Jesse Marsch’s Leeds United have started the 2022-23 season in stuttering form, but few would have expected the Whites to come up with such an impressive victory against Thomas Tuchel’s high-flying Chelsea. Leeds battered and bruised the Blues into oblivion on Sunday, pressing relentlessly with heart and intensity at every turn. Jesse Marsch has inspired this mindset since he entered the door, and their off-season recruitment has allowed for a seamless transition into the American’s ideals to take center-stage in 2022-23. Here is our analysis of Leeds’ miraculous victory over Chelsea.
LEEDS UNITED: 4-2-3-1
Jesse Marsch started the match in his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, a system he’s used dating all the way back to his time in charge of Leipzig. Tyler Adams played a focal role in that side until Marsch’s inevitable destruction, and has seamlessly entered Leeds to great effect, as a quintessential ‘Shuttler’ in the system. Roca meanwhile has played more of a “sit and screen” role in front of the defense, even at times dropping in between the centre-backs in build-up phases. This then allows the mobility of Adams to venture box-to-box, and even deep into the half-spaces to cover runs from midfield.
In defense, Marsch’s side have also been bolstered by the addition of strong and mighty Rasmus Kristensen, another former player from the American’s time in Salzburg. Kristensen’s strong energy has been matched by the grit and determination of three centre-backs across the back-four, where Pascal Struijk has now started all three matches at left-back. That’s in large part due to the physicality and precision in possession of Diego Llorente and Robin Koch, who have started to form a steady partnership at the back and unravel one another’s strengths. Illan Meslier has enjoyed a positive start to the season in goal too, with a 77% save percentage and 100% sweeping record.Embed from Getty Images
In front of the new midfield pairing, Marsch has deployed exceptional examiners of the space, who don’t dilly dally in aggressively pressing the opposition from the front. Jack Harrison, Daniel James, Brenden Aaronson and Rodrigo can all interchange and combine in their pressing intensity, as the entire side narrows in a combative 4-2-3-1 block everywhere they go.
On the day, Marsch even made the nice tactical tweak to deploy Aaronson through the middle, almost like a free-flowing ‘number 10′ that could roam wherever he pleased in defensive phases. This worked to perfection in using his mobility for good and evil, where the American scored a goal from his pressing, completely stunted Chelsea’s progress at every build-up, and even blocked a few shots in covering central areas for Adams. He ended the unforgettable night as one of Leeds’ strongest performers, and an emblem for the never-say-die attitude Marsch has deployed since taking charge.
OUT OF POSSESSIONEmbed from Getty Images
That never-say-die attitude manifested in never-ending running at the front of the pitch, where Chelsea were repeatedly dispossessed, or forced into going backwards to their keeper to release themselves from the shackles. Marsch’s men won 13 tackles on the day with a 57% success rate, pressing with a persistent intensity, but not a dirty, overly aggressive one. In fact, no Leeds player picked up a yellow card across the ninety minutes, and Marsch’s men never gave away free kicks in dangerous areas.
Their relentless energy existed within the realms of a narrow 4-2-3-1 defensive press, where Brenden Aaronson diligently floated between tracking Jorginho, and then immediately racing into the wide areas to create 2v1s with his winger. If you weren’t watching closely enough, you would have been hard-pressed to immediately identify Aaronson’s position. He simply appeared to be everywhere, with eyes on the situation at all times. This almost “free role” in defensive phases meant that Leeds always had one of their strongest defensive warriors close to the situation. If Mount pulled Adams out of position with his movement down the half-spaces, Aaronson would immediately fly in to block the shot that came through the centre. If Chelsea gained a sense of smoothness and control, Aaronson would immediately fly in to disrupt their confidence and force them backwards. When we say relentless, that’s exactly what we mean.
Lower on the pitch, Leeds adopted somewhat of a man-marking system, diligently tracking Chelsea’s front-line. Sterling found himself occupied by Robin Koch, as Diego Llorente kept a watchful eye on Kai Havertz and his attempts to use his aerial strength.Embed from Getty Images
Tyler Adams then attracted himself to Mount, which meant spaces could open in the centre as the Chelsea midfielder floated about the pitch. Occasionally this could also hurt the Whites in transition, as players stepped out of position to press a player and left their area exposed. But they still held resolutely organized, and if interchange then occurred between the front-line, Leeds were quick to keep their positions rather than their man. In every dangerous moment, Marsch’s men swarmed the ball in as many numbers as they could conjure up, making it very difficult for the Blues to generate chances from their possession.
Completing a 3-0 clean sheet against Chelsea is not an easy feat by any means, and one that deserves much in the way of acclaim.
