This article is part of Football FanCast’s The Chalkboard series, which provides a tactical insight into teams, players, managers, potential signings and more…
Leeds United host Birmingham City on Saturday in a vital Championship clash, and the individual battle between Mateusz Klich and Ivan Šunjić may well decide it.
The two midfielders have become extremely important to their respective sides, and the midfield battle will naturally go a long way to determining which way Saturday’s clash will go.
Šunjić has cemented himself as an extremely important part of Birmingham’s first-choice XI, starting 10 of their Championship games so far in 2019/20 whilst also scoring once.
The Croatian is completing an average of 2.3 tackles per game – 25 in total – whilst also committing 2.2 fouls per game – 24 in total – highlighting his role in the Birmingham midfield in breaking up play and preventing the Blues’ opponents from playing out into the final third.
Given the 23-year-old’s importance to Birmingham, Klich is set to come up against an in-form holding midfielder during a period of time in which the Poland international is currently struggling to discover his mojo.
In 11 Championship games so far this season, Klich has made less tackles (1.6) and interceptions (0.5) than his Croatian counterpart, though the disparity can be explained by the role he plays in Bielsa’s system.
From an attacking perspective, the 6ft midfielder has managed to complete 2.5 key passes per game this season and fire 2.4 shots on goal, but those efforts have equated to just one goal and one assist thus far. Šunjić, always the strong tackler, is unlikely to be tested by Klich’s dribbling ability given he has completed just 0.5 per game this season.
The enterprising midfielder’s endeavour to find space in the final-third and dissect Birmingham’s defence will depend upon how sharp Šunjić is, with the season so far suggesting a stern challenge lies ahead.
Beyond Klich, Leeds strikers Patrick Bamford and Eddie Nketiah will pose a strong threat and Šunjić will have to be at his best while marshalling Birmingham’s midfield to minimise the number of attacking opportunities for Leeds.