All pre-match discussion of Leeds United’s visit to Anfield on Saturday 29 October was centred around one topic, namely whether this would be the last time manager Jesse Marsch would take command of a team desperately struggling for form.
As Crysencio Summerville deftly poked in what would ultimately be the match-winning goal in the contest’s 89th minute, the overwhelming emotion – beyond sheer elation – was one of relief. Felt by the fans, the players, the board – but most keenly by Marsch, whose understated strut along the touchline in celebration belied the true extent of the pressure he’d faced in recent days.
What was cause for jubilation amongst Leeds fans was vindication for Marsch, as his commitment to playing aggressive, high-intensity football – coupled with shrewd substitutions made on the night – saw Leeds secure a crucial, hard-earned win.
For the Whites’ success to continue, however, this result must represent more than a mere stay of execution for a manager who has the qualities to take this team forward. But what can Marsch himself do, in both the short and long term, to ensure that the fans (and, more importantly, the board) are on his side?
The importance of momentum
Whilst Leeds’ unprecedented victory at Anfield felt monumental in significance – it was, after all, Liverpool’s first home defeat since March 2021 – it has to be remembered that it marked the Whites’ first win in nine Premier League games. The 3 points taken from one game at Liverpool was a bigger haul than they’d gathered from their past eight (2D, 6L).
Make no mistake, this is relegation form, and remains so despite the impressive win at Liverpool.
Marsch’s critics will cite the lucky nature of Rodrigo’s fourth minute opener, Liverpool’s goalmouth profligacy and Illan Meslier’s masterful performance in goal as reasons to discredit the American’s influence on the result. His supporters, conversely, will point towards a disciplined display across the park – but particularly in midfield – coupled with the decision to grant a Premier League debut to 18-year-old Wilfried Gnonto as evidence of Marsch’s impact.
What both sides have in common, however, is the sense of euphoria felt at the match’s outcome. It was vitally important that Marsch capitalised on this renewed optimism surrounding the club with a win over newly promoted Bournemouth the following Saturday.
And win he did in thrilling style, as Leeds came from 1-3 down to win 4-3 courtesy of another late goal from Crysencio Summerville.
In a season where Leeds have seemingly been at a crossroads several times, the resounding 3-0 home victory over Chelsea and the more recent narrow 1-0 loss to Arsenal being the prime examples, Marsch must ensure he continues on the forward-leading path instead of leading the team astray once again.
Taking advantage of the January transfer window
The Whites’ admirable performance against Liverpool, one in which they outran their opponents by 11km, shouldn’t be employed as justification for a lack of investment in Marsch’s squad when the transfer window opens in January however. There are still glaring deficiencies in the Leeds starting XI, most noticeably in attack.
Despite having seven goals to his name so far this season, Leeds’ marquee signing of the 2020/21 summer transfer window Rodrigo is yet to prove he is worth the then-club record £27 million the club paid for him. Even when he does score, like he did against both Liverpool and Bournemouth, his accident-prone nature combined with a reluctance to lead the press from the front often prove detrimental to the entire side.
Whilst Rodrigo’s competition for the number nine spot at Leeds, Patrick Bamford, aggressively presses where he does not, he lacks the current goal-scoring statistics of his counterpart. Having not found the net since a last-minute equaliser at home to Brentford in December last year – admittedly spending much of his time since then on the sidelines due to injury – Bamford lacks the cutting edge he possessed on Leeds’ first season back in the Premier League in which he scored 17 goals.
In defence of Marsch, there is little he can do to remedy such issues tactically. According to official Premier League statistics, Bamford has missed nine big chances this season, second only to Arsenal’s Gabriel Jesus with eleven. The issue, then, is not with chance creation but with conversion rate: something that can only be attributed to individual player performances rather than any fault of the manager.
Marsch’s priority in the January transfer window must therefore be pushing to acquire a new striker, ideally one already accustomed to England’s top flight. After Bamford picked up an injury in training during the week before the Bournemouth fixture, this need is now even more urgent.
Given that the board have already invested a combined £89.36m to bring in five senior players to fit Marsch’s playing style – including club record signing Brendan Aaronson from RB Salzburg for £29.56m – securing the funding for such a signing may prove difficult. With the club reportedly placing a bid of £33.5m for Club Brugge forward Charles De Ketelaere in the same window however, a landmark signing in this position is not unfathomable.
Results like those acquired from the last two matches represent an opportunity for Marsch to emerge from his predecessor’s shadow. It is vital for not only Marsch’s position but Leeds’ Premier League status more broadly that he maintains momentum and reinforces up front in January to prevent himself from becoming eclipsed once again.