Mateusz Klich defiant in the face of Leeds United's critics, opens up over trying to emulate the 'best season of his life'
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Leeds United are performing better than they did last season but being less of a surprise package is making life more difficult in the Championship.
That is the analysis of attacking midfielder Mateusz Klich, who says opposition teams are not only fitter this season but better prepared to face the Whites.
He has sensed a feeling in some quarters that Leeds haven’t quite yet hit the heights in the way they did at the start of last season, when Marcelo Bielsa’s philosophy and the rapidity with which his squad adapted to it took the division by storm.
As Klich rightly points out, United have accrued one more point after 15 games of the 2019/20 season than they did in the previous campaign.
They have, he says, grown together and confidence is flowing on the pitch.
“We’re a better team,” he says.
“This season people think we didn’t start as well as last season but I think we have more points than at this stage last season. It is funny.
“I think we’ve grown as a team, basically the same players.
“Maybe it doesn’t look like we play better but on the pitch we can feel we’re better, more confident at the back.
“It gives us confidence for the attack.”
His head coach said this week that experience was the key to their improved defensive performance and the ‘tiny’ number of goals they are conceding.
Klich cannot put a finger on an explanation for that, but he does say with some certainty that Leeds are a more canny outfit, a side less prone to getting carried away with the Premier League dream when things are going well.
“I think we defend better. I have no idea [why] but we’re harder to beat,” he offers.
“In the Championship you can’t win every game but I think we’re more aware than last season.
“Last season after 10 or 15 games everyone was so happy that we had a good start, very enthusiastic about how it’s going to be in the Premier League, who we were going to play against and after 30 games we thought we were already there.
“But it’s a very long season. This season it’s basically the same team so we know the season doesn’t end in March, we have to play until May and I hope the ending is going to be better.”
To go one better than last season’s third-place finish and achieve automatic promotion, Leeds will obviously have to perform better.
Their goal is made more difficult by the fact that teams are now fully aware of what a Bielsa team can do and, particularly at Elland Road, they set their stall out accordingly.
The brand of football employed by most teams who face the Whites is not to Klich’s taste but he admits it is making the Championship even harder to conquer.
And the increase in the level of difficulty makes their 28-point haul after 15 games a source of pride for the Polish international.
“The teams are fitter than last season, I get the feeling,” adds Klich.
“Last season we took a lot of teams by surprise, they said listen they’re going to press you for 20 or 30 minutes and then they will have no power, but we pressed for 80 and they didn’t realise we could do that.
“But this season teams are playing different against us and sometimes they change formation just for our game. Obviously because it’s against Leeds they play better, many teams have their best games against us.
“It’s more difficult, that’s why I’m proud of the team because we’re doing better than last season.”
An opposition team parking the bus means a player with responsibilities in the final third is in for a particularly challenging 90 minutes and Klich readily admits it can be a struggle to create.
“When I watch Barcelona it’s unbelievable how they find spaces and find passes because I can’t find them,” observes Klich.
“It is the same pitch, the same size and everything but I just can’t get into those positions.
“I don’t really like teams who are waiting for a counter attack in a park-the-bus formation just waiting for our mistakes. It’s the easiest way to play and I’m really happy I don’t need to play this way.”
The way he is asked to play by Bielsa is to get into areas in which he can hurt teams by scoring goals or making them.
Klich is, Bielsa says, growing towards the levels he displayed in 2018/19, a season the midfielder defines as the best of his life.
Even if he is yet to find the sparkling goalscoring form that brought double figures in the Championship during that campaign, he is creating chances galore and enjoys the backing of his head coach, continuing to be an ever-present in the Leeds side.
The relentless demands of England’s second tier is apparently no trouble for him, physically or mentally, and indeed he welcomes the two-game weeks that are sprinkled liberally throughout the nine-month slog.
“I feel okay. I’ve never played so many games and I never thought I would,” continues Klich.
“I’ve had no injuries. I really enjoy the trust from Marcelo, he really trusts me and I play every game.
“That’s what I need, trust from my manager, so I can show my skills. So far I would say so good.
“It might be funny but I would prefer to play Saturday-Tuesday every week, I really enjoy that. It is very tough physically but I like to play games more than training.
“I could play as many games as we have to.”
And he has, featuring in every single Championship outing since a trip to Bristol City kicked off Leeds’ second season of Bielsaball.
Klich knew it wouldn’t be easy to replicate what he did in the first season but he is content that all that remains to be added to his current form is goals.
It is a work in progress.
“I played my best season in my life and it’s going to be difficult to play the same and score as many goals,” admits the Polish midfielder, who has scored only once in the league this term after finding the net 10 times in last season's Championship.
“I was surprised. It’s going to be difficult this year but I’m trying to give my best and play like last season and the only thing I’m missing is goals because I’m playing a very similar game. I’m trying to co-operate with the front three, support everyone and just run a lot.
“Sometimes you get a season when everything goes in, sometimes a season when it doesn’t.
“This season is more difficult than last but still there are many games to go and hopefully I will score some goals.
“I’m working on it.”