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Can he help Leeds United survive the drop?

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Leeds United parted ways with Marcelo Bielsa over the past weekend. After a major slump in form that saw the East Yorkshire outfit conceding a record 20 goals in February and falling to four consecutive defeats, Leeds United relieved Marcelo Bielsa of his duties – ending a reign that lasted nearly four years and had its fair share of peaks and troughs. It was only a day and a half before his replacement as the new Leeds United manager was announced – while his Argentine predecessor leaves the club in dire straits, he will be replaced by one of the brightest young minds from the other side of the Panama Canal. The arrival of March will see Jesse Marsch take charge of a club sitting in 16th place, and only two points clear of the relegation zone.

However, the 18th-placed Burnley have two games in hand over Leeds which truly puts their plight into context – despite finishing with the second-highest points tally by any newly promoted team last season, Leeds now find themselves in the heart of a relegation scrap. Desperate to retain their top-flight status, their director of football Victor Orta parted ways with the man who led them back to the Premier League after a hiatus of 16 years.

Orta claimed that Marsch was always the club’s first choice to replace Bielsa as his ideals “align with the philosophy of the club in the long term”, the objective for Marsch in the short term is obvious. With the club in dire straits and seemingly in free fall as we approach the last few months of the season, Marsch’s arrival at Elland Road has seen him immediately be bestowed with the Herculean task of keeping Leeds in the top flight. Marsch becomes only the third American to manage a club in the Premier League after Bob Bradley and David Wagner, but the former RB Salzburg and RB Leipzig head coach’s managerial record suggests that he might be up for the task.

SO WHO IS JESSE MARSCH AND WHAT IS HIS CLAIM TO FAME?

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Marsch is a former American international who worked with Bradley as an assistant in the 2010 FIFA World Cup, as the United States of America made the Round of 16. In 2012, Marsch became the inaugural manager of Montreal Impact upon their entry into Major League Soccer (MLS) and followed it up with a three-year spell at New York Red Bulls until 2018. In his first year with the club, Marsch won the Supporters’ Shield and was named the Manager of the Year – he also owns the record of the most wins by any coach in the franchise’s history.

However, it was in 2018 that Jesse Marsch came across the most pivotal moment in his short coaching career so far. The American was appointed as the assistant head coach of RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga, where he would serve as the deputy of ‘the Godfather of modern German football’ in Ralf Rangnick. The current Man Utd interim head coach with Marsch alongside him helped Leipzig to a third-place finish in the league – and it was in that season where Marsch learnt about the game from a footballing mind that has influenced some of the best managers of our time such as Jürgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel.

In 2019, Marsch succeeded Marco Rose as the new head coach for RB Salzburg in the Austrian Bundesliga and helped the club to a league and cup double in two successive seasons – as Salzburg made two consecutive group stage appearances in the Champions League for the first time in their history. Marsch also created history by becoming the first American to win a Champions League game with a European club, writing a new chapter in the history books and setting a yardstick for success unprecedented to any manager of his nationality before him.

After a widely successful spell in Austria, Marsch returned to the German Bundesliga where he succeeded Julian Nagelsmann as the RB Leipzig head coach in 2021 – but the American barely scaled the heights that he reached in Austria. A third consecutive defeat in December meant that Marsch was unceremoniously sacked only five months into the job, but the American did not stay unemployed for too long. Despite a sour ending to his relationship with the Red Bull set-up, Marsch’s managerial ideas have been shaped by his years of experience working with the network – it is certain that he will bring his philosophy and his own set of footballing ideals to Yorkshire.

HOW DOES MARSCH LIKE HIS TEAMS TO PLAY?

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It was while managing the New York Red Bulls that Marsch became acquainted with the Red Bull network, and since then, Marsch’s tactics and philosophy have been greatly influenced by the group’s approach to football. In a 2019 interview, Marsch stated that the clubs belonging to the Red Bull set-up like to play as well as think faster than the opponents, and also pointed at the importance given to tactical instructions – Rangnick’s famous ‘gegenpressing’ module is often combined with playing direct, attacking-minded football as well as defeating opponents in transition.

Marsch’s formation of preference is a 4-4-2, where the two wide midfielders tuck in centrally to provide a narrow attacking band between the opposition lines – shaping up more like a 4-2-2-2. However, Marsch does prioritize principles over the formation – for him, the speed, pressing and verticality that his teams provide are much more important than the overall shape of the team. Marsch is also tactically flexible as he has often been known to resort to a 4-3-1-2 employing a diamond in midfield – but regardless of the shape, his team’s pressing is one of his most important ideals.

