LEEDS UNITED hoped their season would have been done and dusted by the final Sunday in May.
Instead, the Whites travelled to Ipswich Town on May 3 knowing two but hopefully three more games stood in front of them through the Championship play-offs.
Derby County ensured that only two more matches ensued as Marcelo Bielsa’s Whites suffered heartache in the semi-finals and a 10-day extension of the season with no reward.
From August 5 until May 15 but really from June 25 – the day United’s players reported back for pre-season training and Marcelo Bielsa’s first session last summer.
Leeds will again return to pre-season in the last week of this month with United put through their paces in no uncertain terms last summer with several players admitting Bielsa had provided them with the toughest pre-season they had ever had.
That paid dividends on the pitch – Leeds often cited as the fittest team in the Championship – the habit of netting late winners no coincidence.
But United’s players are heading for a similar summer again with the current window of rest needing to be savoured to the full and with international demands having extended certain individuals’ seasons to nearly 60 games.
Ironically, it is a player loaned out the previous season who tops that list with Polish international midfielder Mateusz Klich having made his 59th appearance of the season during Monday’s 4-0 win at home to Israel in a European Championships qualifier.
The 2018-19 campaign proved quite the turnaround for the Pole who was loaned out by Thomas Christiansen last January after making only nine appearances for the Whites in the first half of the campaign.
Sixteen outings followed on loan at FC Utrecht in the second half of the campaign but after impressing Bielsa over the summer upon his return to Thorp Arch, no Whites player has seen more action during 2018-19.#
Following his 59th outing for the season for club and country on Monday, Klich admitted it was “time to charge batteries for next season” following his mammoth campaign.
Speaking after the eventful 1-1 draw with Aston Villa at the end of April, the prospect and feat of playing every single league game for Leeds this term was clearly on Klich’s mind.
“I never expected to play every game,” said Klich.
“I had a couple of games where I struggled but there is no player in this league who could play 46 games and have no struggles because it’s a very tough and demanding league. It’s another nice challenge to do – the 46 games – and I hope I am going to play against Ipswich as well.”
Klich indeed came through another 90 minutes against Ipswich and two more games against Derby followed taking the Pole to 48 league games for the season and 4,000 minutes of football for the league campaign as a whole.
Even allowing for Aston Villa and Derby playing one game more, that is the 17th highest in the division with Derby’s Richard Keogh topping the charts and clocking up 4,392 minutes of football.
Klich, though, had another nine appearances with Poland to contend with plus two EFL Cup ties, making him United’s busiest player with 4,696 minutes for club and country.
As far as the Championship was concerned, West Brom’s Sam Johnstone was next behind Keogh in terms of minutes played with 4,350. Middlesbrough’s Darren Randolph, Sheffield
United’s Dean Henderson, Millwall’s Jake Cooper and Norwich City’s Tim Krul all put in 4140 as the only players in the division outside of those teams in the play-offs to play every minute of every regular league game. Beaten in the play-off semi finals, West Brom’s Sam Johnstone also appeared in every fixture, along with Derby’s Keogh.
Minutes wise, West Brom’s Jay Rodriguez is next with 4,135 minutes, followed by Stoke’s Joe Allen (4,132), Rotherham United’s Semi Ajayi (4,107), Bristol City’s Marlon Pack (4,098), Swansea’s Mike van der Hoorn (4,070), Derby’s Fikayo Tomori (4,062), Reading’s Andy Yiadom (4,050), Stoke’s Jack Butland and Rotherham’s Marek Rodak (both 4,050) and then Sheffield United’s Enda Stevens (4,029) before Klich.
But it is Klich’s international demands that sets him apart.
At Leeds, others have been almost as busy with Gjanni Alioski making 56 appearances for club and country this term and also signing off on Monday in Macedonia’s 4-1 loss at home to Austria.
Pontus Jansson – in action for Sweden in their 3-0 loss at Spain the same day – has also featured 46 times for club and country. And even without any sort of international demands, Kalvin Phillips featured 46 times this term with Manchester City loanee Jack Harrison next with 42 followed by Pablo Hernandez (41), captain Liam Cooper (39) and Stuart Dallas (39).
Already, the countdown to pre-season is on with United’s players’ return to pre-season set to be staggered.
The majority of United’s players will report back on June 24 with a select group back on June 29.
Some players have even asked to come back early and missing out on promotion clearly still hurts.
Whichever way you look at it, a quick turnaround looms - with Klich and co ready to once again put in the hard yards to erase the pain through promotion next term.