Leeds United: Cool Klich happy to be put on the spot

Mateusz Klich
Mateusz Klich
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Phil Hay meets one of Leeds United’s penalty heroes in the Carabao Cup third round victory over Premier League club Burnley at Turf Moor as he continues playing catch-up on his comeback from injury.

On a night at Burnley which tempted all involved to lose their heads, Mateusz Klich’s penalty in the middle of a Carabao Cup shoot-out was the coolest of the lot. A casual side-foot to the right of goalkeeper Nick Pope, there was confidence in his finish which belied the nature of his first in three months at Leeds United.

Hadi Sacko

Hadi Sacko

Klich is in that clutch of players with something to prove to Thomas Christiansen, held back so far by a loss of fitness at the worst possible time during the summer, but he emerged from his shell at Turf Moor on Tuesday and showed a nerveless streak in dispatching the third attempt as Leeds advanced on penalties and knocked Burnley out of the League Cup.

The Polish midfielder’s strategy from the spot was honed last season at FC Twente, where Klich was installed as the Dutch club’s regular penalty-taker. In all, he converted six. There is risk involved in his method – no great power behind it and a reliance on a keeper like Pope diving the wrong way – but his strike against Burnley was indicative of the confidence among a group of Leeds players who put away all five attempts with aplomb.

The role of penalty-taker at Elland Road was up for grabs last month after Chris Wood left for Burnley and created that specific vacancy. Pablo Hernandez took up the baton, scoring from the spot against Burton Albion 10 days ago and in normal time at Turf Moor on Tuesday, but Klich is waiting in reserve if Christiansen fancies a change. Waiting in reserve has been the story of the Poland international’s short time with the club.

“I wanted to take one during the game but, of course, Pablo has been here longer,” Klich said. “I have to respect all the players and it’s no problem but if I can take penalties I will take penalties.

“Last season, I scored six like this and it is the way I shoot. I will miss some day but so far it’s going good.”

Klich has not had the benefit of many moments in the sun since coming to England. He was the first of United’s new signings in June, a £1.5m recruit from FC Twente, and a midfielder whose ability to act as a playmaker attracted Leeds at the start of the window. Klich suffered a muscle injury during his first pre-season friendly and was barely used before the Championship term began. In Austria, during Leeds’ three-match summer tour, he was restricted to basic fitness work as the rest of Christiansen’s players began vying for places.

Christiansen has used Klich in every stage of the League Cup but is yet to blood him properly in the league. By the time Klich came on as a substitute for his only meaningful Championship outing against Burton Albion, United were already 4-0 up. He found his feet against Burnley, though, and made his influence grow as a dramatic and exhausting third-round tie rolled towards extra-time and penalties.

“It’s going slowly for me but in a good direction,” Klich said. “There’s no pressure. After two months here, everything is good after injury. I didn’t really have a pre-season but I feel better and better with every game.

“It would have been nice to play 90 minutes (on Tuesday) and not 120 because both us and Burnley have a game on Saturday. But if you have to play 120, you play. I was tired, of course, but everyone was.”

That the tie spilled into extra-time was remarkable in itself; goalless after 80 minutes and level at 2-2 at full-time. Leeds opened the scoring with nine minutes remaining, striking through Hadi Sacko, and led again in stoppage-time when Hernandez replied to Wood’s 89th-minute penalty with a spot-kick of his own. Both penalties were awarded for shirt-pulling in the area, the first offence by Gaetano Berardi on Kevin Long and the second by James Tarkowski on Kemar Roofe.

Hernandez’s strike appeared to have done for Burnley but in the last seconds of stoppage time, and after a foul on Ashley Westwood, Robbie Brady drew Sean Dyche’s side level with a sublime free-kick, curled beyond the reach of United goalkeeper Andy Lonergan.

“I was angry as I thought it was over,” Klich said, “but it was a fantastic free-kick.

“We felt unlucky (when Burnley levelled at 2-2) and maybe it was because of stupid fouls, I don’t know, but the only thing that bothers us is that we are through. It was a very good night for us.”

Leeds needed a good night after Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Millwall, a way of making their first league loss look like nothing more than a hiccup. United held an unbeaten record in all competitions before their visit to the New Den but were made to look oddly sedate by Millwall. The bigger picture, as the Championship resumes this weekend, shows Leeds at the top and present in the fourth round of the Carabao Cup.

Christiansen made nine changes to Dyche’s seven but Burnley’s line-up contained ample amounts of Premier League experience. “It was a very good reaction to Saturday,” Klich said. “Everyone could see that we’re a really good team and hard to beat. Even a Premier League side couldn’t win against us so that’s good for the future.

“To be honest, I knew it would be not so difficult as Millwall because Burnley like to play football and let us play. You could see that they have more quality than Championship teams, you could see that in the crosses and ball-handling, but we are a good team and we are first in the Championship. I hope it will be like this as long as possible.”