Marsch’s counter-pressing system is important to the way his teams play, as he shapes his team up to disrupt his opposition playing out from the back. The American instructs his teams to block passing lines in midfield and likes to force his opponent into passing backwards – where his players try and win the ball back to initiate a quick counterattack. Marsch might be delighted with his new group of players at Leeds, a viciously pressing outfit who have had “murder-ball” drilled into them as a stylistic trait after being trained by Bielsa over the past few years.

A verticality is also an approach that is very important to Marsch, as he often employs his defensive midfielder screening the defence and helping in the deep build-up – but also to draw the opposition forward while his centre backs or full-backs try to find attackers with vertical passes. While his attackers like to attack the box through combination play, the full-backs are given the freedom to run down the flank and feed the attackers on the overlap. Marsch likes to get his defenders to launch direct passes up the field as often as possible, playing a spontaneous brand of football.

HOW WILL LEEDS UNITED SHAPE UP UNDER MARSCH?

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Marsch may well want to thank his predecessor in Yorkshire for introducing the ideals of pressing and a direct style of football that Leeds are well-acquainted with already. But despite Leeds being a well-drilled pressing outfit who look to cut down passing lanes for the opposition and catch them on the counter, Leeds’ counter-attacking threat that helped them finish a handsome ninth in the Premier League table last season has been well and truly neutralized this season, as teams have looked to find solutions against the high-intensity system – and often have.

Leeds have also been a victim of circumstance this season, having had major injuries rule out their skipper Liam Cooper as well as other key men such as the likes of Kalvin Phillips and Patrick Bamford – but Marsch will have to do with what he has at the moment. A back four of Pascal Struijk, Diego Llorente, Luke Ayling and Stuart Dallas are likely to line up in his first outing in the dug-out as Leeds manager. In the absence of Phillips, Marsch is likely to line up with Robin Koch and Matthias Klich in the heart of midfield while Adam Forshaw may also prove to be an option.

As for his next block of two, Marsch is likely to deploy Jack Harrison and Raphinha – the latter has been talismanic this season with a league tally of nine goals and two assists – ranking first in the Leeds squad for direct goal involvements (11). Raphinha will be key going forward for Leeds as he has been for them throughout the season, a threat in transition as well as from set-pieces – armed with a brilliant left peg that can be deadly on its day. In the absence of their prime marksman Bamford who has missed major parts of the season through injury problems, Rodrigo is likely to start beside Dan James who has been featured as a striker previously in the season.

WHAT ARE LIKELY TO BE MARSCH’S BIGGEST CONCERNS?

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One of Marsch’s priorities, as he looks to improve Leeds, will be to tighten the rear guard. Leeds United have conceded the most goals by any team in the division this season (60) and have let in 20 of them only in February. In fact, Leeds have now conceded more goals than they did in the entirety of last season (59), and with about a third of the season still left, may well end up conceding quite a few more if they do not fix their issues at the back. Leeds will travel down to the East Midlands to face Leicester City in their next outing which will see Marsch take over the reins in the dug-out.

Away form will also be on the list of Marsch’s major concerns as Leeds have the fifth-worst away form in the league this season, having picked up only 10 points from 13 away games – while conceding a league-high 35 goals on their travels. With an out-of-sorts squad and injuries to major players, a more pragmatic approach might suit Marsch in his attempt to retain Leeds’ Premier League status – their next five games should be encouraging for Leeds to get their season back on track, as they will face three teams in the bottom half of the league. Their away game against Leicester will be followed by back-to-back home games against Aston Villa and Norwich preceding a trip to Wolves in March – before they welcome Southampton in early April.

However, it will not be particularly easy to replace a man that grew synonymous with the club in such a short period of time. Bielsa, one of the true romantics of the game, grew to find a club and a city where he was worshipped as a Messianic figure – having earned them promotion to the top flight for the first time in 16 years. ‘El Loco’ might be a polarizing yet influential figure in the game forever, but the faithful Leeds supporters loved the Argentine unconditionally – Marsch can only hope to win them over by surviving the much-dreaded drop back to the Championship.

It has to be noted that Jesse Marsch has faced a similar situation before when he was replacing Marco Rose at Salzburg – where the fans greeted him in his first game with a banner that said: “Nein zu Marsch” (No to Marsch). Marsch eventually got the fans onto his side with his style of football and the success he delivered, although this situation might be a lot tougher considering the infamous passion associated with the Leeds faithful. Regardless, there is nothing that wins over disgruntled fans more than results – and that is what Marsch will be hoping to rack up first and foremost.

