Defensive midfielder Marc Roca endured a frustrating spell at Bayern Munich. For two years after his transfer from Espanyol, Roca cut a largely anonymous figure under a succession of coaches — Hansi Flick, then Julian Nagelsmann. Now at Jesse Marsch's Leeds United team in the Premier League, Roca is finally thriving. And in looking back, the 26-year-old Spaniard credits his Bavarian adventure for preparing him for life in the Premier League.
At Leeds under Marsch, Roca is a nailed-on starter. The player that left La Liga for Munich back in 2020? He wouldn’t have been ready.
“In Spain I don’t think you have to run as much since you defend and attack more in a block,” Roca told El Pais (as captured by Leeds Live) in speaking of his EPL experience so far. “Here, it’s like the Bundesliga: the movements are constant, everything is box-to-box.”
It’s not only the leagues, but the managers.
“Both Nagelsmann at Bayern and Marsch at Leeds want the counter-press to be very intense,” Roca continued. “That makes the midfielder the first player to make the first step forward. You can’t even think about it. You have to be running and playing at the same time.”
Roca barely found time to feature at Bayern — of course, not easy when the first names on the sheet are Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka. But the petal to the metal, no-holds-barred attitude instilled in him in training has paid off in England.
“In the Premier League, where you can create a chance from anything, it’s very important that your auto-pilot is on constantly, both with and without the ball,” Roca said. “You always have to be correctly positioned, close to the ball, both to be an option in the move and to press.
“When the opponent gets the ball off us they try to open up and if in that moment we get it back and play forward, we can create good chances. Sometimes it looks like if I try to get the ball and they get past me, I leave my teammates open behind — but we play like that!
“Our number one plan when we lose the ball is to play forward. In Spain, after losing the ball, we used to try to press and if it didn’t work we’d drop back and defend, waiting for our teammates to get back to help. Not at Leeds.
“At Leeds, we have the ball at times. In the Premier League there is a lot of competition and you have to adapt.”
An interesting nugget there: the risk/reward inherent in both Julian Nagelsmann and Jesse Marsch’s tactics. Bayern’s equivalent at the six is Kimmich, whose defensive bona fides have been called into question for precisely this reason — the tendency, at times, to charge too aggressively and leave space behind him.
Bayern have certainly conceded goals this way. But on the flip side there’s the fruits of this gegenpressing labor. For the German Rekordmeister, the outcome has been first place in the table and on pace to over 100 goals. For Leeds? They’re languishing in the bottom half of the EPL table and fighting to stay afloat.
But Roca is playing, at long last. Brighter days beckon for this Spanish talent in England, and he was made in Bavaria.