Turn dominance into wins and keep Leeds up – the tall order facing Javi Gracia

Javi Gracia has replaced Jesse Marsch as Leeds’ permanent manager.

Marsch was sacked on February 6 following a disappointing run of results which have left Leeds embroiled in another relegation battle.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at Gracia’s in tray after he became Leeds’ 13th manager in less than 10 years.

Keep Leeds up

Leeds escaped relegation last season with victory at Brentford on the final day
Leeds escaped relegation last season with victory at Brentford on the final day (John Walton/PA)

Marsch succeeded in one aspect of his tenure by ensuring Leeds retained Premier League status last season and that will be Gracia’s top priority.

Forty-four per cent stakeholders 49ers Enterprises, the investment arm of San Francisco 49ers, have an option to own 100 per cent of the club and Elland Road stadium before January 2024 and while relegation would not necessarily scupper the deal, it would affect Leeds’ valuation and throw a spanner in the works of the current agreement, which depends on the club staying up.

Turn dominance into wins

Brennan Johnson's winner for Nottingham Forest earlier this month in Marsch's last match in charge of Leeds was the first of his side's two shots on target
Brennan Johnson’s winner for Nottingham Forest earlier this month in Marsch’s last match in charge of Leeds was the first of his side’s two shots on target (Mike Egerton/PA)

Gracia must quickly figure out how to prevent Leeds from losing games they should have won, or at least have gained a point.

Marsch’s last match in charge, a 1-0 defeat at Nottingham Forest earlier this month, was typical of the pattern under the American. Leeds dominated possession and had long spells in the opposition’s half, only to concede soft goals from set pieces or on the counter-attack.

Defensive deficiency

Clean sheets have been rare for Leeds this season
Clean sheets have been rare for Leeds this season (Nick Potts/PA)

Throughout Marsch’s tenure, the opposition rarely needed to create too many chances in order to score.

Having committed men forward, Leeds often lost their defensive shape and as well as being vulnerable in transition, they have also continued to leak goals from set-pieces. The Whites conceded three or more goals in a game under Marsch on more occasions than they shut the opposition out.

Unleash attacking arsenal

Leeds appeared to have given Marsch their backing in the January transfer window. Austria defender Max Wober and United States midfielder Weston McKennie have both been in the starting line-up, but Gracia must integrate club-record signing Georginio Rutter into his playing system.

The likes of Patrick Bamford, the injured Rodrigo, Luis Sinisterra, Willy Gnonto, Brenden Aaronson, Jack Harrison and Crysencio Summerville offer an abundance of attacking talent and the Spaniard must work out how best to use them.

Restore Leeds’ identity

Leeds fans relished their side's unique playing style under former manager Marcelo Bielsa
Leeds fans relished their side’s unique playing style under former manager Marcelo Bielsa (Martin Rickett/PA)

The swarming, high-tempo attacking philosophy under revered former boss Marcelo Bielsa made way for a muddled version under Marsch. The American’s game-plan appeared chaotic, leaving fans and pundits confused, while his players seemed ill-at-ease with their roles.

Gracia’s teams have been renowned for being disciplined and hard to beat rather than playing free-flowing football.

Whatever his vision for Leeds is, he must translate it consistently on to the pitch, which Marsch was unable to do, and time is not on his side.