Leeds United remain under no illusions that they are caught in the thick of a relegation battle at the foot of the Premier League, says coach Jesse Marsch, but the American believes the squad have renewed confidence over their survival prospects.

The former RB Leipzig boss took the reins after the exit of Marcelo Bielsa at Elland Road and, following a rocky start, has guided them to seven points in their last three games.

That has helped ease the pressure on the Whites as they bid to avoid a return to the Championship in only their sophomore season back in the top-flight but ahead of a crucial six-pointer against fellow rivals Watford, their coach says that they remain far from safety, despite their stronger optimism.

“The reality is we are still in a relegation battle,” Marsch stated. “We know that but watching the table doesn’t do anything. The best thing for us is to control ourselves. None of us think that we are done or safe.

“There is a confidence that the team believe in themselves more than they did a month ago. The key is to use that to propel ourselves forward. It was easy to see the stress on the players’ faces in matches so I was just trying to relieve the tension. Now they have a broader understanding of our tactics and terms, we are able to go into more details.”

Roy Hodgson, meanwhile, believes he too is seeing improvement from the Hornets at Vicarage Road, and remains conscious that any further slip-ups could be punished by their rivals.

“We lost a bit of ground to Burnley, who gained points on us,” he added. “So it pushes us back a place in the table but with eight games to go. The gap between Burnley, Everton, Watford and Norwich is not enormous.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Watford – Emmanuel Dennis

The Nigerian was one of the standout performers across the early part of the season for the Hornets, having been directly involved in 13 goals in his first 16 Premier League appearances (8 goals, 5 assists). Since then however, he has scored just once (with no assists) in his last 12 games in the competition.

Leeds United – Kalvin Phillips

The England international made his first Whites appearance since December, as a substitute in their 1-1 draw with Southampton last time out. In the Premier League this season, Leeds have conceded just 14 goals with Phillips on the pitch (one every 80 minutes) compared with 54 goals without him on the pitch (one every 36 minutes).

KEY OPTA FACTS

– Watford have won their last two home league games against Leeds, most recently a 4-1 victory in August 2014. The Hornets had only won one of their first eight against the Whites at Vicarage Road (D3 L4).

– Leeds are looking to complete their first league double over Watford since the 1999-00 season, which was also the last campaign the sides met in the Premier League.

– Watford have lost their last eight home Premier League matches, with Wolves the last side to have a longer home losing streak, losing nine in a row between January and April 2012. The Hornets have only lost nine consecutive home league games once before, between December 1971 and March 1972.

– Since returning to the Premier League last season, Leeds United have picked up 22 points in their eight Premier League matches against promoted clubs (W7 D1), with their 2.75 points per game average the highest of any side in such matches in that time. They are also the only Premier League team not to lose a single game against a promoted side since the start of last season.

– Watford have lost 11 home Premier League games this season, the most of any side. It is only the third time they’ve lost 11 home league games in a season (also 1971-72 and 1987-88), while only three teams have survived Premier League relegation after losing 11 at home in a season: Hull City in 2008-09, Sunderland in 2013-14 and Crystal Palace in 2016-17.