Jesse Marsch’s Leeds United finally return to Premier League action this evening, with the Whites making the trip to south London to face Crystal Palace in Monday’s 20:00 kick-off – 16 days after their 3-0 win over Watford.
As a result of this time off, the 48-year-old manager has had plenty of time to work with his first-team squad at Thorp Arch, something that could well give Leeds the edge over tonight’s opponents – who were bested 1-0 by Newcastle United last Wednesday.
The gap between fixtures will have also afforded a number of the Whites’ injured and fatigued players a much-needed rest from the hectic Premier League schedule, although, it is reported that the meeting with Palace will still come too soon for Patrick Bamford.
And, with Daniel James having once again struggled when playing through the middle at Vicarage Road, it would appear highly advisable for Marsch to finally unleash 19-year-old Joe Gelhardt from the off against the Eagles.
Indeed, since the American’s appointment in the Elland Road dugout, Gelhardt is yet to be included in the 48-year-old’s starting XI, featuring just four times in the Premier League under the management of Marsch, in which time he has bagged one goal – the stoppage-time winner against Norwich City a little over a month ago.
However, looking at the campaign as a whole, the £4.5m-rated striker’s impact is clear for all to see, with the England U21 international having scored two goals and registered three assists over just 486 top-flight minutes – averaging a direct goal involvement every 97.2 minutes of football played.
For comparison, while James’ record of four goals and five assists over 30 Premier League outings does better the 19-year-old’s returns, when taking into account the Wales international directly contributes to a goal an average of once every 253.4 minutes played, it is obvious who is the more deadly.
Furthermore, over the last seven top-flight fixtures in which the £16.2m-rated winger has been deployed up front, James has failed to hit the back of the net, something which would very much suggest that he is simply not suited to a central attacking role.
As such, despite his tender age, Marsch must finally place his trust in the player who Beren Cross dubbed Leeds’ “next big thing” against Palace, as it is clear to see from his impressive record in the final third that Gelhardt is very much “banging on the door” – in the words of Phil Hay – for a start under the American.