LEEDS, England — Jesse Marsch walked into an impossible job when he became Leeds United manager at the end of February — he just didn’t know it at the time. But as Chelsea sent his team closer to relegation from the Premier League with a 3-0 win at Elland Road on Wednesday, the brutal reality of the challenge that Marsch accepted has surely set in.
Despite having an FA Cup final against Liverpool to play on Saturday, less than 72 hours after kick-off in this game, Chelsea were still too strong for Marsch’s wilting side as goals from Mason Mount, Christian Pulisic and Romelu Lukaku ended a three-game winless streak and edged Thomas Tuchel’s team to the brink of Champions League qualification.
For Leeds, though, this was another damaging blow. They have now lost three on the bounce, conceding 9 goals along the way, and it won’t get any easier: the first-half red card earned by Dan James for a shocking tackle on Mateo Kovacic means Leeds’ £25 million record-signing will be suspended for the remaining games of the season. James will join Luke Ayling on the banned list, with the defender picking up a three-match ban for his own red card at Arsenal on Sunday.
“Two tackles in the last two games that are a little bit crossing the line and hurting the team,” Marsch said. “I’m not going to blame or finger-point any of our players, they’ve given everything they can, but we have to stay within boundaries in not jeopardising ourselves.”
Throughout their recent tailspin, which has sent Leeds into the bottom three, Marsch has watched on from the sidelines, unable to stem the tide.
Leeds, promoted back to the top-flight in 2020 under Marcelo Bielsa after a 16-year absence, have been unravelling for much longer than Marsch has been in his position at the club. Bielsa was fired on Feb. 27 after a run of nine defeats 12 games, with his team’s defensive inadequacies exposed by conceding 14 goals in his final three games in charge.
But while the rot had clearly already set in, Marsch has seen his chances of halting Leeds’ slide hit by injuries to key players, indiscipline and his unhelpful habit of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.
The former New York Red Bulls coach, who lasted less than six months in his post as RB Leipzig coach before leaving last December, has publicly questioned Bielsa’s training methods, complained about American coaches being compared to comedy character Ted Lasso and, prior to this game, admitted to motivating his players with quotes by historical figures including Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa.
In response, one English newspaper compared Marsch to David Brent, the Ricky Gervais character from The Office, while Ted Lasso began to trend on Twitter in the UK as Chelsea began to overrun Leeds on Wednesday.
It is unfair to use the Lasso comparison on Marsch, a coach who built a strong reputation during his two-year stint as FC Salzburg coach, but with Bob Bradley also suffering from ridicule during his brief — and unsuccessful — spell in charge of Swansea City in 2016, Marsch’s difficulties at Leeds are unlikely to help other American coaches land a Premier League job anytime soon.
But although he walked into a much tougher job than he could have imagined when agreeing to replace Bielsa, Marsch could have done better with Leeds.
They were 16th in the table when he arrived, two points above the bottom three, with Everton and Burnley both beneath them. Bielsa had taken 23 points from 26 games, but although Marsch’s return of 11 points from 11 games is better than that of his predecessor, it is not enough to suggest he has made a meaningful difference.
“None of us have lived this,” Marsch said. “In big games we make the exact same mistakes.”
When Marsch walked through the door at Elland Road, Newcastle were two points ahead of Leeds. They are now 9 points clear of Leeds and safe from relegation thanks to the impact made by Eddie Howe since his midseason appointment as manager.
Under Marsch, Leeds have shown glimpses of a revival — fighting back from 2-0 to win 3-2 at Wolves in March was a highpoint — but it has generally been the same story as under Bielsa in terms of too many bookings and too many goals conceded.
Only bottom team Norwich, with 78 goals allowed, have conceded more than the 77 shipped by Leeds. Meanwhile the 97 yellow cards issued to Leeds players this season is a Premier League record — they have hit 100 cards when you count the three reds they have received.
With two games left to play, at home to Brighton and away at Brentford, Leeds can still escape the relegation zone with Burnley on the same number of points and Everton only two points clear.
But Leeds have to show they can escape their nightmare, without key players and with a coach who is still struggling to get to grips with the Premier League. It’s not a good combination.
“I believe we can still fight for every point left,” Marsch said. “Until the red card there were a lot of good things. But now, our focus is totally on recovering and preparing for Sunday. We have six points to play for and we have to do everything we can to get them.”