Psychology expert with relegation experience at Leeds United addresses Jesse Marsch’s job and concerns

A 3-0 thrashing at home by Aston Villa, on a night when supporters played chants of Marcelo Bielsa and expressed their anger at the club’s decision makers, allowed Marsch to take the brunt of the expectations and the pressure weighing on his players.

“I underestimated the stress of the moment from the players’ point of view,” he said.

The mood eased a bit during the five-game unbeaten streak that followed, but the loss of top managers to injuries and red cards, as well as three straight defeats that threatened to become four against Brighton, left Leeds not just in real peril, but a state of disbelief.

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OUT OF HIS HANDS: Leeds United head coach Jesse Marsch, whose squad for Premier League survival now hinges on Burnley, even if the Whites get a result at Brentford on the final day. Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images.

Marsch admitted as such after a half-time team chat that attempted to address his concern over the players’ state of mind.

“I could still see the looks on some of their faces at half time that we didn’t 100% believe we could do it,” he said after the game.

“The last thing I said, when I looked into all their eyes, was ‘we can’t have any doubts, we have to make some adjustments but we have to have no doubts and push’.”

Leeds pushed, grabbed a vital point in stoppage time and can at least maintain the momentum that gave them the last weekend of relegation-deciding matches.

Last night they fell back into the bottom three as Burnley’s 1-1 draw at Aston Villa propelled them above Los Blancos on goal difference.

Relegation is now between those two, as Everton produced a sensational home comeback to recover from 2-0 down and beat Crystal Palace 3-2.

Clinical sports psychotherapist Gary Bloom, who commented on the Merengues’ relegation on the final day of 1982 from the top flight, said Marsch came to Leeds knowing exactly how he wanted to raise players.

At first glance, however, his approachable, arm-around-the-shoulder style was a culture shock at Thorp Arch and will need time to become the norm for the team.

“I feel like he believed in it,” Bloom told YEP.

“He arrived with a very clear philosophy and a psychological brief.

“I’m on the outside but it seems like that kind of emotional intelligence didn’t exist at all under Marcelo Bielsa and all of a sudden you went from zero on the dial to 100 on the dial.

“If I was working under those circumstances, I would think, well, that’s a bit different, and it would take a while to get between zero and 100.

“I think there will inevitably be an adjustment period, how do you deal with this stuff?”

However, helping players fully adapt to a new management style is not the focus this week.

All eyes and every ounce of energy are on Brentford, away.

Marsch simply needs to produce a performance from what is undeniably a mentally drained and fragile team and finding a way to instill calm so the players can operate without fear and stress will be key.

Bloom, Oxford United’s sports performance psychotherapist, advises delegating responsibility to senior players who are still up and available.

“The truth is that every player is different and every player will have key elements that will relax him and put him in a good frame of mind,” he said.

“I don’t know if Marsch did that.

“But I’ve worked with management teams in sports teams, where you take three or four, you shouldn’t take more than four, and ask them to be leaders on the pitch because the Sunday noise and excitement is going to be pretty loud.

“Normally it’s Dallas, Cooper, Ayling, Forshaw, Bamford. How many point guards do you have on the field? I’d probably put my focus on that right now.

“Pulling together the four most experienced players and saying look, we need a leadership group in this squad. Even for just one game.

“If it goes pear-shaped on Sunday, you’re going to have to lift the team.

“With my help, you have to sort it out on the pitch.

“I think too often at most football clubs people look to the manager when they score a goal.

“You don’t see Liverpool players looking at Klopp and saying ‘what are we going to do now? “”

Marsch must also focus his players solely on the process of playing well enough to win, so they ignore the outcome and its obvious, but potentially terrifying consequences.

“Sports psychology would be to forget about the outcome and focus on the process,” Bloom told YEP.

“What I mean by that is if you’re playing golf, focus on the ball and forget about the score. I think we as Leeds fans are worried about the score.

“We are all worried about where we are going to be next season.

“But actually, if we go back to basics and focus on the football, and actually on the tactical implication of what Marsch is trying to do, and forget the fear, that’s how the psychologists in the sport of us would say you have to because the anxiety and fear comes from worrying about the outcome.

“If you play any sport, if you worry about what’s going to happen at the end of the race or the game, you’re screwed. You have to play every shot.

“And the more we focus on Brentford and forget about the possible outcome, the more likely we are to stay on our feet.

“Then you have the whole issue of things beyond our control, so process over results will always be the winner.”

Leeds fan Bloom is concerned about the psychological state highlighted by the red cards of Luke Ayling and Daniel James, and the psychological messages sent by the post-match actions of Raphinha and Kalvin Phillips last Sunday, which would have could be interpreted as an emotional farewell.

No one doubts that both men are highly likely to leave if Leeds go down – Raphinha almost regardless of Sunday’s result – but there is still a huge game ahead.

As for the outcome of this match, Bloom is torn between what his head and his heart are telling him.

“My heart obviously tells me I want them to stay up and my head says they’ll probably go down,” he said.

“There are too many things – if we had a full-strength XI and we had Bamford, Ayling, Dallas and one or two others, I think we would get a result in Brentford.

“Football is a fun game, that’s why we all love to cover it, talk about it and work on it.

“But, if you were to look at it in a purely cognitive way, I think we would be looking at relegation.

“Looking at it the way of Leeds United Marching on Together, we will.”

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