IN POSSESSIONEmbed from Getty Images
The relentless energy Leeds exuded in defense continued into attacking phases, where they were inevitably dangerous on the break. The interchange and fluidity of Leeds’ front players became a complex puzzle for Chelsea to solve, and they couldn’t get a grips of Aaronson’s movement about the pitch. Whilst Harrison always held a wide role down the left, James, Rodrigo and Aaronson often times played almost on top of each other, combining in tight spaces before releasing Harrison and his wand down the flank. Speaking of that wand, Harrison’s beautiful delivery from a set-piece allowed Rodrigo to ghost in and score Leeds’ second, and he popped up at exactly the right moment to hammer home the team’s third.Embed from Getty Images
But the first goal was the most emblematic of Leeds’ style all game long, and had almost nothing to do with attacking in the traditional sense of the footballing word. Aaronson completely embarrassed Mendy with his assault on the keeper, and showcased exactly the benefit of that never-say-die attitude in all phases. While some teams (like Chelsea) will press the goalkeeper in a manner of angling the next pass, Leeds are stern in running straight at the keeper and banking on a mistake.
There are a countless number of examples of players pressing the keeper and then being made the fool on a keeper’s surprise bit of skill. But there are also a countless number of examples where it’s paid dividends (Mané perhaps most famously in recent times), and Leeds should continue this approach.
A final note on Leeds’ attack – they’ve achieved a miraculous sense of balance in only a short amount of time with new players added to the mix. Marc Roca and Tyler Adams already have a great understanding of their relationship and respective roles, as Roca sits and Adams plays progressive passes down the half-spaces.Embed from Getty Images
The American created 2 chances on the day, and looked like one of Leeds’ most potent players in possession. Pascal Struijk’s even stepped up his attack-mindedness as a left-back this season, advancing into Chelsea’s half on more than a few occasions to create overloads down the left with Jack Harrison and play incisive passes that helped the Whites maintain possession.Embed from Getty Images
Their spells of possession were always positive throughout, and resulted in Chelsea panicking and giving away needless free kicks. It wasn’t as though Marsch’s men just sat back and defended. They genuinely took the match to the Blues, and rocked their world with a brilliant home performance.
Chelsea lined up with the exact same eleven from their 2-2 draw last week against Spurs, apart from one change in midfield – Conor Gallagher entering the frame instead of N’Golo Kante. The shape resembled a 3-4-1-2, that could float into 3-4-3, particularly in defensive phases. Mount’s role was however more of a midfield one in attacking phases, particularly as Ruben Loftus-Cheek held the width more than the week before against Spurs. The Loftus-Cheek decision didn’t quite pay dividends against Leeds, as it again took away the ability of Reece James to fly up the wing and contribute to the attack. As soon as Chelsea changed shape to a back-four, James immediately looked more threatening, and the Blues generated more fluidity in troubling Leeds’ left-hand-side.
Cucurella also struggled on the night against the intensity of Leeds’ right-sided players, missing a clear-cut chance and often trying to play before his teammates were ready to receive. Their best moments as a team came not from long spells of possession, but instead from quick attacking transitions, where they were able to use Raheem Sterling’s dribbling power to get at the Leeds defense and pull players out of position. Sterling could have even had two goals on the night, had he just been more incisive with his timing of movement and timing of the shot.Embed from Getty Images
Gallagher also had an underwhelming first start of the season. His box-to-box energy created positive moments of resiliency for the Blues, but he never looked fully up to speed in combining with his teammates on the ball, and clearly lacked the same level of coordination in possession as Mateo Kovacic and N’Golo Kante before him. It’s certainly not panic time for the Blues, but they looked out of sorts in more ways than one, and have much work to do in getting their front-three to fire on all cylinders in the coming weeks. Moving Reece James back into a wide role has to be priority number one, as he emerges even ahead of Mount in creating chances for Chelsea to score.
CONCLUSIONEmbed from Getty Images
After their shock win, Leeds currently sit third in the table, full of optimism and pride with Jesse Marsch at the helm. Their relentless energy and magnificent pressing will cause chaos all season long for any team looking to dominate the ball against them; and they have already uncovered a few gems with their off-season recruitment coming to life right away. Chelsea meanwhile have much to sort out in attacking phases once more, especially in achieving a balance between energy and coordination in the final third. Thomas Tuchel could be in trouble if form continues this way, as the Blues stutter down the table.
So there it is! A tactical analysis of Jesse Marsch’s big 3-0 win over Chelsea. Be sure to check out more of our Match Analyses, more on Leeds United, and don’t forget to follow on social media @mastermindsite via the links below. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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