In very entertaining fashion, Chelsea lost to Leeds 3-0 on Saturday for the first time in 20 years, back when Leeds was an iconic Prem club and Chelsea was beginning their rise. This result continues Leeds’ hot start to the season that sees them in the top five above the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool. Of course it’s still too early, but Jesse Marsch’s American revolution is looking promising.
When the Marcelo Bielsa cycle flamed out on schedule last season, Leeds’ management decided to hire Marsch, who had recently been released by Red Bull Leipzig after a disastrous spell. Marsch was thrown into a difficult situation and was able to guide the side away from relegation.
Now, with some Prem experience under his belt, Marsch has been able to slowly implement his tactical schemes that made him an attractive coaching prospect at Red Bull Salzburg. His high octane attacking system has seen his side score at will where they struggled under Bielsa. The 4-2-3-1 formation that is favored by Marsch allows for his side to play good attacking football.
At the same time, Marsch has been able to help continue the development of certain players who were struggling under Bielsa. Players like Jack Harison and Illan Meslier have developed into quality Premier League players that may deserve a move to a larger club. Even the transfers this summer have been excellent, as Marsch has used his connection to the Red Bull organization to snap up interesting prospects.
Will this American revolution continue for Leeds? It’s impossible to know this early into the season, but it’s hard not to enjoy this side’s willingness to attack and play rock-n-roll soccer.
Like a lot of other forms of music that exploded in the 20th century, rock music was born in America, so it’s fitting that Marsch’s play style is similar to it. Comparing music to sports is a little cliche, but it can still be an interesting exercise.
Despite struggling in the Bundesliga, which is a tough tactical challenge for any manager, Marsch’s success with both Red Bull New York and Salzburg made him a wanted coach. The coach’s adherence to attacking football made him an obvious choice for any team looking to exploit their team’s attacking talents. Across all his spells, even his disaster in eastern Germany, Marsch has always maintained a positive goal differential with an astonishing +177 over his two years in Salzburg.
Knowing that Marsch spent a season under the tutelage of master tactician Ralf Rangnick gives insight into how he sets his teams up. All of Rangnick’s disciples, including Klopp, play a style of soccer that is dependent on pressing high up and basically suffocating opponents on both sides of the ball. Unlike the tiki taka style perfected by Pep, Marsch’s style allows for his team to succeed with possession of the ball and rely on the counter to tear sides apart.
This is further seen in his formation where he opts for a 4-2-3-1 to overload the opponent’s backline with more attackers. Marsch implemented this formation last season overriding Bielsa’s 4-1-4-1 to move his team towards the modern gegenpress.
Marsch has his front four set up in a way where they are the first line of pressure whenever they lose the ball. This gives the other two mids a chance to better anticipate the movement of the ball and eases some defensive responsibilities. When a team has a player like Kalvin Phillips this works perfectly, as he’s a player who can focus on playing from deep and helping on defense.
Offensively, the front four all act as creators with the two players on the wings being encouraged to cut in and draw defenders away from the number 10. This also forces the wingbacks to be more engaged and provide constant width on the wings to allow the wingers to cut in.
In two successive managerial cycles, Leeds have seen two managers with drastically different approaches to the game that are inspired from different schools of thought. Time will tell whether Marsch’s interpretation of the gegenpress will work for Leeds.
To play his system, Marsch has had to improve the development of certain players while also dealing with the departures of key players to this Leeds side. So far this season, he has done well to find players that can help replace those who left while continuing the development of others.
Illan Meslier’s first season in the Prem was a wild success with the young Frenchman having an elite save percentage of 75% and having 31% of his starts end in clean sheets. However, the chaos of Bielsa’s final season enveloped the shot stopper with a dismal 2.1 goals allowed per 90. Although it has only been three games, Meslier is post a 76.9 save percentage and shut out Chelsea.
When Leeds transferred over Rodrigo, the hope was that the Spanish striker could give the side their permanent starter in that position. In his first two seasons in the Prem, Rodrigo struggled to score and create play for others that had come naturally in Valencia. To fix this, Marsch has allowed Rodrigo to play deeper and with a creator right behind him, helping him score four goals so far.
Having been with the club since 2010, it was always going to be an enormous task to replace Kalvin Phillips, not only because of his connection to the club, but also how well he played in his role. To help ease the pain of his departure, the club has brought in Marc Roca and Tyler Adams. Both Adams and Roca are more defensive midfielders who can help progress the ball forward and pressure opponents.
Raphinha was the heart and soul of Leeds’ offense during his time in England, with 17 goals and 12 assists over his two seasons in the Prem. Brenden Aaronson was brought in from Red Bull Salzburg to grow into the Raphinha role with his 9 goals and assists over two seasons with Salzburg. Aaronson is not ready to take on the full responsibility of that role, but he will be given the chance to, with Marsch.
Despite losing two of their most important players, Leeds has had a positive transfer window with exciting players from Aaronson to Rasmus Kristensen. Marsch will have to mold these players to fit into his system to give Leeds a chance to become an overachiever this season.
Leeds have had a tumultuous year which has seen tremendous highs and crushing lows, but Marsch’s system and players hope to bring stability to this iconic side. Marsch has the chance to do something special with this Leeds side, namely becoming the first American manager to find success in the Prem. Will Marsch and his American revolution succeed, much like the real American revolution?
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