Marsch comes from a network which has had a lot of previous success at conjuring managers who go on to do well elsewhere – the likes of Rose, Adolf Hütter, Ralph Hassenhüttl, and Roger Schmidt – and there is no reason why Marsch can not emulate his predecessors. Yet, Marsch will know that he is facing an uphill task in the most demanding and competitive league in the world – and though he does have what it takes to succeed in Yorkshire, the almighty war to avoid the drop might just threaten to be beyond him. His first battle will begin at the King Power Stadium.

         



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Huddersfield Town vs Nottingham Forest: Match Preview

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Huddersfield Town and Nottingham Forest square off at Wembley Stadium on Sunday with a place in the Premier League up for grabs for the winner.

Helped by a strong second half to the season, the two clubs finished in third and fourth place respectively in the Championship standings and will feel that they deserve the opportunity to join Fulham and AFC Bournemouth in the English top flight.

Last season, Huddersfield and Forest finished in 20th and 17th respectively. This campaign, they have considerably transformed those fortunes. There was even a time when Nottingham Forest occupied the bottom spot in the division before Steve Cooper arrived at the helm. Such is the unpredictability of the division that the two clubs will square off once more for the coveted last place in the Premier League, and their spots in the showpiece are justified after outstanding years in the second tier.

Between December 4 and March 11, Huddersfield put together a 17-match unbeaten streak in the league, and just two defeats have come from 28 matches at this level.

Meanwhile, since Steve Cooper’s first game in charge on September 25, Forest have accumulated 76 points from 38 games, the best return in the Championship regular campaign over that period. Makes you wonder what might have been had the Midlands club appointed the former Swansea boss heading into the 2021/22 campaign.

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Forest conceded five goals fewer than any other team during that period, also the two clubs lost fewer games than Fulham and Bournemouth over the same stint.

Nevertheless, the playoffs were not straightforward clashes for both clubs who were tested to their limits. Huddersfield Town were pushed all the way by Luton Town, the Terriers requiring a late Jordan Rhodes in the second leg at the John Smith’s Stadium to prevail 2-1 on aggregate.

The drama was saved for Nottingham Forest’s reverse fixture with Sheffield United, Cooper’s team seemingly home and dry when leading 3-1 on aggregate at half-time at the City Ground before the Blades took the game to extra time, even almost winning the tie in the final seconds of the added 30 minutes.

All of the momentum was with the visitors until the heroics of Forest goalkeeper Brice Samba, who saved three penalties to earn his team a spot at Wembley.

The fact that Nottingham Forest toiled under the weight of expectancy during the normal time will only encourage Huddersfield boss Carlos Corberan, and his team who were one of just a few teams to win a league fixture at the City Ground during 2020-21.

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All things considered, that will certainly count for little.

The money and prestige on offer mean that both teams will be under intense pressure on Sunday, even if it is Forest who will be looking to end a 23-year absence from the big time.

Huddersfield supporters will be taking the positives from their last two playoff finals ending in victory, most notably five years ago when they defeated Reading on penalties to earn a first-ever appearance in the Premier League.

WHERE AND WHEN?

Venue: Wembley Stadium.
Date: Sunday, 29th May 2022.
Time: 16:30PM (BST).

MATCH OFFICIALS

Referee: Jonathan Moss.
Assistant referee: Marc Perry, Tim Wood.
Fourth official: Craig Pawson.
VAR: Paul Tierney.
Assistant VAR: Ian Hussin.

LEAGUE FORM (LAST SIX):

Huddersfield: WWWWDW

Nottingham Forest: WWLDWL

TEAM NEWS

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Having proven his fitness with two substitute appearances during the playoffs, Keinan Davis could return in attack for Forest.

Steve Cooper will certainly need the Aston Villa man’s energy, intensity, bullish strength and hold-up play in attack in order to take control of proceedings better than they managed last time out against Sheffield United in the second-leg of their Play-Off semi-final tie.

That would see Sam Surridge drop down to the substitutes’ bench in what is likely to be the only alternation made by Cooper.

Huddersfield are hoping that Danny Ward can take his place down the centre of the front three after coming off injured during the second leg versus Luton.

Rhodes is on standby should the club’s top goalscorer miss out, while Sorba Thomas will almost certainly come back into the team after shaking off a knee issue in time for the semi-finals.

Duane Holmes will likely miss out as Corberan may almost certainly show preference to a back three in order to match the formation of their opponents.

PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR

LEVI COLWILL

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The teenager has been a first-team regular in Huddersfield Town’s promotion push ahead of their Championship Play-Off final, featuring in 29 of their 48 games.

There will almost certainly be scouts from a host of Premier League teams in attendance at Wembley, with Crystal Palace, Southampton, Everton, Arsenal and Brighton among the others who reportedly want the talented centre back.

The 19-year-old has been a monstrous and colossal presence at the back for Corberan’s side, helping them to 11 of their impressive 20 clean sheets this campaign.

Throughout, he’s averaged a scintillating 1.3 interceptions per game, 1.8 tackles, 4.1 clearances and also winning 65% of his total duels and 64% of his aerial duels highlighting his tremendous all-action defensive style at the heart of the Huddersfield backline.

Where his immediate future lies is unclear, with a host of Premier League clubs scouring for his services this summer. His parent club Chelsea do want him back for preseason in July, with a view to providing him with first-team opportunities next season, but even that looks unlikely seeing as Thomas Tuchel will certainly be strengthening an ageing backline.

Another loan move may be on the agenda for him, as his development and maturity is showing no signs of letting up. A stupendous defensive talent.

BRENNAN JOHNSON

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Wales manager Robert Page certainly thinks Johnson could play for a top-six Premier League team now and those clubs who wanted him in January have seemingly missed out.

The Forest forward heads into Sunday’s final on the back of a tremendous breakthrough season for club and country. “Brennan is the future of Welsh football and I think he’s top-six (Premier League) now,” Page said.

Arguably the most gifted footballer in the second tier, the 21-year-old holds a superb record heading into the Wembley showpiece, registering 18 goals and 10 assists in 48 outings for Steve Cooper’s men.

Any chance Forest have of entering the Premier League for the first time in 23 years will again rest on his young and broad shoulders.

Exceptional work ethic, athleticism, dynamism, courage and technical ability on the flanks that even most wingers in the English top-flight would kill for.

Johnson is indeed a Premier League-quality player, and he’ll be hoping he is gracing such a prestigious competition with his beloved boyhood club.

PREDICTED LINEUPS

Huddersfield predicted XI vs Nottingham Forest: Nicholls (GK); Lees, Hogg, Colwill; Pipa, Russell, O’Brien, Toffolo; Sinani, Ward, Thomas.

Nottingham Forest predicted XI vs Huddersfield: Samba (GK); Worrall, Cook, McKenna; Spence, Yates, Garner, Colback; Zinckernagel; Davis, Johnson.

SCORE PREDICTION

Huddersfield Town vs Nottingham Forest: 1-2












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Why Eddie Nketiah staying makes sense for Arsenal

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Eddie Nketiah staying at Arsenal is all but confirmed with David Ornstein reporting that the 22-year-old is now set to change his mind and sign a new deal with the club

Let’s take a look at why it made so much sense for both parties in the end.

BUMPY ROAD

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Nketiah came into the season off a really positive pre-season. But even with that in mind, he was still our 3rd striker in the pecking order. As the season went on, the opportunities were limited…

With both Aubameyang and Lacazette on the roster and wings spaces filled by genuine wingers, all of his appearances came in the cups. He started all of Arsenal’s cup games up until the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup. He scored 5 in 5 games in the Carabao and 0 in 1 in the FA Cup.

Noted, most of these games, except one, came against non Premier League opposition and that makes it hard to stand out.

When Aubameyang left for Barca in January, Lacazette picked up form and Eddie found it hard to nail down a starting spot despite the rise in minutes. His off the bench appearances weren’t enough for him to showcase just how much he’s grown as a player.

“People have so many expectations of you, but bro I’m coming on for 9 minutes. We’re winning 1-0, the aim is to hold on to the lead. When I’ve had substantial time like 15-20 (Palace, Wolves, Brighton), I’m able to do something and show myself.” [Eddie Nketiah on @Podcast_TBG]

SPACE TO GROW

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Lacazette’s form dipped and the results warranted a change. Nketiah’s minutes gradually increased until he became a nailed-on starter for the last 8 games in the Premier League.

With 5 goals in 8 games, he’s shown he CAN be trusted. But goals don’t tell the full story of his breakthrough this season.

We’ve seen a player who’s matured. He wasn’t getting pushed over, he used his body well in duels, he didn’t have a problem with intricate plays outside of the box and he pressed well. And the stats back it up.

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image credit: @oh_that_crab / instagram

The sample size is small with ten ’90s played but you can see how much of a well-rounded player he transformed into. He used to have noticeable balance and on-ball issues alongside the game being played at too fast of a pace for him sometimes. Ironically, his balance and speed of movement look like his strengths now. He ironed out a lot of his flaws and he keeps working on improving his skillset as a centre forward.

