There was solid logic behind Leeds United’s appointment of Jesse Marsch last season. While the Elland Road side clearly needed a new boss to guide them away from the threat of relegation from the Premier League, they didn’t want to rebuild the foundations put in place by Marcelo Bielsa at the club. Marsch’s appointment was about evolution, not revolution.
That evolution has been evident in Leeds’ performances in the early stage of the 2022/23 season. The Whites have taken four points from games against Wolves and Southampton, and could have taken six out of six had they not allowed a 2-0 lead to slip on the south coast. The initial signs are positive for Marsch and his players.
Much of the difference between Bielsa and Marsch can be seen in the way Rodrigo is being utilised this season. The Spaniard has started well, scoring both goals in the 2-2 draw against Southampton as well as one goal in the 2-1 win over Wolves and generally giving Leeds the sort of cutting edge they haven’t always got from the former Valencia striker.
While Leeds United are still a high-intensity, high-energy team, as they were under Bielsa, they are now quicker to move the ball into high-value attacking areas. They have placed a greater emphasis on making the most of moments of quick transition and Rodrigo is being pushed into goalscoring positions more often.
“The goals are one thing but for me even more so the quality at which he’s playing, the clarity, the tactical awareness, the discipline, the work rate,” Marsch said about Rodrigo after the Spanish international bagged a brace in the draw against Southampton in the Premier League, coming on the back of his goal against Wolves. “He’s putting new full performances together.”
Leeds United’s club-record €30m signing of Rodrigo two years was seen as a symbol of the renewed ambition at Elland Road. At that time, Rodrigo was Spain’s first-choice centre forward and had been linked with Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid. He was one of the best players in his position in La Liga.
Rodrigo scored just seven goals in 26 appearances in his first season in the Premier League and followed this up with just six goals in 31 appearances in his second season. The 31-year-old has already reached half of this tally this season and this is largely down to Marsch demanding new things of the striker.
Marsch is still moulding Leeds United in his own image. The American has been delivered new signings over the summer with Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson in particular bedding in well. Marsch has carried over many of the ideas and methods that earned him such a strong reputation at Red Bull Salzburg.
RB Leipzig was a bad fit for Marsch who lasted only a matter of months at the Bundesliga club. The squad he inherited was built to play a different style. At Leeds United, however, Marsch has a better chance of success due to the overlap between his view of the game and that of his predecessor, Bielsa.
If Leeds can get the best out of Rodrigo, that will almost certainly strengthen them as a group and give them a better chance of rising up the Premier League table. The 31-year-old gives Leeds an attacking focal point to build around with his all-round game making him an effective figure on the ball. Marsch is building a Leeds team to his own specifications and Rodrigo could be the perfect frontman for that team.