Leeds United v Southampton: Why Jesse Marsch and Ralph Hasenhuttl are like-minded managers

Leeds United are in the early stages of learning to play the Jesse Marsch way. At times they have played all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order.

This afternoon’s could be an interesting lesson as they experience for the first time what it is to be on the receiving end of it.

Whereas the American has been in the job just over a month, his piano-playing opposite number Ralph Hasenhuttl has been getting a tune out of Southampton since December 2018.

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Cultural change cannot be flicked on like a switch and the Saints are reaping the benefits of letting Hasenhuttl ride out not one but two 9-0 defeats on his watch. Marsch could do worse and point to this afternoon’s visitors and say “Be more like them”.

Like-minded individuals: Jesse Marsch, pictured celebrating the win at Wolves, learned a lot from a few weeks with today’s opposite number, Ralph Hasenhuttl. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

He was chosen to manage Leeds because of the similarities with Marcelo Bielsa’s playing style but there are significant differences too. Marsch’s approach is much closer to Hasenhuttl’s having both come through the global Red Bull network that – unsurprisingly given what its clubs are advertising – places a high premium on energy. Less so, ironically, on the wings.

Having had privileged access to the Austrian’s inner circle – not only seeing how he works, but even how he unwinds – Marsch has much more than just a superficial idea of what he is working towards.

With the international break over, most of his players should too. The fortnight offered a chance for Marsch to go into more depth about his principles.

“We have been able to work through some tactical topics more and create better understanding with relationships in all phases of the game,” explains the American, whose first four games were crammed into 13 days.

Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl (Picture: PA)

“We haven’t had everybody here or on the pitch every day but we have had video sessions and we’ve been able to update some of the guys coming back on some of the work.

“It is an eager group, hungry for more, and I think we have to understand that even though we have got six points (from the last two games) and have relieved some of the stress in terms of where we are in the table, the best way to continue to control that is to make sure we are really focused on every performance.”

Every system has flaws and Hasenhuttl and Marsch’s lack width. The key is understanding how to get around the problems.

“We’re just continuing to fine-tune relationships on the pitch tactically so they understand when the opponent presents challenges to us what our solutions are,” says Marsch.

Jesse Marsch celebrates at full-time. at Wolverhampton Wanderers (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

“All 11 players have to really fit within the context of what we’re doing and that’s where the compactness is important so, yes, I know there’s discussions that we play narrowly but I call it more controlling spaces. We want to be good with the ball and against the ball but also in transition moments in both directions. The more compact you are and the more numbers you have around the ball, you can control those moments better.

“There are still moments to be expansive, especially with the ball, and we have to get that balance right but always understand what our reactions are, what our behaviours are specifically when we win the ball and when we lose the ball are really important.

“I like our front players to have a little bit of freedom sometimes but also we need to have a little bit more discipline to tactically and positionally be in the spots we need so we can limit the opponent and expose the opponent a little bit more.

“Southampton’s is a similar philosophy, it’s just the nuances of what they try to tactically do in different phases.”

Marsch had chance to see some of Hasenhuttl’s nuances close up when the then-New York Red Bulls manager visited parent club Leipzig, where Hasenhuttl worked then and Marsch would later.

“In 2016-17 Ralph was kind enough to allow me to join his staff for about six, seven weeks,” recalls Marsch.

“Ralph is an incredible human being. He cares about people and his teams and the environments he creates and he’s a sharp, intelligent manager.

“I learned a lot from the way he leads, the way he talks and the way he thinks.

“I look back at it as a really helpful and special time.

“When I was first there, he took me on a little tour and talked about some of the things they were doing in the gym and then he allowed me in every meeting they had as a staff and as a team. Obviously there were a lot of tactical discussions. Often I was a fly on the wall and would have discussions later with him.

“The relationship Ralph had with Zsolt Low, who was also a part of that staff as his assistant and is now (Thomas) Tuchel’s assistant at Chelsea, was really, really good, and fun to watch.”

Even now, Marsch is still learning from him.

“They’ve developed a few more tactical nuances for how they like to rotate and move specifically their sixes (holding midfielders) around in build-up phases,” he explains.

“We have to also understand that one of the most important things is that we always have balance when we’re in possession so we don’t allow their winning the ball to lead them into dangerous transition moments.”

Not everything Marsch learnt will come in handy between three and five this afternoon as Hasenhuttl also showed another side.

“One day, he had the whole staff at his house for dinner and he invited me,” recalls Marsch. “He played piano for us. He’s a really good piano player.”

Becoming an accomplished piano player takes time, practice and dedication. For Leeds to become the team Southampton are, never mind go beyond them on a consistent basis, will take the same.