Leeds United v Chelsea: Whites need new leaders to emerge under Jesse Marsch

Since he became Leeds United coach, Jesse Marsch has made great play of trusting a seven-man “leadership council” of Liam Cooper, Kalvin Phillips, Stuart Dallas, Luke Ayling, Adam Forshaw, Patrick Bamford and Rodrigo.

All but Rodrigo are in Marsch’s words “as much a definition of what this club has become as anything” in that they were largely run-of-the-mill Championship players until a combination of their own hard work and Marcelo Bielsa’s coaching helped them become top Premier League performers last season and in Phillips’s case, a star of the European Championship.

For half an hour of Sunday’s 2-1 defeat at Arsenal, only Phillips was playing. Captain Cooper’s knee problem added to injuries for Dallas, Forshaw and Bamford, Ayling had been sent off, Rodrigo was on the bench.

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The hope is Cooper will be back against Chelsea at Elland Road this evening but in the short-term at the very least, there is a changing of the guard as the Whites look to the next layer of their squad – and maybe the one below – to drag them out of the relegation mire.

Leeds United coach Jesse Marsch talks with Raphinha. (Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images)

They have three matches to outdo Burnley’s points total, or claim two more than Everton can in four, starting at hopeless, relegated Watford this evening.

Lewis Bate, a 19-year-old midfielder with 68 minutes’ previous Premier League experience, stepped forward at Arsenal and more will have to follow against a side who go into their last match before Saturday’s FA Cup final having won one of five matches.

Marsch has challenged others to fill the void on the pitch.

“It could be Robin Koch, it could be Diego Llorente, it could be Raphinha, it could be Dan James, it could be Klichy (Mateusz Klich),” he argues. “A lot of different guys have big experiences that can provide their voice, their personality, their confidence into what we are right now.

“My idea of leadership is not about just the person in this role (as coach), it’s the entire group.

“My job is individually to help each player develop and grow and get better, and then as a group to manage that, so the sum of the parts is bigger than the whole.

“Really my philosophy as a football coach is trying to use the platform of football to help people develop and become bigger.”

If they can steer Leeds to safety, it could be big for the future direction of the club. Whether people want to or not, the Whites must move on from Bielsa. Dallas will be out of the picture for a long time, and Bamford’s injury-hit season has highlighted the need for a striker or strikers who can push him on 2022-23. At least Phillips’s commitment sounds far greater than the gossip-peddlers and wealthy vulture clubs hope.

An import as outrageously talented as Raphinha always seemed unlikely to be in it for the long haul, but Leeds need more from him now.

Outstanding in the first half of the season, his 2022 performances appear to be more in keeping with a player who has had his head turned by persistent and public Barcelona interest. As Leeds chased two goals on Sunday, Marsch decided their chances were better without him.

Raphinha had been booked for dissent in a first half where he offered Ayling negligible protection and Marsch put an arm around him and whispered in his ear as he was substituted. He rejects the idea his star player is distracted.

“I see a person 100 per cent invested in what we’re doing here,” insists Marsch. “His emotion could be interpreted as a lack of discipline (but) I look at it as total investment. He wants more than anything to ensure this club stays where it belongs. He’s all in.”

A coach who generally likes his teams to play narrowly has been unable to fully tap into what Raphinha offers – nine goals for Bielsa this season and three for Brazil compare unfavourably with one under Marsch.

“I like Raphinha’s passion and mentality, his personality and desire to win and be a great player,” says Marsch.

“We haven’t gotten enough out of him. That’s the truth.

“We’ve tried to find ways to play him a little bit wider. We’ve tried to find ways for him to be in transition moments (when Leeds counter-attack) a little bit more, to get him around the goal more.

“Against the best opponents it’s not like we’re going to be in the final third for 50 per cent of the game so that means getting him in transition and finding opportunities for getting around the goal in those moments.

“We’ll figure out how to get him the ball more, how to get him in space more, how to get him on the move more.”

This season has been one of unexpected, accelerated evolution but the characters to lead Leeds out of it are not fully formed, or even identified. Tonight would be a great time for one or two to make themselves known.

Last six games: Leeds United LLDWDW, Chelsea DLDWLW

Referee: A Taylor (Greater Manchester)

Last time: Leeds United 0 Chelsea 0, March 13, 2021, Premier League