to big chances. “

The talk about fight was significant, given he inherited a team which shipped 17 goals in Marcelo Bielsa’s final four games, all lost. A 3-0 defeat at home to Aston Villa extended the run to six straight defeats before the upturn.

Whilst Kalvin Phillips is being gently nursed back – a substitute for the second game running – as Marsch admitted Patrick Bamford was rushed back too soon from a foot injury, Liam Cooper has been Leeds’s best player in the last two matches.

Like Phillips, Cooper injured his hamstring at home to Brentford in December and returned against Southampton, but he played that match and Saturday’s in their entirety.

“He won duels, he won aerial duels, he was positionally in the right spot, he was aggressive against the ball, sharp, he didn’t lose any balls, I thought he was fantastic,” commented Marsch.

“I had him speak to the team after because I told him I haven’t had a better captain in the entire time I’ve been a coach. He almost came to tears because he loves playing with the guys so much.”

Marsch’s style is much less aloof than Bielsa’s and he had a lengthy conversation on the field before the match with Adam Forshaw, who had a minor injury.

“That conversation was just about our team, how we’re doing, where we’re going, how to get there,” he explained. “Adam is a very intelligent person, a student of the game, he’s fun to have football conversations with.

“I’m just trying to bring my ideas and how to lead, to help all of our guys by the best they can be.

“I look at it as just trying to help every player be prepared for every situation. I have a lot of discussions with them. I do that not to be liked, but so they know I want the best for them.”

At the other end of the age spectrum, Greenwood came off the bench with Joe Gelhardt once more having an injury-hampered week, and instantly improved Leeds.

“He’s understanding the best how we want the game to look,” said Marsch.

“We’ve got to find ways to include him, Joffy (Gelhardt), (Crysencio) Summerville more. All three of those guys are going to be big players here.”

Marsch also revealed goalkeeper Illan Meslier is still suffering from the injury which saw him go off injured at Wolverhampton Wanderers after a challenge which earned Raul Jimenez a second yellow card.

“Even if you’d asked me on Thursday I would have thought Kristoffer Klaesson would have been the goalkeeper (at Vicarage Road),” admitted Marsch.