Leeds United v Norwich City: Jesse Marsch reveals the characteristics required for Whites to beat the drop

FOR a Premier League ‘rookie’, being entrusted with leading Leeds United in arguably their most important league match in three years should represent the most daunting of assignments.

More especially when it is just your third match in charge and you have not got so much as a goal, let alone a point or a win to your name.

Head coach Jesse Marsch, a committed, likeable and driven man, found out a bit about Elland Road on his opening night.

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He will find out a bit more tomorrow should events go awry like they did against Aston Villa – the atmosphere will turn toxic.

Leeds United's head coach Jesse Marsch gesticulates on the touchline during Thursday night's Premier League defeat to Aston Villa at Elland Road Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

After an awful performance against Villa where it was far too easy to excoriate their performance in defence, midfield and attack, Leeds face probably the best opponents they could face next up. And, conversely, the worst.

Norwich prop up the table and, like Leeds, are similarly low on confidence and belief after losing six games in a row.

A home win would represent a crushing bellwether moment in a grim campaign for the Canaries. It would be a psychological blow which they would struggle to recover from.

The same applies for Leeds should the unpalatable prospect of a Norwich victory transpire.

The experience and the awareness of Leeds United's Stuart Dallas, seen battling with Aston Villa's Jacob Ramsey, will be crucial for the Whites during the run-in Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

You have to go back to March 16, 2019 for the last league game of such significance, for different reasons, at Leeds at LS11.

Sheffield United were the visitors for a huge meeting at the top end of the Championship. Home fans were urged to arrive early by the ever-vocal Pontus Jansson, who labelled it as ‘the game of our lives’.

It was a day for doing and talk was cheap. The Blades were second best, but held their nerve and found a way to win.

They weren’t brilliant, but their mentality was strong and they dug deep into their reservoirs of character.

Leeds United's Luke Ayling stands dejected after the final whistle at Elland Road blows on the hosts' 3-0 defeat to Aston Villa. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

That is what Marsch’s Leeds require tomorrow on a day which is unlikely to be easy.

Marsch, who professed to a sleepless night on Thursday, said: “This is a business for men. We need to look clearly at each other in the eye and know it’s a difficult situation, but we’re not getting out of it by hiding or being afraid.

“Only by being brave, having courage and belief. That’s what leadership is about.

“I understand fans’ frustration and concern. The most important thing is the belief and the courage as a club, city, community.

“We cannot have doubts from every perspective as we will never achieve our goals. I am here to instil those things and confidence. With fans you have to earn it, it’s not given.

“The same with players and directors. I am not afraid. I am here for the right reasons and I want to help the club to be the things it can be.”

Should Burnley win or draw versus Brentford today, Leeds will be one point above the relegation zone ahead of kick-off tomorrow.

If that transpires, the pressure will ratchet up even further for the hosts who must clear their minds after some abject decision-making against Villa and make the right calls amid an atmosphere which has the potential to be febrile if it goes wrong again.

It will need big, senior players to step up and make the right decisions in terms of such things as tracking runners or passing players on, both aspects which let Leeds down on Thursday.

Those in white also need to display a fire and ice mentality, a hallmark of the era of plenty in the golden times under Bielsa.

Fire in terms of having the fervent desire to win and show ferocity to get the ball back after losing possession and ice in order to calm down and play your own game on your terms.

For those players who received bouquets during the club’s glorious rise under Bielsa and know just what it meant to the club and city to see their team return to the Premier League after such a long absence and were emotionally invested in it, there is an added sense of responsibility.

For example the Dallas’s, Ayling’s, Bamford’s and Harrison’s of this world.

Sadly two others in Liam Cooper and Kalvin Phillips will be in the stands. On Thursday’s damning evidence, they cannot come back to the pitch soon enough.

Marsch’s previous experiences have not fully prepared him for this exact scenario. He candidly accepts that, but he also knows more than enough about Leeds to understand what these next 10 games mean to the club.

On whether he has faced similar scenarios in his career to date, Marsch said: “Maybe not... My first job was with an expansion team in Montreal (Montreal Impact in 2011-12). It was a new group with new ideas.

“I had to stick to the plan, work hard and believe in the process. We went through a phase towards the end of the season when we were really good.

“I’m not afraid. I came here because I believe I can help, believe in the project and people.

“I’ve been accused of being positive. I try to be real, look at things for what they are.

“I want to find the truth, not my truth or yours (journalists), but what the actual truth is.

“There’s stress. We need to find a way through it. The only way to get out is to learn the lesson about what games and moments require and how to thrive in it, not how to survive, not to live through it, but thrive.”

Leeds’s last appointment with Norwich at the top of the Championship in February 2019 was a big one. But this latest instalment is on a different stratosphere.

There will hopefully be a different outcome as well, with Norwich – inspired by Mario Vrancic and Emiliano Buendia – swarming all over Leeds with a high-press and making Bielsa look fallible for the first time since being named as head coach.

It’s his successor who must provide the answers this time, for his sake and everyone else’s.