Leeds United claimed a 2-1 victory over Rotherham United on Saturday afternoon in the Championship - but what were some of the key talking points? Phil Hay takes a look.
Klich is scoring goals…
At last. It did not go unnoticed, by him or anyone else, that Mateusz Klich’s goals began drying up as soon as the Beautiful South’s Rotterdam was reworked in tribute to his early-season form and Klich would not be human if the drought had not been playing on his mind.
A drought was what the midfielder was experiencing and a run of 15 games without finding the net was less telling than the fact that his 51st-minute equaliser at Rotherham United was his first effort on goal (not on target but on goal) since the start of 2019. His waning influence could not be disputed and the opening half against Rotherham epitomised the mental block he was suffering from.
In those circumstances, his strike early in the second half was the right goal at the right time: on a plate courtesy of some dithering by Clark Robertson and a gift which Klich needed. The effect of it was seen in the 86th minute when Klich’s former conviction returned. There was nothing else on his mind but to stick Jack Harrison’s pass away and his first touch and finish were perfect.
Klich is ever present in the Championship, which says everything about Marcelo Bielsa’s opinion of him, but he has played for the past couple of months without it feeling like he was truly there. A personal shot in the arm was timely for everyone.
Casilla makes his presence felt in a quiet debut
A Leeds United goalkeeper would not be a Leeds United goalkeeper without the occasional heart-in-the-mouth moment and there were instances at Rotherham where Kiko Casilla’s decision to leave his line and attack high balls far beyond his reach caused unavoidable palpitations.
His save from Will Vaulks, though, was what you expected of a signing from Real Madrid and the fingertip stop was so good that Rotherham’s Richie Towell was already celebrating a goal as Casilla moved his feet at lightning speed to glove Vaulks’ shot past a post. As Vaulks said on Twitter later: “How’s he saved that?”
In all there was a certain authority about him and a very obvious willingness to play risky but searching passes in the moments when Rotherham tried to disrupt Leeds with a high press. He is a character, evidently, and the difference he makes will be fascinating to assess. It is never wise to draw conclusions about a keeper on the strength of his debut but despite a booking for timewasting in the 93rd minute, Casilla will be satisfied with his.
Bring on Norwich
No beating around the bush: this weekend’s game at Elland Road is the biggest of the season so far, for Leeds and in the Championship. Norwich dropped the lead twice in a 2-2 draw with Sheffield United at Carrow Road on Saturday and the real winner of that result was Bielsa.
United trounced City away from home in August, making a mockery of their pink away dressing room with a 3-0 victory, but Norwich have lost only twice in the league since then and no-one would rush to call the outcome. The implications of the result could be extremely significant, potentially drawing Norwich level with Leeds or allowing Bielsa’s players to break six points clear at the top of the table. Bring out the valium.
Pablo Hernandez injury
Leeds’ last substitution at Rotherham, deep into injury-time, should have replaced Tyler Roberts was Leif Davis but as Roberts prepared to leave the field, Pablo Hernandez asked to be withdrawn instead.
Bielsa was in the dark about his condition immediately after full-time having started his press conference within minutes of the game finishing but revealed Hernandez had complained of an injury. “I was going to make the substitution but he felt something so I switched the substitution,” Bielsa said.
Hernandez is one of Bielsa’s most indispensable players, as his impact on the second half on Saturday showed. A move to the left wing allowed him to control the game with his range of passing and Bielsa has known from his very first day at Elland Road that he has few, if any, players as talented; moreso since the departure of Samuel Saiz to Getafe.
It is not clear what the issue with Hernandez is or if any concerns about his fitness might tempt Leeds to take a last-minute look for a number 10 in the transfer window. All eyes since Casilla’s arrival last week have been on Daniel James, the winger who Leeds still want to sign from Swansea City before Thursday’s deadline. James remains their top target.
An early exit for Jack Clarke
No doubt at all that Clarke is a supremely talented teenager, or that other clubs like the look of him, but there is always a risk of inflating a youngster’s reputation beyond its current standing.
Clarke has been in the habit this season of stepping off the bench to alter games which Leeds were struggling to dictate but when half-time came at Rotherham the winger was the victim of the tactical change which Bielsa had to make.
Suffice to say it had not gone well for the 18-year-old - 17 touches of the ball in 45 minutes, six passes and only one cross - but the consolation for him was that others around him were fortunate to avoid the chop. Days like that are part of the educational process; and a reminder of why time under Bielsa’s wing might be better for him than chasing the Premier League dream elsewhere.