Marschball arrives as Leeds crush Chelsea at Elland Road on vindication day
Leeds tore Chelsea to pieces with a performance that marks a milestone in their post-Bielsa identity. Jesse Marsch has arrived.
A lot has changed in the last twenty years. On the December 28, 2002, Leeds United played Chelsea at Elland Road. Leeds were already beginning to feel the effects of the fast required after the high spending years under Peter Ridsdale, having narrowly failed to qualify for the Champions League at the end of the season when in truth they needed continued qualification to be able to afford the debt they had already accumulated.
And Chelsea were in worse financial shape than anyone thought at the time, with the club being sold to Roman Abramovich at the end of that season when they had just slipped into the Champions League, just when the club were on the verge of default on a £75m loan which would almost certainly have left them in administration. Leeds won the game 2-0, with one of the goals from then 16-year-old James Milner.
To say that the two decades since have brought different experiences to the two clubs would be to somewhat underestimate the extent to which their experiences will diverge over the next twenty years. Powered by Abramovich‘s money, Chelsea were five-time English champions and twice European champions, firmly established at the top of Europe by the time of his forced departure earlier this year.
For Leeds, those intervening years brought administration and third-tier football ahead of the arrival of Marcelo Bielsa and an eventual return to the Premier League. More or less the only common factor between the two clubs at this time came when Ken Bates showed up at Elland Road as the owner of the club. It didn’t end so well.
Leeds vs Chelsea is a match just out of the period of industrialization of football. Chelsea’s growth game of the 1960s, from King’s Road. Leeds has become the Motor City, chosen as the backdrop for Stanley Kubrick’s imagination of a near-future dystopia, A Clockwork Orange.
When the two clubs met in the 1970 FA Cup Final, they kicked each other on a Horse of the Year Show-worthy Wembley pitch, and five days later , the replay at Old Trafford attracted what remains the sixth most-watched broadcast. in the history of British television.
One of the contradictions of Leeds’ return to the Premier League was that their ‘Big’ games weren’t as tense as they might have liked. Their four games against Manchester United, for example, saw them concede 15 goals, and that included a clean sheet.
Likewise, Leeds being ‘back’ hadn’t affected their form against Chelsea before. Their four matches against Chelsea brought three defeats and just one point. And after last season’s close contact with relegation, even Abramovich’s departure from Stamford Bridge looked unlikely to close the gap between the two sides.
Fan dissatisfaction with the sacking of Marcelo Bielsa has left his successor Jesse Marsch in a difficult position, and their narrow escape last season was to hit the minimum level that Leeds fans would have expected, to keep the club going. Premier League.
Whisper it, but they’ve started this season pretty well, coming from behind to beat Wolves at Molineux on the opening weekend, and although they may have left Southampton last weekend a bit disappointed by a point after taking a 2-0 lead, that left them sixth in the table, just above Chelsea in goals scored, although the league standings at this time of the season have levels of utility in chocolate teapot.
And this afternoon, perhaps Leeds have found the identity they have been searching for since Bielsa left the club. Marsch’s side came out with sparkling intensity, closing, closing space and harassing the ball with an intensity similar to what Chelsea themselves showed against Spurs last weekend.
They were certainly dependent on a bit of luck for the first goal. Edouard Mendy took a few too many touches trying to control a backpass, then foolishly tried to dribble it past Brenden Aaronson, only to be stripped for Aaronson to score into an empty net. Elland Road, a Premier League stadium that can be a cauldron at quieter times, has erupted. Four minutes later, Rodrigo headed for his third goal in three games.
Chelsea played like a pack of lions chasing prey against Spurs, but without Mateo Kovavic and N’Golo Kante in their central midfield they were transformed in less positive ways. Kante was back to his best against Spurs, playing with an intelligence and bite that made him feel like there were two people on the field, and that both of them saw everything that happened five seconds before everyone else. Without him, Leeds were able to rush, pushing Chelsea back and giving them little time on the ball to regain their composure.
With just over ten minutes to play, a graph appeared on the screen showing the Leeds players had collectively covered 10km more than their counterparts. At that time, they were three goals ahead. After surviving a brilliant second-half start from Chelsea, in which it felt like a single goal could reignite Leeds’ familiar insecurities and set the game up for a predictable comeback, Marsch’s side in added a third as Jack Harrison turned in a cross from the left. which fortuitously bounced on its way off Rodrigo.
The Leeds side have been peppered with outstanding performances. Despite the thoroughness of the final score, for example, Illan Meslier was outstanding in front of goal, making some excellent saves at critical moments. By contrast, Chelsea’s afternoon was best summed up by Kalidou Koulibaly being sent off with six minutes to play after being shown a second yellow card for running Joe Gelhardt back. On the bench, Thomas Tuchel was seated, quietly fuming. It’s unlikely he was quiet in the dressing room after the game.
If there had been a synonym for Leeds last season, it was probably ‘feverish’. Last season it felt like there was never room to relax. Each win felt like a fight, with the threat of relegation looming large in the background. The end of the season brought relief to have avoided relegation and a bittersweet feeling for Bielsa not having survived to go all the way with them, but little real Happiness.
But against Chelsea on Sunday, Marschball arrived fully formed as a viable playing model now proven to work against the Premier League’s best. Last season ended narrowly with relegation, but there was no sign against Chelsea that they would flirt with the drop again this season. Tuchel’s side certainly looked like they were getting the day off, but Leeds took full advantage and are now second in the Premier League.
The decision to sack Bielsa and replace him with Marsch was heavily criticized at the time. It’s a decision that feels justified today, perhaps for the first time.
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