Life after Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds does not look dull but for all the promise, fun and trademark buccaneering style, there was a painfully familiar outcome as Jesse Marsch’s first game in charge of the club ended in a slender defeat.
Leeds piled forward with their typical gusto and despite creating countless chances, they departed Leicester with nothing to show for an encouraging performance after Harvey Barnes’s cool second-half finish earned his side back-to-back wins. Leeds have not kept a clean sheet since November and while suffering another pounding never appeared likely, improving the Premier League’s leakiest defence must be high on Marsch’s list of priorities.
Brendan Rodgers paid tribute to Bielsa in his programme notes, saying he believes “the Premier League will be a poorer place without his values”. A first glimpse of Leeds in the post-Bielsa era made for exciting viewing. Leeds flexed between a 4-2-3-1 and the 4-2-2-2 formation Marsch favoured at Red Bull Salzburg to ensure Daniel James was rarely isolated.
The first half was played at a frenetic pace, James whistling a shot wide inside the opening couple of minutes and Leeds did not relent. Marsch conceded he was not in pursuit of perfection but there were plenty of positives for him to scribble on a notepad tucked into his overcoat. Junior Firpo found joy marauding forward from left-back and Rodrigo, one of two changes from the team dismantled at home to Tottenham, blasted over after a move he started but the killer blow eluded them.
Leeds kept Kasper Schmeichel busy on his 461st Leicester appearance – the third-highest tally of any player in the club’s history – and Raphinha would have converted Firpo’s cross at the front post had the Denmark goalkeeper not somehow saved the ball with his legs.
Daniel Amartey, again operating at centre-back, prevented Jack Harrison from taking aim at the Leeds goal, blocking after the winger wound up a shot from the edge of the box. The Leeds substitute Joe Gelhardt also went close within seconds of entering. Stuart Dallas played a cute pass into Mateusz Klich, who slipped in Raphinha down the right and he centred the ball. Gelhardt gathered the ball with his first touch and skewered a shot, which was deflected, narrowly wide.
Leicester appeared out of sorts and perhaps for good reason. Rodgers was again forced to name a makeshift defence owing to the injury sustained to Ricardo Pereira in victory over Burnley in midweek and Hamza Choudhury, filling in, looked uncomfortable at right-back.
Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall was graceful in midfield and Barnes’s goal on 67 minutes was equally neat. He played a crisp one-two with the substitute Kelechi Iheanacho, controlling the ball on his left foot and sweeping a right-footed shot into the far corner beyond Illan Meslier with his next touch.
It was just the lift Leicester required, Rodgers punching both fists into the air. Leeds may have consigned a miserable February to the past but there is no guarantee things will get better.