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Leeds United boss Jesse Marsch must not repeat failed Raphinha experiment vs Brighton and Hove Albion

By Joshua Hobbs

Following the red card and subsequent three match suspension given to Luke Ayling in last Sunday's loss to Arsenal, Jesse Marsch was left with a decision to make for Wednesday evening's match against Chelsea. Leeds' manager mentioned Jamie Shackleton, Robin Koch, Raphinha and Daniel James as options he was considering.

Raphinha and James both had to fill in for short periods in the games against Manchester City and Arsenal but it seemed that Shackleton was the obvious choice, given that he has played the position most often. When the team sheet was released at 6.30pm on Wednesday, it looked as if Marsch had decided to go for one of his centre backs in the role, given that there were four of them in the starting XI. However, when the team took their positions on the field, it became clear that the American had gone for three centre backs, with Pascal Struijk playing as a left wing-back and Raphinha on the opposite side.

Given how important the Brazilian has been to Leeds' attack this season, it seems difficult to justify that selection. In his pre-match press conference, Marsch himself stated that he wanted to find a way to get Leeds' best attacker closer to the opponent's goal.

Read more: Leeds United injury and suspension list as Whites lose Daniel James for rest of the season

"We’ve tried to find ways to play with him a little bit wider, we’ve tried to find ways where he is in transition moments a little bit more, we’ve tried to find ways to get him around the goal more," he explained.

"Against these opponents, the best opponents, it’s not like we’re going to be in the final third for 50% of the game where we can really get him on the ball. That means getting him in transition and finding him opportunities to get him around the goal."

Considering that the Whites started in a 3-4-3 formation, it is hard to imagine why he wasn't played on the right of the front three. That position seems to be the one where he would be most likely to be effective in what Marsch said above. As a wing-back, he was only going to be further away from the goal.

This was borne out in Leeds' lack of attacking threat in the game. James was sent off in the first-half, which further inhibited the team's chances of attacking effectively as they had a one man disadvantage. However, considering Marsch's side had no shots in open play before that incident, the attack was already ineffective.

Despite the second half of the season not being as strong as his first, Raphinha has clearly been the bright spark in an otherwise awful season for Leeds. Without his ten goals, they would surely already be relegated. He also has three assists but he has been let down by his team-mates as this is markedly below his expected assists of 6.2, according fbref.com.

Marsch may bemoan the state of the squad at Leeds, and rightly so given that the season has proven that it was far too small and lacking in the quality to cope. However, the selection of his star attacker as a wing-back is not something he was forced into. Shackleton has been injured for much of the time since Leeds' manager arrived at the club, but surely he would have been the better choice, as a wing-back or on the right of a back four.

Leeds now have two games to save their season. Marsch must not repeat the failed experiment against Chelsea. He may be forced to play Raphinha further forward anyway, as James will be suspended and Harrison came off with a knock. However, should Harrison be available, Raphinha must play in attack regardless. They are into the part of the season where they need a moment of magic to pull them out of a hole. They have very few players capable of moments of magic. They must not be in a situation where the most likely source of one of those moments is stuck too far away from the opposition goal to conjure one.

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