Leeds United boss Jesse Marsch hails contribution of captain Liam Cooper in 'massive' win against Watford

Liam Cooper has made a big impression on head coach Jesse Marsch after returning from injury to lead the Leeds United team.Liam Cooper has made a big impression on head coach Jesse Marsch after returning from injury to lead the Leeds United team.
Liam Cooper has made a big impression on head coach Jesse Marsch after returning from injury to lead the Leeds United team.
Jesse Marsch labelled the three points massive after Leeds United responded to the pressure they were under to win 3-0 at Watford.

After wins for relegation rivals Burnley and Everton this week the Whites knew nothing less than a win would also do for them on their trip to Vicarage Road and they came up with the goods thanks to a crucial first half goal from Raphinha and two more after the break by Rodrigo and Jack Harrison.

Although it was not their best performance of the season quality wise it brought their biggest margin victory of the campaign against another of the sides in danger of the drop and vitally took them 11 points clear of Watford now and nine in front of third from bottom Burnley.

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"To get a clean sheet three goals and three points was massive for us," said head coach Marsch.

Raphinha scored the crucial opening goal for Leeds United.Raphinha scored the crucial opening goal for Leeds United.
Raphinha scored the crucial opening goal for Leeds United.

"I'm really excited that we were able to, in a tough moment and in a really important game, emerge.

"The points are massive for us and there's confidence and momentum in the group. In six weeks we can see the form of many players and the overall mentality of the group has grown so much. That's really helped us get to where we are right now.

"This is a game, we knew from the beginning wasn't necessarily going to be about quality.

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"I want us to play better, be more confident on the ball, some of the combinations and ideas I want to get better in those areas. Southampton played every ball long, we had to pick up second balls and didn't do a good job. We were better at that.

"We need more moments where we press, win balls and calmly, cleanly find actions that lead to big chances, like Jack Harrison's goal.

"I tried at half-time to be a little bit clear we could calm down and play with more confidence in some spaces, but the game was such they were going to isolate their wingers in one v one situations and for the most part I felt like we contained that pretty well. The defensive performance was quite good."

Despite the result Marsch knows there is work still to be done to be clear of the drop.

He explained: "Everyone is getting results around us.

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"There's been some weak penalties and we can't seem to buy one. People in Leeds tell me we have to fight for everything, I'm okay with that.

"Especially with the 16-day break now it would have been really difficult to sit and watch the table because things are going to get tight. We just have to stay focused on us. That's the most important thing.

"I've been saying it from day one I think that the group's mentality to work and learn every day what we're trying to achieve has been fantastic.

"I know I can draw from their mentality, their inspiration, their belief in each other. Even when the game's not exactly what we want, now we're able to do certain things effectively and fighting in the match is incredibly important."

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Marsch was particularly pleased with the contribution of his fit again captain Liam Cooper.

He added: "He won his duels, his aerials, he was aggressive against the ball, didn't lose any balls, he was fantastic.

"I had him speak to the team afterwards, I haven't had a better captain in the entire time I've been a coach.

"He was great, he almost came to tears, he loves playing with the guys so much.

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"I really like this group, they give everything they have. It fits with who I am and with what we're trying to establish together."

Leeds understandably made a nervy opening, but home keeper Ben Foster was forced to make the first save as he kept out Raphinha’s header.

Imran Louza went close with a free-kick at the other end before the Whites made a vital breakthrough. Dan James found Raphinha and the Brazilian curled a superb shot past Foster from the edge of the box for his tenth goal of the season.

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Chances were few and far between for the rest of the half, but Leeds defended solidly to hold on to their lead.

The second half initially followed a similar pattern, but opened up with Watford knowing they had to add more urgency into their play to have a go at the visitors.

Joao Pedro shot over then played Ismaila Sarr through for the hosts' best opening of the match, but he fired high and wide to give United a big let off.

Leeds turned to their bench with Kalvin Phillips brought on and young forward Sam Greenwood getting a chance to impress ahead of Joe Gelhardt, who was also on the bench.

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The subs almost made an immediate impact as Greenwood set up Phillips, but the England midfielder saw his low 20-yard shot saved by Foster.

Greenwood did have a hand in the second goal, however, in the 73rd minute as his pass almost put Rodrigo away. Defenders covered, but then got in a tangle and the Spanish forward showed great determination to nip in to confidently round Foster to make it 2-0.

The icing on the cake came on 85 minutes when Greenwood was again involved with a pass to Harrison, who did the rest with a terrific strike that sent the ball flying into the corner of the net.

United then saw out the closing stages for their crucial victory.

Watford 0

Leeds United 3

(Raphinha 21, Rodrigo 73, Harrison 85)

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Premier League

Attendance: 20,957

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Watford: Foster; Femenia, Kabasele, Samir, Kamara; Sissoko, Louza, Kucka (Kayembe 72); Sarr, Pedro (King 81), Hernandez (Dennis 39).

Leeds: Meslier (GK); Ayling, Llorente, Cooper, Dallas; Koch, Klich (Phillips 59); Raphinha (Summerville 82), Rodrigo, Harrison; James (Greenwood 67).

Referee: Andre Marriner.