Mateusz Klich: The numbers behind Leeds United’s midfield engine
In this week’s article, Ninad Barbadikar takes a look at Mateusz Klich’s performances in the Premier League to determine just how good the Pole is…
The human body has two controlling influences: the brain and the heart. The brain keeps us ticking, helps us think and respond to stimuli around us. It helps every part of the body perform their function as they should.
The heart keeps us alive. It works tirelessly, pumping out blood to all the parts of our body. Without the heart’s continuous pumping, well, we would cease to exist. The body’s system would collapse. There is nothing that can replicate its importance or the manner in which it works.
Such is the importance of Mateusz Klich for Leeds United. Kalvin Phillips is the brains of the midfield and controls everything from his position. But Klich is very much at the heart of everything that Marcelo Bielsa’s midfield does well.
Mateusz Klich has started all seven of the games so far in the Premier League and has not looked out of place one bit. In fact, Leeds themselves haven’t looked out of place at all. Of the three sides to have been promoted from the Championship, the Whites look set to do well and also challenge their opponents to up their game.
Klich has played a major role in their early-season performances. His all-round play is crucial to Bielsa’s system and the Polish international’s presence in their midfield counts for more than most.
In this piece, we analyse the numbers and break down Klich’s excellent start to the season and how he’s made Leeds click.
Hot from the Off
When the league fixtures were announced, all eyes were on the Champions Liverpool and how Jürgen Klopp’s men would start their title defence. Their first task was Leeds at Anfield.
The game lived up to its promise in many ways. As for Klich, he was all over the pitch with his energy and work-rate, working tirelessly to make himself available for a pass in transitions. Defensively, he was tasked to stay with Naby Keïta, the Reds’ creative threat from midfield.
Looking at his ball recovery locations from last season, it’s clear to see that Klich likes to operate in and around the half spaces in offensive situations. Equally, when defending, he looks to defend the half-spaces that the opposition will look to exploit. Against Liverpool, he did the same.
In the first half of that game, Klich showed his craft in two particular situations:
Klich’s quickness while turning on the ball in possession is such a useful asset. Here, he used to spin away from Roberto Firmino who himself took a heavy touch when receiving a pass. Klich, having received the ball, spun away from the onrushing Brazilian to kill off what could have been a potentially useful counter-press situation for Klopp’s side.
The second occasion was during the build-up to Patrick Bamford’s equaliser. Klich’s spatial awareness is key here, as well as the weight of the pass:
Stuart Dallas here starts off on an inverted run after receiving a pass from Illan Meslier. He then plays a one-two with Klich and runs into the pocket of space vacated by Joe Gomez who now has to track back. Klich’s deft lob pass with his right foot beats Gomez and allows Dallas to continue on his run. He then attempts to play a long ball behind Virgil Van Dijk.
The Dutchman’s confidence in bringing down the ball presented Bamford with a chance to equalise and he did so impressively.
In the second half, Klich made constant runs from midfield into attacking positions to make himself available for a pass. He was looking to exploit the space between the center back and fullbacks of Liverpool.
His goal and Leeds’ third was a thing of beauty. Although it was a defensive lapse from Liverpool at the back, Klich took full advantage of his chance:
The goal starts from another occasion where Leeds win the ball high up the pitch from a Liverpool throw-in. After a few neat exchanges of passes, Klich finds himself central and shifts the ball to Costa. He then proceeds to attack the penalty area.
Costa finds him with an inch-perfect pass, and by the time the Liverpool defence realises their blunder, Klich has received Costa’s pass, flicks it upand volleys it past Alisson in goal to make it 3–3. An excellent first Premier League game for the Polish international, all things considered.
Klich at his All-around Best
Before we look in detail at Klich’s game against Fulham, where he was excellent in all departments, here is a graph that shows his contributions defensively so far this season:
Of all the midfielders in the Premier League good at pressing the ball and tackling, Klich has by far been the best. It is no surprise to see Phillips up there alongside him as well. It is emblematic of Klich’s defensive work-rate that he successfully wins the ball back so many times for his side.
Against the Cottagers, Klich made several key interventions and was crucial to the goals Leeds scored as well (which is almost always the case when he takes to the field).
As the clock neared half-time, Klich restored Leeds’ advantage by scoring his penalty to get his second goal of the season. After scoring, though, he was determined to help his team keep their advantage going into half-time:
As the minutes ticked down, Fulham were constantly winning the ball in Leeds’ half and the pressure was growing. In added-time in the first half, Fulham were in the middle of one of their usual long open-play pass sequences and getting deeper into Leeds’ territory.
Klich’s timely intervention of Joe Bryan’s loose touch helped put an end to that period of dominance for Fulham. And although they regained the ball soon once again after that, it only resulted in a futile attempt from distance by Harrison Reed.
In the second half, Leeds looked to build on their one-goal advantage. They did not have to wait too long to do that.
Klich is not the most physical at first glance. Standing 6 ft tall, the Poland international’s intense playing style helps him overcome most duels. He is also very quick in his decision-making on the ball, as seen in this passage of play:
Michael Hector’s clearance is intercepted by Liam Cooper and the Scotsman then passes it to Klich who first receives the ball to his feet facing the goal. Assessing his limited options, he turns and does a complete 360-degree turn before instantly finding Bamford with a smooth pass. All that the Englishman had to do was keep his composure and he did. It was 3–1.
Klich’s ability to pick out the final pass is another interesting aspect of his game. He attempted something similar in the Yorkshire derby as well, against Sheffield United:
It should come as no surprise, then, that Klich has been one of the league’s most proficient players in terms of their shot-creation ability. As these numbers from Football Reference indicate, Klich is the fourth-best in the Premier League on a per match basis (this data is from the first 6 Premier League fixtures):
( What are Shot-Creating Actions? — According to FBref, The two offensive actions directly leading to a shot, such as passes, dribbles and drawing fouls. Note: A single player can receive credit for multiple actions and the shot-taker can also receive credit.)
In the 1–0 defeat against Wolverhampton Wanderers, Klich’s sharpness on the ball was there to be seen in the first half:
Another throw-in from which Leeds manage to recover the ball, Bamford plays a one-two with Rodrigo and then sets off to run into the space vacated by Romain Saïss. Klich receives it from Rodrigo and switches his feet quickly to leave Joao Moutinho behind. He then finds Bamford expertly with a well-weighted pass down the channel.
After Pablo Hernández came on later in the game, Klich had to assume a more defensive screening role as Phillips moved into the back-three after that switch. Klich is more than capable of performing in that role and did so against Aston Villa as well, as the young Jamie Shackleton impressed ahead of him in the more box-to-box role.
In the game at Villa Park, Klich once again impressed with his powerful running and ability to progress the ball from deep and attack the space behind the opposition midfield:
It is his run that gave Bamford the space to take that touch and shoot with such grace. Klich drags Douglas Luiz away from the screening area and nutmegs him to provide the assist for Bamford’s superb finish.
Klich has proven himself to be invaluable to Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United in the Premier League. The fact that the Pole started 91 of the 92 matches in the Championship under El Loco suggests that he is a hard man to replace. He is, after all, the man who makes Leeds click.