Managers are fond of saying the season is a marathon and not a sprint but, whatever the length of the race, it helps to get off to a good start.
Leeds United failed to register a victory in their opening six Premier League games last season, winning just three times before the end of 2021. That dreadful first half to the campaign sparked a malaise which saw the much-loved Marcelo Bielsa sacked on February 27 – the day after a dismal 4-0 thumping at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur.
Into his place strode Jesse Marsch, whose first two games ended in defeat, extending Leeds’ losing run to six matches and leaving them in the thick of the relegation scrap. Although the American engineered a revival of sorts during a five-match unbeaten run, Leeds took just one point from four games heading into the final day at Brentford.
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Marsch’s men were in the drop zone before kick-off but their 2-1 win against the Bees, coupled with Burnley’s home defeat to Newcastle United, ensured a third successive season of Premier League football at Elland Road.
After the trauma of that final day, the onus is now on Marsch to write a new chapter in Leeds’ history, starting with Saturday’s opening-day visit of Wolves.
His two best players have been sold – England midfielder Kalvin Phillips and Brazilian winger Raphinha – but six new faces have arrived and more should follow before the window closes.
So far this summer, Leeds have signed Brenden Aaronson, Luis Sinisterra, Tyler Adams, Rasmus Kristensen, Marc Roca and Darko Gyabi at the cost of almost £100million. This is very much Marsch’s squad now and Kristensen, Aaronson, Roca and Adams all impressed during last Sunday’s 6-2 thrashing of Cagliari in Leeds’ final pre-season friendly, watched by an Elland Road crowd of 29,046.
It is a new season and a new-look Leeds, free of the incredible pressures which faced Marsch and his players at the end of last term. Positive energy drips from the 48-year-old, who addressed the media on Thursday at the club’s Thorp Arch training ground on the outskirts of Wetherby.
“I think we've been able to use the time in pre-season to work in a little bit more of a stress-free environment,” said Marsch, prompt as ever for the start of his 1.30pm news conference.
“Obviously there are always pressures to improve and grow and we know once the season starts that the games demand the absolute best from you.
“But yes, we've been able to invest heavily in tactics that we think are important, set-piece ideas and the idea of what we want this environment to be like from a team perspective, from a day-to-day work perspective from a physical.”
Thorp Arch itself, which was heavily invested in during Bielsa’s iconic reign, has seen further improvements this summer.
“We've even made some adjustments of what's going on here to really just be more efficient and clean with everything we do,” Marsch explained.
“So, of course, when new managers come in, they bring a lot of new ideas and new styles of play and everything.
“I think that we have made incredible progress in the last six weeks.
“And I think that we're going to see a better version of what I would like us to be on match day, which is exciting for me.
“Certainly some of the additions have been important for that.
“But I think also the players that have been here have now had more time to work more intensively and minutely on the details, so that we can now transform ourselves into what we want.”
You cannot help but admire Marsch’s bold rhetoric and his natural sense of optimism can be infectious, with players gradually buying into his methods after Bielsa’s remarkable time in charge.
Even though Phillips has been sold to Manchester City, Marsch has remained in touch with the England man.
“I still have contact with Kalvin,” he revealed.
“We're really excited for his new opportunity. Last week I drove through the city and I saw the mural of Kalvin and it got me a little emotional, because I know what he means to this fanbase, in this community and not having him in our kit is not so easy to accept moving forward.
“We knew that it wasn't going to be about replacing Kalvin with one player or two players, and more just about continuing the process of what we wanted to achieve in that position on the pitch with the way we want to play.
“I think that as a starting point, a lot of the players that we've had here have adapted more and more and more, including Adam Forshaw, into what we need in that position.”
Key to the new chapter being patiently written by Marsch at Elland Road will be his new signings. Aaronson is well-known to Marsch from their time together at Red Bull Salzburg while Adams played under the Leeds boss at New York Red Bulls and RB Leipzig.
All-action right-back Kristensen, another player to have worked with Marsch at Red Bull Salzburg, could be a cult figure with the Leeds crowd although Colombian winger Sinisterra – a replacement for Raphinha – will miss the start of the season through injury.
Leeds remain on the hunt for striking reinforcements but Patrick Bamford, who netted twice against Cagliari and was ably supported by Rodrigo in a No 10 role, will have promising youngsters Joe Gelhardt and Sam Greenwood for competition.
All told, Leeds appear in decent health heading into the new season and Marsch said: “Tyler Adams and Mark Roca – the balance of who they are, how they complement each other and how they understand what we want the game to look like – fits really well for where we're at right now.
“Those two, for me, both have still much more room for improvement and have both been very good in pre-season.
“Brenden Aaronson’s work ethic is different than probably any player I've ever known.
“His ability to cover ground and his intelligence and ability to adapt is one of the best I've ever seen.
“The league demands the best from people and they will demand the best from Brenden and he will know that physically he will have to manage some situations.
“He knows how to challenge opponents in behind and he's clever in tight spaces and he's good around the goal.
“He has a lot of good qualities and he's been good in pre-season. I know he's going to get better.”
Marsch is continuing to work closely with sporting director Victor Orta and majority shareholder Andrea Radrizzani.
He added: “We’re really trying to again be very precise with exactly who we want and what we need for the next steps in this transfer window.
“We have some time. I think we’ll probably make one addition next week and then we're continuing to look at what else is out there.”
Marsch is keen to avoid goal-setting for the season ahead but he knows Leeds must start better than last term.
“I’m thankful that we've brought in the right kinds of players to add to what we have – I’m hopeful that this team will be really strong,” he said.
“I’m just totally focused on doing everything we can to put ourselves in the best position to have a really strong season and feel very confident about who we are and what we’re trying to achieve.”
As usual, life should be anything but dull at Elland Road this season.