MUTUAL BENEFIT

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He previously stated that he wants to get games on the regular but there aren’t many Premier League clubs who in my opinion can offer that. Competition for places in this league is brutal, let alone for a 22-year-old striker. He would probably have to leave the league and drop down the level of the club he’d be playing for by a level or two.

Europa League, cups and acting as a deputy to the first striker seems like enough room for game time and continued improvement under Arteta.

With rumours over a new wage spike continuing to swirl, one has to question exactly why is that seen as that big of an issue? Arsenal will not find a similar level of a player who wants to be a “backup” for nothing less than £20m-£30m. In fact, Arsenal saved money by re-signing him.

Not only is his career on an upward trajectory, but his skillset is also very valuable and he’s already shown he’ll keep the starters on their toes and that’s EXACTLY how you raise the level of competition in the squad.

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Does Richarlison emerge as stand-out option for Tottenham?

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An exciting period of rejuvenation under Antonio Conte saw Tottenham Hotspur secure a coveted Champions League spot in the recently concluded 2021/22 Premier League campaign. Now, with reports suggesting the Italian’s temptation to remain at the club despite having previously hinted at his ambition to move elsewhere ahead of the new campaign, Spurs are expected to spend lavishly in the transfer market as they look to bolster their squad in a bid to close the gap between them and the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City next season.

With certain positions expected to be addressed given the lack of quality personnel, Spurs will be keen on bagging their targets with minimal competition this summer, given the likelihood of numerous Premier League clubs needing to address key areas this summer. Moreover, with promising potential from across Europe and England’s lower tiers likely to take a big step to the Premier League, Spurs will be looking to identify, strengthen and prepare their squad for a potential title challenge following the upcoming campaign.

While the likes of Filip Kostic, Alessandro Bastoni, and Ivan Perisic have been sounded out as key targets for Spurs this summer, recent reports from the Daily Mail Online suggest the North-London club have added Everton striker Richarlison to their potential list of attackers this summer. Having played a pivotal role in Everton’s fight to avoid relegation, the Brazilian is expected to seek an ambitious given the club’s financial precarities, despite being contracted to the club until 2024.

An Appetite To Succeed

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With Spurs lacking an out-an-out backup to Harry Kane, the Brazilian’s versatility and tenacity make him a perfect addition to pair up alongside the Englishman or serve as an added force to bolster the attacking third under Conte. A blistering six goal in nine league fixtures ensured Richarlison played a significant part in Everton’s penultimate phase of the season, eventually culminating in the Merseyside club retaining their place in the Premier League for the forthcoming campaign.

Besides single-handedly guiding the team out of relegation, Richarlison remained pivotal to the team’s prospects throughout a testing Premier League campaign. The Brazilian emerged as Everton’s only player to hit double-digit figures in goal contributions (15) alongside having made the joint-fifth highest number of league appearances (30) in the recently concluded league season. Moreover, with Spurs in need of a Premier League proven option to compliment Harry Kane, the Brazilian serves as a refreshing candidate to fulfil the role.

A Transfer Soup

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With numerous clubs reportedly interested in securing the 25-year-old striker’s services, Spurs will be wary of engaging in a tussle for the Brazilian. Although Everton are yet to sound out potential suitors for the striker, given their need to raise funds through sales, Richarlison is likely to be listed on the transfer market sometime over the summer window.

Paris-Saint Germain are Real Madrid are reported to be the two other clubs interested in the player, however, with several promising strikers emerging across Europe, it remains unlikely the two European giants prioritize his signing over other areas this summer. Manchester United are the only other club expected to move for him provided they fail to land their priority striker, however, given their need to solidify other areas, it remains unlikely the Brazilian finds himself at Old Trafford next season.

While many expect Richarlison to remain at Everton given his long-term contract with the club, a tempting offer for his services could push the Toffees into considering a sale of their most valuable asset from last season. While the offering of a lucrative deal at Everton remains on the cards, given the club’s need to prioritize adequate funds for Frank Lampard, the potentiality of securing a decent transfer fee could see the Toffees cash in on numerous players this summer. Valued between £45mn to £55mn, the Brazilian could emerge amongst one of six players reportedly expected to arrive at Tottenham this summer, with Conte expected to target silverware with the North-London club heading into the 2022/23 Premier League campaign.

MUST READ: Fraser Forster closing in on Spurs’ move as he undergoes medical at Hotspur Way



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