Great expectations - The data that suggests Leeds United midfielder Mateusz Klich is in a league of his own

When it comes to creating chances in the Championship, Mateusz Klich is currently in a league of his own.

Thursday, 12th September 2019, 2:57 pm
Mateusz Klich has been a creative force on the ball for Leeds this season (Pic: Getty)

Leeds United's Polish international has been heavily involved in Marcelo Bielsa's relentless attacking football so far this season, playing in an advanced midfield role.

The rise in the number of successful final third passes he makes per game for Leeds, compared to last season, will definitely have been aided by the increased freedom Bielsa has given Klich, but regardless where he stands on the pitch when he receives the ball, he still has to execute.

He's contributed eight 'key passes' [the final pass that leads to the recipient having an attempt at goal without finding the net] in six Championship fixtures - more than any other player in the division.

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Last season, when he was not playing so high up the pitch, Klich made 24 key passes from 48 appearances.

Were he to continue on his current rate of key passes per 90 minutes and play the same number of league games this season, the unnervingly ever-present 29-year-old would go on to make 69 key passes.

For context, Pablo Hernandez led the Championship for key passes last season recording 42.

To date, Klich has only claimed one assist.

Mateusz Klich's key passes and expected assists put him out on his own in the Championship (Graphic: @JoshAHobbs)

But a metric that first began to take on significance in football four years ago and is now becoming an increasingly popular term in the sport's analytical parlance, shows he should have more.

British sports analytics company Opta describe 'expected assists' (xA) as measuring the likelihood that a given pass will become a goal assist and consider several factors, including the type of pass, pass end-point and length of pass.

They say a player's xA number shows how many assists a player should have had based on their build up and attacking play.

Expected assists and, perhaps to a lesser degree, expected goals (xG) aren't everyone's cup of tea.

Last season's graph showed how creative Pablo Hernadez was for Leeds United (Graphic: @JoshAHobbs)

One Championship analyst says he won't go near expected assists when looking at players and their performances, because of the vast number of variable contributing factors that go into scoring a goal.

Another, working in League One, sees xA as a go-to statistic when exploring a player's contribution to attacks.

According to football data platform Wyscout, Klich's xA metric sits at 2.07 for the season.

When a player's xA number is higher than their actual number of assists, it can suggest that they're creating chances that should result in goals and team-mates are not taking those chances.

Klich can consider himself a little unfortunate not to have registered at least a couple more assists than the deft touch he supplied, under pressure, for Hernandez' goal against Forest.

That was one of six chances he has provided for Hernandez.

Against Bristol City, Klich found Adam Forshaw in space and his midfield partner flashed a shot, albeit with plenty of traffic in front of him, just wide.

When the Whites went to Wigan, Klich curled an inch-perfect cross onto the head of Forshaw and his header from four yards cannoned off the post, Patrick Bamford scoring from the rebound.

At such an early stage of the season, it's risky to start deriving significant conclusions from any statistic, but that figure of 2.07 simply adds weight to Klich's significance in the current Leeds United side.

His clever link-up play, eye for a pass and knack for being in the right place to both receive and then deliver the ball into a player who can shoot or head at goal, has helped the Whites rack up a league-best 100 shots and, second only to West Brom, 122 crosses.

And when Klich's key passes are plotted on a scatter graph with xA per 90 minutes, it not only gives an idea of the number and quality of the chances he helps to create, it shows he's out on his own in the Championship.

In the same graphic, for last season, another Leeds player was in an acre of space in the optimum area of the graph - Hernandez.

The Spaniard's quality on the ball and ability to conjure up seemingly impossible passes, like the two he produced at Stoke, means he's highly likely to end the 2019/20 campaign in a similarly impressive area on that graph.

But it can only be a good thing for Leeds United that they are not solely looking to Hernandez to bring creativity to the table.

Klich taking on so much responsibility when it comes to chance creation will ease the pressure on his team-mate and give opposition teams something else to think about when Leeds have the ball.

If they focus too much on Hernandez, Klich might enjoy more space in which to work.

If they, like Leeds, go man to man, Ben White or Kalvin Phillips can bypass the press and ping a ball over the top for Patrick Bamford or Eddie Nketiah to run in behind a defence.

And all of that is said without even mentioning Helder Costa, who has shown in his cameo appearances that he is yet another serious threat posed to Championship defences by the Leeds United squad.

Goals win games and defences win Championships, but metrics like expected assists and key passes are all indicators of how Leeds have played over their first six league games.

The early signs are all there that Bielsa can once again mastermind a credible challenge for the one thing all Leeds fans have in mind - expected promotion.