Leeds manager Jesse Marsch has committed what some will consider his first faux pas since taking charge by appearing to question the training methods of predecessor Marcelo Bielsa.
The American has guided Leeds on a much-improved run of results since replacing the much-adored Bielsa in the hotseat. Marsch took over Leeds in a precarious position, with a run of four straight defeats seeing the axe fall on Bielsa on Sunday 27 February. His job was simple: win enough games to keep Leeds in the Premier League.
The Whites played well in his opener, but still fell to a 1-0 defeat at Leicester. Then followed an alarming 3-0 home setback to Aston Villa, meaning Leeds, with six straight losses, were teetering just above the relegation trapdoor.
However, wins over Norwich and then Wolves eased the pressure. The followed a draw with Southampton, before Saturday’s 3-0 triumph at fellow strugglers Watford.
That means Leeds have taken 10 points from their last four games and now sit nine clear of relegation. The hard work is not yet done, however, with Marsch keen to remind his players they are not safe yet.
By and large, though, most observers believe safety is now in touching distance for Leeds. With 33 points on the board, they are not safe yet. But another three to four points from their remaining six games ought to, by popular consensus, see them home.
With all that in mind, chairman Andrea Radrizzani is set to pay out a whopping £48m in bonuses.
All things considered, Radrizzani will consider the appointment of Marsch a successful gamble.
The decision to axe Bielsa was never going to be a popular one. And the fact that Marsch now has a 50% win rate has helped matters.
Something else that has helped has been the excellent way in which the American has handled the media.
Clearly a confident talker, the 48-year-old appears to have silenced over any doubters with his knowledge and understanding of Leeds and their players and the Premier League.
Bielsa methods called into question
However, in perhaps his first mistake since taking charge, Marsch appears to have questioned the training methods of Bielsa.
The Argentine is a strict discplinarian and is works his players extremely hard in training. It wasn’t called ‘Murderball’ for nothing during Leeds training.
But during a talkSPORT interview, Marsch claims Bielsa may have flogged his players too hard.
“I could see from just watching games from afar, and talking to people within the club, that the stress levels were incredibly high.
“The first days, I just spoke about staying calm. We had 12 games to go, that’s almost a third of a season, there’s a lot to play for, a lot of opportunities for us to do what we need to do to control our destiny.
“Day by day, I was just clear about what I wanted our playing philosophy and mentality to look like. The fit for me being here – the way the guys had already operated, the way they fight and believe in each other – I think the fit has been good.”
He added: “The positives are that they worked so hard to get here and they know how much it means. They understand the club and the city and the fanbase. And they understand how to commit to what this means for the community.
‘Players were at their max’
“The squad are incredible men. They come every day, they work so hard. Honestly, our professional team has less egos than our Under-23s team. We’re still working through them to make sure they’re doing things correctly, and it’s still a good group, but it’s a big reflection on what the pros are in this club.
“But that’s meant they’ve really been feeling the pressure of doing the fans proud. They’ve harbored the stress on their backs. I felt that and could see it early on, it was about relieving that.”
Suggesting Leeds were working too hard, he added: “The injury issue, for me, has a lot to do with the training methodology.
“These players were over-training. It led to them being physically, mentally, emotionally and psychologically in a difficult place to recover from week to week, game to game.
“I have a very specific methodology with the way I work. I’ve a reputation for high running data, but also having healthy, fit, strong players who can meet the standards of the game we want.”
He continued: “You could see it in their faces. You could see in the 15th minute that some of them were already at the max. And that shouldn’t be the case.
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“I know there were a lot of games and guys had to play over and over again because of injuries. I find that in this sport, you have to have a fit team. But the more your best players are healthy and able to perform at a high level, that’s how you create success.
“I’ve worked very carefully through methodologies on how we train, how we play, and how that all fits together.”
Patrick Bamford boost for Leeds
One regret for Marsch is the injury to Patrick Bamford at Wolves.
Just two games into his comeback, he sustained a ruptured ligament in his foot at Wolves.
Explaining his guilt, Marsch added: “With Patrick, I felt terrible. The responsibility of a coach to make sure you’re taking care of them and not injuring them and putting them in harm’s way.
“When it didn’t go the way we wanted with Patrick, I felt like it was my responsibility to get that right. But for the most part, I think we’re getting healthy and strong with almost the entire group.”
The good news for Leeds is that Bamford is likely to make a return to training later this week. That raises the possibility of him returning before the end of the season and ahead of some crucial games.
Leeds also welcomed back Junior Firpo to training on Tuesday.
However, he may be in contention to return in Leeds’ next game, away at Crystal Palace on Monday 25 April.