Long before Marcelo Bielsa left Leeds United last season the club had identified Jesse Marsch as his replacement. In terms of succession planning, it was thorough.
Now, though, Leeds may soon have a more immediate decision to make. Leeds are on the drift – to put it politely – under Marsch and the Elland Road board face a genuine test of nerve.
Marsch will argue that there is some evidence in his favour. His team would appear to remain committed and they do spend periods of Premier League matches looking like a side capable to making progress in this environment.
Willian’s goal was enough to give Fulham three points against Leeds at Elland Road
Leeds striker Rodrigo gave his side the lead in the 20th minute after he headed in
Leeds manager Jesse Marsch was under pressure from the home crowd going into the game
Sadly, Leeds’ football where it really matters – at each end of the field – continues to undermine Marsch, as do the statistics.
Leeds are in the bottom three now. They have not won since August 21 in the league and have taken two points from a dismal eight-game sequence that has followed that.
As Marsch led his team off the field at the end of a third defeat in a week, there was a simple question asked by some sections of the support. ‘What the f*****g hell was that?’, they sang, and with good reason.
Fulham equalised through Aleksandar Mitrovic as he headed past Ilan Meslier at the near post
LEEDS UNITED: (4-1-4-1) Meslier 6; Ayling 6.5, Koch 5.5, Cooper 5.5, Struijk 6 (Gelhardt 84mins 6); Roca 6; Harrison 6, Aaronson 6.5, Greenwood 6 (Klich 75mins 6), Sinisterra 6.5 (Summerville 63mins 6); Rodrigo 6.5 (Bamford 63mins 5.5).
GOALS: Rodrigo 20, Summerville 90+1
JESSE MARSCH: 5
FULHAM: (4-2-3-1) Leno 6.5; Cordova-Reid 7, Tosin 6, Ream 6.5, Robinson 6.5; Reed 6, Palhinha 6; Wilson 6 (Kebano 63mins 6), Pereira 6.5, Willian 6.5 (Duffy 88mins 6); Mitrovic 6 (Vinicius 90mns 6).
GOALS: Mitrovic 26, De Cordova-Reid 74, Willian 84
MARCO SILVA: 7
REFEREE: Anthony Taylor 6
As they had here against Arsenal last week, Leeds were progressive for periods against a Fulham team looking increasingly comfortable back in the top division under Marco Silva. Leeds even took the lead through Rodrigo in the 20th minute.
But there continues to be a sense of chaos about this Leeds team at times and it continues to cost them. They subsequently created chances they didn’t take and ultimately gave up three pretty dreadful goals to have lost the game convincingly by the time substitute Crysencio Sunmmerville pulled one back in added time.
The first two Fulham goals were headers. One, soon after Leeds had taken the lead, was converted at the near post by Aleksandar Mitrovic and went straight through the hands of goalkeeper Illian Meslier. The second, with sixteen minutes left, came off the head of the smallest man on the field, Fulham defender Bobby De Cordova-Reid. Soon after that Leeds lost the ball inside their own penalty area and the Brazilian Willian tidied up for Fulham.
A 3-1 scoreline was to become 3-2 but that will not comfort Marsch. Teams around him at the bottom have been sacking managers, with varying degrees of success. He will doubtless wonder if his turn is coming.
His team had been dreadful in losing at Leicester three days previously and Marsch made six changes on the back of that disappointment. Fulham, meanwhile, had been excellent in seeing off Aston Villa the same night, a result that cost Steven Gerrard his job.
Here Leeds were the brighter early on. There were, though, shades of how they had been in playing and losing to Arsenal here a week earlier. Once again, they lacked a focal point.
Leeds do have capable attacking players. Jack Harrison was courted by Newcastle for a reason in the summer. Here he tricked his way to the byline in the sixth minute but then couldn’t find a team mate. Away on the left, meanwhile, Luis Sinisterra did likewise a minute later but he couldn’t find the right pass either.
This can be typical of Leeds. Promising but ultimately wasteful. And vulnerable at the back.
