Any time one of my managerial analyses suddenly skyrockets in views, I know instantly that something out of the ordinary is about to happen. Last week, we naturally saw a spike in our Jesse Marsch Tactical Analysis from the American’s time at RB Salzburg, following Marcelo Bielsa’s ballistically bad 4-0 loss to Tottenham Hotspur. Bielsa was swiftly sacked, and Marsch came in as the chalk pick, the unequivocal favourite to be his replacement. On a surface level, you may look at Marsch – a man who loves a high pressing system – and think to yourself that Leeds is a match made in heaven for 48-year-old (yes, we know he looks much younger). In reality, the jump from Bielsa to Marsch is a big one, going from an intense man-marking press, to a press that centers around the ball. So with that, today, we analyze what Jesse Marsch will bring to Leeds United, and whether or not the Lillywhites are prepared for the leap.
TOGETHER IN PRESSING MENTALITYEmbed from Getty Images
The most obvious thing one could possibly say about the step from Bielsa to Marsch happens to be what we’ve already opened with. Marsch loves to press, but his teams tend to press in completely different ways from that of man-marking maniac Marcelo Bielsa. The key difference is in collectivity. Jesse Marsch’s Salzburg pressed like an absolute machine. Their quest was never individualistic. In fact, Marsch talks in this Coaches Voice video, about ‘Sal’s Theorem’ – concocted by his former New York Red Bulls player Sal Zizzo. Essentially, Sal stated that the difference between the team winning 3-0 and losing 3-0 would come down to their togetherness in pressing as a collective unit. If even one player was late to the party in stepping up to perform their side of the press, the entire system could crumble. This is exactly what started to happen for the now Leeds coach during his brief stint at RB Leipzig, with their disorganized press leading to disorientation, disconnections and so many shipped goals that they needed a Purolator tracking ID. Point is, everything is done collective.Embed from Getty Images
This is the exact opposite of Bielsa’s man-to-man system, which prioritizes an individual’s responsibility to track an opposing player – irregardless of what their teammates are up to. This is where Bielsa’s disconnects took centre stage, and ultimately the main reason for his team’s downfall toward the end of his time in charge. Injuries were obviously to blame too, but the fact that the replacements could not cope with the team’s man-oriented press was the bigger concern than the fact that they didn’t have quality in other areas of the game. If you roll back the tapes and watch any of the goals they conceded in recent months, you’ll see exactly what we mean.
Another key element that Marsch emphasizes in his team’s press is its purpose of scoring goals. The American coach is very clear in his video on the Coaches Voice that they don’t just press to win back possession, but because they want to use their intense defensive work to find the back of the net. As a result, his teams often stay narrow in a 4-2-2-2 pressing shape, and force their opposition back toward their own goal. In doing this, they win the ball in dangerous attacking areas, and can immediately go on the hunt for a shot at goal. Whether or not Marsch can accomplish this at Leeds remains to be seen, but they do have a stellar set of highly active pressers like Dallas and James, who could do wonders in working for Marsch’s machine. But again, Jesse Marsch’s press, being ball-oriented and by proxy more zone-oriented, means that Leeds have a massive alteration on their hands. Marsch will have had only a few days to instill the principles and mindsets he wants in his players, and it will be incredibly interesting to see just how quickly these adaptations are made.
