“Like being in the military” was Mateusz Klich’s way of defining Marcelo Bielsa’s training regime and the midfielder is qualifying that analogy by taking on the role of sniper.
There is no player at Leeds United whose prominence was more unexpected this season and no player with more notches to show for his effort over 10 Championship games: two assists and four valuable goals, of which the latest finish eclipsed all others.
Klich’s equaliser in last night’s 1-1 draw at Sheffield Wednesday was the product of technical skill, a cleverly weighted shot from 20 yards which curled inside the left-hand post of goalkeeper Cameron Dawson. It brought back memories of the dipping volley from Michael Tonge which landed in the same corner of the same goal when these sides drew 1-1 at the same ground in 2012; not quite identical but not far off.
That Klich is so involved at all is something of an achievement. An outcast last season and dispatched on loan to Holland for the second half of it, Bielsa categorised him in the group of players he was undecided about when the Argentinian took charge as head coach in June. Even when Klich worked his way into the frame, it was Bielsa’s intention to start the season with Adam Forshaw as Samuel Saiz’s partner in the centre of midfield.
Klich played as a centre-half at stages of pre-season and as July turned to August, was angling for a chance to show his hand properly. Forshaw subsequently broke a foot bone and Klich stepped up with the first goal of United’s season at home to Stoke City on August 5.
Two months on, he is cast as the archetypal goalscoring midfielder, averaging close to two shots a game and blending long-range efforts with opportunities poached inside the box. All but one of his efforts on target have found the net and Klich’s engine and willingness to stray beyond the last man has added a string which was lacking from Leeds’ bow last year.
It was put to Bielsa after last night’s derby that Klich’s resurgence had been extraordinary. “I have exactly the same opinion as you,” Bielsa replied. “He’s a very influential player in the team.
“The space he has inside the team is linked to what he brings to the team. But it’s down to his responsibility and his influence, rather than work that I did with him.
“He was very patient in pre-season and he tolerated many mistakes I made evaluating him as a footballer. During pre-season he even played as a centre-back so obviously he was patient.
“Then things happened. Adam Forshaw got injured and in each game (Klich) has played better.”
Bielsa is assured of searching passes from Klich and an accuracy rate of over 80 per cent. Only Bielsa’s centre-backs had more touches of the ball at Hillsborough and his dead-eye finish bucked the trend of a night when Leeds produced 25 shots. In all it is shaping into a big season for Klich: in vogue at Elland Road, back on the scene with Poland’s national squad and a new baby on the way for him and his partner. “I don’t think we knew how good we can be,” Klich told the Daily Telegraph this week. Quite.