Fulham had started slowly and had hardly been in the game but then almost out of nothing they came close to taking the lead in the 14th minute.
A neat pass from centre field gave left-back Antonee Robinson space to run in to and when his cross was flicked on by Mitrovic, Harrison Reed found himself in space. The 27-year-old controlled the ball well and seemed certain to score only for his low shot to be blocked on the line by Marc Roca with the ball then hacked clear by Robin Koch.
Meslier made a great save to deny Periera from giving Fulham the lead in the 37th minute
It was superb piece of work by Roca in particular. He had no right to stop the shot, really. And within four minutes Leeds were in the lead themselves.
Robinson was involved again, this time slipping as a pass from Brenden Aaronson headed his way. Harrison was in space behind the Fulham defender and only had the goalkeeper to beat. In truth, he took too long and that allowed Tim Ream to block. But then then ball looped up off the Fulham captain, Rodrigo jumped highest above Tosin Aadarabioyo to head the ball in from less than six yards.
It was a lead Leeds desperately wanted and only the second time Marsch’s players had scored first in a Premier League game since beating Chelsea here in August. As such a period of consolidation would have been helpful but it wasn’t to be and Fulham’s equaliser was painfully straight forward.
Mitrovic stole a yard on Luke Ayling at the near post from a corner and his flick header went straight through Meslier’s parry and in to the net.
Bobby Decordova-Reid scored his side’s second goal to put them in the lead at Elland Road
For the next ten minutes or so, Leeds were at their very worst. There was a sense of madness about their football and it almost cost them when they were caught with too many players in the Fulham half 15 minutes before half-time.
When Ayling lost a dual with Willian ten yards inside Fulham territory, the Brazilian was able to play Andreas Pereira clear in to oceans of space with one simple pass.
Pereira should have scored. Or he should have passed to his right where a team-mate had worked hard to catch up and provide an option. Instead the right foot shot with the instep was telegraphed a little and Meslier dived to his left to parry.
Fulham looked likely to score again at that point but the imminent threat dissipated and for the first 20 minutes or so of the second half Leeds were once again the better team. Half chances came their way but nothing more.
Willian tied up the result in the 84th minute with his first goal for Fulham since joining the club
Rodrigo drove a shot from an angle in to the midriff of Bernd Leno in the first minute of the second period and then Sinisterra slid Aaronson through. A first time shot with his left foot probably would have served the American best but instead he checked back on to his right and curled a shot about half a yard over the bar.
Rodrigo flashed a shot wide of the near post soon after that before Ayling moved on to a quickly taken free kick to shoot low and wide from 20 yards. Next up was Sam Greenwood who worked Leno from a similar distance.
The threat from Leeds was apparent but how many saves of real magnitude had Leno been asked to make? None, really.
Fulham’s own menace was carried almost solely on the break but it remained. The Portuguese holding player Palhinha was played clear on the hour but was too slow and Ayling caught him. Then, not long after, Mitrovic moved unmarked on to a free-kick and headed over.
Patrick Bamford spurned a good chance to put Leeds ahead in the game in the second half
Crysencio Summerville netted a very late consolation goal for Leeds in the loss against Fulham
Patrick Bamford was on as a substitute for Leeds by now and his first big chance had come and gone in the 67th minute. Bamford’s movement is often first class but his finishing can be less so. Here he was played in on goal only for his first touch to be heavy meaning that Leno could advance to smother his second, a shot poked with the outside of his right foot.
It was a huge opportunity missed and within ten minutes Leeds had paid a heavy price. Again it was too easy for Fulham. A corner from the right was returned to Pereira and when he crossed to the near post De Cordova-Reid was unmarked to head across Meslier and in at the far post.
A pattern that is threatening to kill Leeds and do for their coach, such defensive self-destruction was evident again when Willian scored to turn the atmosphere here febrile. It was Reed who pulled the ball back for the Brazilian to score from eleven yards but it had been a Leeds player – Liam Cooper – whose dangling leg had presented the ball to the opposition in his own penalty area in the first place.
Summerville was played in to score by Joe Gelhardt in the 91st minute but by then this game was over.