'Our team is better' - Illan Meslier Leeds United comparison and 'totally different' keeper claim

Illan Meslier has declared the current Leeds United promotion chasers to be even better than the one he won a Championship title with.
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In 2020 Meslier had not yet turned 20 when he was thrown into the deep end of a title run-in, thanks to Kiko Casilla's eight-game FA ban for racism. A Championship debut at Hull City and a first ever Elland Road appearance against Huddersfield Town came just prior to the pandemic and a three-month break from action. When Meslier and Leeds returned to football they stormed to the title, finishing the season a full 10 points ahead of West Bromwich Albion. On Saturday he will celebrate his 24th birthday with another game against Huddersfield Town, having started 32 of 34 Championship outings this season. A young man he may still be, but with 161 Leeds appearances already to his name and a key role in two promotion-chasing Whites teams, Meslier is well placed to comment on any similarities between Marcelo Bielsa's swash-buckling conquerers and Daniel Farke's hopefuls.

“Our team is better, this one," he told the YEP. "The players have good quality here, also in the past, but, the similarities? Sometimes in the season, you have ups and downs. We had downs and now we have a huge up, so we have to insist and keep going. We have 12 games to go and we know each game is so important and in each game are three points, but similarities? Each game is so important and we remember that with Marcelo. We took game after game. It was the most important and making sure you keep having a lot of points, with the need to make sure they cannot come back to you.”

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Though very different characters, parallels can be drawn between Bielsa and Farke. Both have dominated the Championship with possession-hungry football that seeks to exhaust the opposition mentally and physically. Both put together teams with the ability to hurt the opposition on the counter attack. Both lifted the second tier trophy - Farke twice with Norwich. Leeds fans have taken both men to heart thanks to the results they have earned and the style with which they earned them. And both made Meslier their number one - eventually in Bielsa's case and Farke from the outset. The Meslier that played for Bielsa, though, is a different one to this season's first-choice keeper. “I’m a totally different person," said Meslier. "When I came I was a teenager and now I'm a young man still, but I have so much experience now at the highest level, [Under 21] national team. I cannot compare myself. I'm so much better right now. I'm still learning and growing as a man. It's just more experience and being better in each category of a goalkeeper.”

Meslier, who boasts 107 Premier League appearances, can point to the victories he has played a part in this season and his 15 clean sheets as evidence of his improvement. But keeping the ball out of the net so consistently is not exclusively down to the stopper. “It’s a little bit of everything," he said. "Our style of possession, the quality of the players and, of course, at one moment, when they need the ‘keeper I have to respond and be present. I'm happy we don't concede a lot, it’s important and what is important is in attack we are doing the job to make sure we score one or two goals and make sure we win the three points.”

This week brought something a little different for Meslier and Leeds, in the form of a trip to Premier League opposition. And the 3-2 FA Cup defeat they experienced at Chelsea was unusual too, because it represented a first defeat of 2024. Leeds have been on a tear in the Championship and ride a nine-game winning streak down the road to Huddersfield for Saturday's early kick-off. Meslier wants a return to the same-old as he and this Leeds team attempt to emulate or even somehow surpass the heroics of 2019/20.

He said: "We deserved more [at Chelsea]. It was a tough game, good game, we enjoy a lot to play Chelsea, it was a good side and we showed people we can face good teams. Of course, we have to correct some details, but it's good for the future and yeah, we deserve maybe more, but the result at the end is a loss and we are out of the competition. [In the league] we are on a good run and we want to keep pushing, especially with the loss, it can give you another good run. We want to come back with a win. Unfortunately, we lost against Chelsea, but now we want to switch on and start to win again against Huddersfield.”