Plenty of Leeds players and supporters will have been doing mathematical gymnastics watching Burnley’s 3-2 win over Everton on Wednesday. With both sides embroiled in a relegation battle, they will have been trying to work out what the least-worst result for their club would be, and what the eventual outcome meant for the Whites’ prospects of staying in the Premier League.
Burnley moved above Watford into 18th and within six points of Leeds with two games in hand but kept Everton five points away. The Toffees, the only team between Leeds and the bottom three, also have two extra matches to play, whereas Watford, eight points behind the Whites, have one game in hand on them.
Everton kick off at home to Manchester United at 12.30pm tomorrow, two-and-a-half hours before Leeds play at Watford. Burnley are at bottom-of-the-table Norwich City on Sunday.
After two wins and a draw in their last two matches, coach Marsch wants his squad to focus on themselves.
“We are still in a relegation battle, we know that, we are not foolish or naive about that,” he said. “But watching the table doesn’t do anything to impact our work process so the best thing for us is to control ourselves and not stress about what the external situation is.
“We have done a really good job of that. We have tried to stay focused, calm and disciplined with that mentality since I have been here and I think it has impacted us in a positive way.
“None of us think we are done or that we are safe or a completed project, it’s all about pushing every day to get to be better and by doing that we know we can fight for more points.
“The team believes in themselves more than they did, I think, a month ago and I have spoken openly with them about that but the key is to use that confidence to continue to propel us forward and not to get comfortable and think everything is okay.
“That urgency and that mindset to push every day has helped us to get to a better place and we have to continue to use that to be even better a month from now.”
Marsch is not saying Leeds should ignore the threat posed by a Watford side he regards as far more dangerous than their league position or record of two wins since November might suggest.
“We have to understand the mindset of Watford, that this is a massive opportunity for them to collect points and close the gap and so we have to focus entirely on what this game requires, to understand the mindset and mentality Watford will have, to understand that playing against a good team at their place will not be easy,” he warned.
“Our group, especially after Aston Villa (their last defeat), has shown an understanding of exactly what is necessary for every match so we will make sure we do it very carefully and prudently for this one.”
Roy Hodgson sides are notoriously defensive, but Marsch has warned how dangerous the Hornets can be on the counter-attack.
“Watford are a really disciplined, defensive group,” he acknowledged. “They don’t give much way, they stay pretty organised, very compact, sometimes defending deep. But they are incredibly aggressive and often lethal in transition moments.
“They have the second-most chances in transition in counter-(attacks) in the league and it’s because they really look to play to that strength.
“Often Watford are most dangerous when the opposition have the ball. We have to make sure we are balanced and compact in our defensive and counter-pressing phases to make sure we don’t allow their attacking players to be in open spaces and running at our defensive group.
“They have a lot of good one-v-one players and every time I prepare for a match in this league it is hard to find weaknesses in the ways teams do things.
“Watford are low in the table but I still think Roy Hodgson has done a good job with them. They are disciplined and organised and it will not be an easy match for us.”
Leeds hope to have Joe Gelhardt fit after a dead leg if he can come through training today.
Despite some impressive cameos, the striker is yet to start for Marsch - or at all in 2022 - after a back spasm, a false positive test result for Covid-19 and now his latest injury have reduced his training time.
“He hasn’t trained every day this week but we think he will train today and we think he’ll be available for the match on the weekend,” said Marsch. “Then how we use him and what the situation is for him, we’ll evaluate as we go.”
Longer-term absentees Tyler Roberts, Junior Firpo, Patrick Bamford and Jamie Shackleton, who is close to returning to training, are Leeds’s only other injury concerns.