In the moments when his glass is half full, Leeds United’s missed chances might convince Marcelo Bielsa that somebody will soon be on the end of a cricket score. Their conversion rate wavered at Hillsborough on Friday but Jos Luhukay, Sheffield Wednesday’s head coach, spoke afterwards with the tone of a man who was happy to have avoided being hit for six.
Not all of the 25 opportunities seen by Leeds in Sheffield had Wednesday at their mercy but the body language of Bielsa’s players when the final whistle sounded – on their haunches and visibly dejected – told the story of a one-sided derby. If a sequence of one win from five league games is bothering Bielsa, it is only because the Argentinian knows the results have sold certain performances short.
There is no issue with his team beyond their recent finishing. Ten games into the season, Leeds have seen more shots on goal than any Championship club – 147, four higher than Brentford’s tally – and are unrivalled with an average of almost 15 a match. Mateusz Klich’s 54th-minute equaliser in a 1-1 draw at Hillsborough was United’s 20th league goal of the season but Bielsa was right when he said that the effort involved in scoring it had been disproportionately high.
It is not coincidental that of the past five fixtures, Pablo Hernandez has missed all of them and Kemar Roofe has missed four; two instinctive, attacking but absent assets who outshone everyone else in the first month of the season, not just at Elland Road but across the division. Roofe is almost over a calf injury but is not expected to make the squad at Hull City tonight. Hernandez has a hamstring strain and while Leeds were recovering from their derby at Hillsborough over the weekend, the Spaniard was in France watching his brother-in-law Sergio Garcia make history at the Ryder Cup.
United are marginally ahead of their expected goals ratio, the calculation used to determine if teams are as dangerous or tepid as their scorelines suggest, but the sheer number of openings against Sheffield Wednesday moved Bielsa to focus on their final touch. Klich, who is Leeds’ joint top scorer with four goals, saw the same problem but had little doubt that pressure on a similar scale would tell more often than not.
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“I’m not worried,” Klich said. “I know we’re going to score more goals. We just need to keep performing this way and we’re going to be fine.”
That Klich is the player keeping Leeds in gear, with eye-catching goals and skilful movement between opposition lines, is still something of a surprise. It does not take a long memory to recall the day when Bielsa used him for the first time in pre-season as the middle of three centre-backs, away at National League North side York City. Klich was very much part of the B-team that night, clinging to the hope that Bielsa would identify something in him.
United’s head coach admitted after Friday’s derby to having underestimated Klich’s talent; or if not underestimated it, taken time to establish what it was that the Poland international did well. Klich benefited in the end from Adam Forshaw, the player in front of him in Bielsa’s preferred line-up, breaking a bone in his foot on the eve of the season but the two months since have shown him in a flattering light: a calibre of footballer worth more than the £1.5m Leeds paid for him last year.
Klich was asked at Hillsborough how much mental strength it had taken to recover from last season, when Thomas Christiansen largely refused to play him and Klich finished the term on loan in Holland.
“I don’t know, it’s hard to say,” he said. “I just try to keep doing my best and keep performing my way, because I knew I could play football. Last season I didn’t get the chance to show myself. I got a couple of games only and it wasn’t enough for me. This season I got the chance and I think I’ve had confidence from the coach. He told me a couple of things that I needed to improve before the season started and the way he talked with me, the way he gave me the details, was very important.
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“I took it (on board) and it worked. I’ll keep all that between me and the coach because there’s no need to tell you this. But they were important things.”
At Hull this evening Bielsa’s squad will play a side who would kill for the momentum Leeds have, on the pitch and off it. City are a place and two points above the Championship’s bottom three and have been stuck in a spiral since dropping out of the Premier League.
Years of fighting between the board and the crowd have ground the atmosphere down and Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Middlesbrough pulled in a crowd of 13,000. The same fixture in the top flight 18 months earlier attracted more than 20,000.
Bielsa’s line-up is likely to be unchanged again, such is his apparent resistance to the modern idea of squad rotation. He has shown no inclination to tinker and it will fall to players like Klich to drive the club’s performance again.
“Obviously when you have a start to the season like this – you score goals, you are involved, you start every game – then the responsibilities are bigger and bigger,” Klich said. “I’m not hiding. I’m trying to help the team and I know I’m an important person in it now. We need the points and I’ll do everything to help us get them. That’s what football’s about and, to be honest, I would rather win the game than score the goal.”