After nearly two weeks, Leeds United have found their new manager.
The Elland Road hierarchy sacked Jesse Marsch after a string of poor results left them staring down the barrel of another relegation dogfight in the Premier League.
It was a bold call and perhaps one without a plan as their search for his successor hasn’t been an easy one, with early targets such as Carlos Corberan and Andoni Iraola both quickly ruled out of the running, despite being influenced by the American’s predecessor, Marcelo Bielsa, in one way or another.
Alfred Schreuder, recently sacked by Ajax, was then spotted in the crowd against Manchester United but supporter backlash may have prevented chairman Andrea Radrizzani and director of football Victor Orta from pulling the trigger on the free agent.
Now, though, former Watford manager Javi Gracia has won the gig after impressing in the interview process, according to The Athletic’s Phil Hay.
The 52-year-old, who has been out of work since leaving Qatar outfit Al-Saad in June, was named as the Hornets’ new boss in January 2018 and guided them to safety that year, as well as to their first FA Cup final in 35 years during the 2018/19 season.
Some have suggested that his dismissal at Vicarage Road in the following campaign was unfair, so the jury is certainly still out on whether he is the right candidate for the west Yorkshire giants.
A lot of his success at the club was through a 4-4-2 system, which allowed his side to frustrate opponents with two banks of four, whilst also let the wider, more creative players thrive in more ‘free’ roles in the attack.
All in all, it’s a well-balanced system that could bring Leeds out of the mire, but how would this look with the squad he’ll inherit?
Most of the starting XI will write itself, though there could be some surprise names in or out of it.
Marsch’s summer signing, Brenden Aaronson, is likely to be faced with the hard task of getting back into the lineup, largely due to the lack of a no.10 or more advanced winger role, whilst Jack Harrison’s poor form in the past six months could see him make way early on.
With two up top, it could be a chance for club-record signing Georginio Rutter to get a decent run of starts, featuring alongside Patrick Bamford to become Gracia’s new Troy Deeney and Andre Gray-like duo, with the long-serving Whites striker acting as more of a target man for the new dynamo to play in behind.
Junior Firpo – often lambasted as being a “liability” – is another player that could benefit from the Spaniard’s arrival as he invites his full-backs to get forward to offer more width in a bid to allow his wide midfielders – in this case, Wilfried Gnonto and Luis Sinisterra – to cut inside as creative and threatening outlets.
It means the struggling £13m flop could be reborn in a system that suits his game, with more emphasis on his attacking qualities, rather than his defensive frailties.
Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie could offer a dynamic and powerful duo in the heart of the pitch, with the pair more than ample candidates to contribute up and down the pitch throughout 90 minutes.
With Gracia also favouring an active pressing system, he may need little time to get his ideas fully across as much of the current squad are used to that, given the tactics of both Bielsa and Marsch in recent years.
AND in other news, Orta could finally replace Raphinha in Leeds summer swoop for £16m-rated “phenomenon”…
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