It’s been a slightly shaky return to life in the Premier League after a 16 year absence for Leeds, but by no means has it been a bad one.
Marcelo Bielsa’s all or nothing approach to games and desire to hang with the big guns has made for some entertaining football during the first stretch of the season. They made a decent account for themselves in their opening fixture, narrowly losing 4-3 away to Liverpool, and have since fought for draws against both Manchester City and Arsenal.
The whacky scorelines have started to settle down now as teams finally find their groove despite the lack of a true pre-season for many, with United finally managing to showcase their best football in a 1-0 victory away to Everton.
It was Leeds looking much closer to their best. The same intensity, tirelessness and tactical prowess that was on show last season was there, but gone were the silly mistakes at the back and general disregard for defending. Leeds controlled play and never looked uncomfortable against the Toffees, who have been one of the teams to beat so far this season.
Win or lose, they’re incredibly fun to watch and it’s testament to Bielsa’s knowledge and ability to develop a team that creates chances for breakfast, dinner and tea. They’ve created 103 chances from open play so far this season, leading the way in the Premier League, which is seriously impressive for a team who have just been promoted.
It’s important to get the balance right, though. Bolstered and overloaded attacks must be matched with disciplined defending – enter Mateusz Klich.
Klich has quietly been one of the most solid midfielders in the English top flight this season, and was at it again against Everton. Granted the four shots off target wasn’t exactly one to be proud of – something he mocked himself on social media afterwards – the rest of his game was inch-perfect.
The Polish midfielder enjoyed 93 touches, making three successful long passes, three crosses, created two chances and made 22 successful final third passes. Those stats are impressive enough on their own, so adding his four tackles and nine ball recoveries to that makes it even more eye catching. Klich was all over the pitch and epitomised Leeds’ tireless yet wildly complex style of play under Bielsa.
A combative presence with an eye for a pass, he’s the type of midfielder every manager wants in their starting XI. Klich allows the likes of Luke Ayling and Raphinha to bomb forward so freely and pick up positions in different pockets of space, sweeping up any danger in the transition and churning the ball into another attacking play afterwards. That – combined with a fierce skin fade and beard combination – makes him one of the most attractive midfielders in the Premier League right now.
The sweetest part about the story for fans of the Whites is that this is a completely different Klich to the one they signed in 2017 and shipped out on loan twice.
Klich looked done at Leeds until Bielsa took charge; tweaking him into a deeper-lying playmaker and giving him a much needed confidence boost was the making of the now 30-year-old, who suddenly felt like a new signing in the 2018/19 campaign.
His revival in Yorkshire has been nothing short of spectacular and it’s even more exciting to see how seamlessly he has adjusted to life as a Premier League footballer. Klich’s influence on the squad will only become greater as the season progresses, too. His experience in going from zero to hero will be key in helping the squad dig in deep when times are tough, in order to successfully get out alive.
It’s easy to get caught up in the romance of Leeds’ return to the Premier League and the reputation of Marcelo Bielsa, but they still have a lot of work to do in order to maintain top flight status. Klich will be key to that this season, and has the tools to earn a respected reputation in the Premier League should his side stay up.