QUICK COUNTERS & TRANSITIONSEmbed from Getty Images
If there’s one thing we know about Jesse Marsch, it’s that he loves to counter. The kitchen in his house probably doesn’t even have a single table or chair. Only counter space. Salzburg were the masters of the art when it came to counter-pressing, particularly for a club outside of Europe’s top five leagues. You can expect the exact same ideologies at Leeds, and the club to instill a rigid, intense counter-pressing style immediately. This is how Marsch will set the tone for his team’s attacking energy, and how they will start to scare opposition teams. The team’s PPDA (passes allowed per defensive action) was always one of the best under Bielsa, and this will likely remain in place with Marsch’s intensifying gegenpress. Aiding in this approach, Salzburg liked to create a ‘net’ when attacking, keeping close proximity of their players. This provides more numbers around the ball upon turnovers, with dangerous attackers able to swarm around the ball like a pack of buzzing bees.Embed from Getty Images
Then after winning the ball, Jesse Marsch has always been a proponent of quick attacking transitions, and utilizing the speed of star men to break up the field. They’ll likely look to use the vertical running power of speedy runners and dribblers, and flood the box in numbers closer to goal. Dan James’ electric speed will be integral to that process in the next few months, and so too will Raphinha’s trickery on the ball. Having Kalvin Phillips’ energy restored to midfield will be essential in adequately carrying out defensive transitions in particular, especially since the curly haired maestro also plays with a box-to-box energy that makes him particularly useful going forward. Of all Marsch’s principles, this energetic intensity should be the easiest for the Lillywhites to adopt. It’s nothing different that they didn’t already do under Bielsa. The one key difference is in Jesse Marsch’s motivational methods for communication, which will naturally allow players to gravitate toward his ideas, and buy into his ideals.
While Jesse Marsch tends to have one to two favourite formations at a club, he will likely be more flexible in system than Marcelo Bielsa. Bielsa stuck by his 4-1-4-1 formation almost to a fault, even despite not having the players available to perform the mammoth-sized tasks they managed in 2020-21. They defended the wide areas to a miserable effect, failing to adequately cover the gaps in between wing and fullback. In transition, they were particularly woeful, conceding the same type of counter attacking goal over and over. To give Bielsa some degree of justification for his rigidness, even despite attempts to cope with Kalvin Phillips‘ injury via an additional midfielder, the club didn’t have the depth to actually pull it off. They went winless in seven matches using a 4-2-3-1 formation, failing to find an adequate replacement to play alongside Adam Forshaw – who himself is a Championship level footballer (sorry Leeds fans…we know how much you love him). Defenders constantly shifted into midfield, midfielders slotted into the back-line, and counter-attacking specialist Dan James played up front as the lone centre-forward.
This is all to say that Jesse Marsch has an incredibly difficult task on his hands to find Leeds’ best formation, especially for the players he currently has available. He favoured the typical pressing 4-2-2-2 at Red Bull Salzburg, while also occasionally shifting into a diamond 4-3-1-2. Then despite the success Julian Nagelsmann had using a back-three at RB Leipzig prior to Marsch’s arrival, the American then oddly deployed a 4-2-3-1 with Die Rotten Bullen in the Bundesliga. At the very least, this gives Marsch some degree of context in working with a variety of systems.
Given that Leeds have been playing something of a 4-2-3-1 in recent months, and Marsch’s preference toward the formation at his previous club, that may be the most likely scenario. However, even if the former Leipzig man settles on a system, you can be sure to see Leeds fluctuate between different shapes depending on the match and opposition. Marsch can be an intelligent, reactive coach when he needs to be, and he will not take his morals to the grave if something needs changing (or he reads an in-depth analysis on everything that’s going wrong for him). Formational fluidity is to be expected, particularly more so than Bielsa showcased at Leeds in his two seasons in the top flight.
CONCLUSIONEmbed from Getty Images
Given his horrific record at Leipzig, Jesse Marsch can consider himself mildly lucky to have landed such a swift return to management at a top level side. With ideologies centered around a ball-oriented press and compactness in attack, Marsch isn’t even a match made in heaven for the Lillywhites and all they’ve worked toward under Marcelo Bielsa. However, the appointment of the American is still a fantastically intriguing one, and could pay dividends if he can find the team’s best formation and restore essential pieces to the puzzle. For now, we can’t wait for Jesse Marsch’s first game in charge of Leeds – set to take place this Saturday against Leicester City.
So there it is! What Jesse Marsch will bring to Leeds United. Be sure to check out more of our Managerial Analyses, and follow on social media @mastermindsite using the links below to never miss an update. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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