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‘Same as us’ Pep Clotet’s uncompromising Leeds message as Birmingham City receive fitness boost


Attack, attack, attack

Pep Clotet has backed his Birmingham City side to go to Leeds United and play the kind of open, attacking football they produced in the thrilling victory over Middlesbrough.

Blues’ caretaker head coach returns to Elland Road on Saturday, a venue where he spent a year as assistant to Garry Monk.

He does so in charge of a Birmingham team that in its last game produced as aesthetically pleasing a brand of football as any for a number of years.

With Dan Crowley, Fran Villalba and Jude Bellingham dazzling in the middle of the park Blues generated 26 shots on Boro’s goal.

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Clotet points out his team also had a very good spell at Derby a couple of games before that and insisted he would stick to his principles against a potent Leeds team.

“The Middlesbrough performance helps them to believe in themselves because every player that I coach here for me they are the best players in the world and they can do it and it’s about them finding out they can do it,” Clotet said.

“It’s massive credit to the players for what they did. They showed themselves and the fans what they can do, and the connection was very good.

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“Not only the tactical connection but the social connection that we were able to play at that intensity.

“We all know it’s a really good squad and they know they will handle anything that is thrown at them.

“Everything is possible in life. Opposition plays a big part because Leeds want to do the same as us, attack and when they lose the ball get it back as quickly as possible to keep attacking.

“That’s entirely what we want so it’s going to be very interesting. Leeds are possibly a year and a half ahead of us. But we have a lot of confidence in ourselves.

“It is a game we want to use as a benchmark and it’s a fantastic test and a fantastic challenge.

“We hope that both teams put in a great display and we can see a fantastic football game.”

What a talent

Lee Camp has been involved in professional football for the best part of two decades.

Since making his Football League debut for Burton, against Walsall, in April 2003 the 35-year-old has been there, played there, worn the No. 1 shirt and appeared in the video.

He is not a man easily moved to hyperbole so his enthusiasm for the talent possessed by Jude Bellingham is genuine.

The Birmingham City goalkeeper has had the privilege of watching Bellingham develop with the first team over the last few months and in the last match, a stunning win over Middlesbrough, deliver what he considered to be an ‘absolutely outstanding’ performance in central midfield.

But Camp is as impressed with the teenager’s manner off the field as he is with his talent on it.

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“I was at Derby when Tom Huddlestone came out of school at 15 or 16 and went straight into Derby’s first team and had two years there and played 80 odd games,” Camp recalled.

“Jude is as good as Tom and may even have a better career than Tom, and Tom’s had a fantastic career.

“His composure and maturity is fantastic. Overall what a fantastic kid. He’s a great guy and he’s fitted into the group well.

“He’s the captain for his age group with England. There are all these rumours about different clubs. He’s a great lad and comes in and works his socks off every day.

“He’s like an old pro and just gets about his business calmly. I thought against he was absolutely outstanding.”

Happy times

Leeds United will always have a special place in Pep Clotet’s heart – but the Birmingham City boss is desperate to beat the team and the coach for which he has such admiration.

Clotet takes Blues to Elland Road on Saturday looking to build on the victory over Middlesbrough last time out and to continue a run of good results at the venue in recent years.

The caretaker head coach was Garry Monk’s assistant at Leeds for the 2016/2017 campaign, which saw the club come close to making the play-offs.

Although he was part of Monk’s Blues staff last term, when Che Adams fired the visitors to victory, Saturday’s game will be the first time he goes head to head with Marcelo Bielsa, a coaching svengali he first studied nearly two decades ago.

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Then Leeds United manager Garry Monk and assistant manager Pep Clotet

“I loved it at Leeds,” Clotet said. “Probably everyone who works at that club loves it. But it was special for me, my son was born then, that’s always part of the image.

“I realised how big that club is when I was there – I realised as well how big this club is when I came in here.

“The city has nothing else other than Leeds United when it comes to other clubs and everybody backs it.

“At the same time, despite how well I was there, I am happy, happier even, here. When the game starts it is about the game, it will have no effect. We just want to beat them.”

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The Spaniard went on to express his admiration for Bielsa.

“The way that I understand the game, a big impact is thanks to his work,” he admitted.

“When you analyse and you watch his teams play and what he does, I know exactly how he trains because I have researched it.

“I went and saw him train and I saw a lot of his games, not only here but when he was in Lille, Marseille, Bilbao or when he was in Argentina.

“I remember when I was on my Pro Licence in Barcelona in 2002/03 he came with the Argentina national team for a camp preparing for a tournament.

“I remember all the training sessions and I saw things that I hadn’t seen before and I understand now the meaning of them.

“He is not only a very good coach when it comes to setting a team to play but he is a coach that develops talent, that improves the player, plays young players and that’s something I admire because he has the right mindset to not judge age but judge talent.”

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Birmingham City are expecting to have Jefferson Montero and Josh McEachran available for selection soon.

Pep Clotet has revealed Ecuadorian winger Montero has recovered from the thigh injury that first fears suggested would keep him out for several months.

He is not expected to play against Leeds United this weekend but is well on his way back.

“He has got over his injury now,” the caretaker head coach said.

“He has had two weeks of physical training now to get him up to speed. He got recovered much sooner than we expected, which is another sign of all the good professionals we have in the medical department.


“He could be ready for this weekend although it is a little bit early in terms of fitness.”

McEachran is more likely to feature for Blues Under 23s against their Leeds counterparts on Friday, than for the first team on Saturday.

“He is working very hard on his fitness levels, we are giving him as many matches as possible with the 23s because that’s something you can only get there.

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“We have improved physically in our team a lot, everyone in the staff has worked very hard to make sure we can sustain our football on a physical basis.

“The team has made a massive step up physically. Josh is coping very well on this little physical catch up he is doing and we just hope he is ready as soon as possible.

“He needs to keep using those games to get up to speed because there we can guarantee him 90 minutes.”

Maikel Kieftenbeld remains the only long-term absentee.

Party poopers

For the second time this season Birmingham City will arrive at a Championship ground hoping to spoil the party.

Just as Charlton commemorated one hundred years at the The Valley last month, Leeds United will this weekend celebrate their club centenary.

That will include a series of pre-match ceremonies to which 2,000 Blues fans will be able to bear witness.

They will do so hoping their team dampens the mood in the way they did at Charlton when Jude Bellingham gave the visitors a 1-0 victory and Darren Bent was mercilessly heckled.

Here’s a round-up of what’s going to happen at Elland Road this weekend.

Full transcript

Pep Clotet held his weekly press conference ahead of this weekend’s trip to Leeds United

The Birmingham City caretaker head coach reflected on the thrilling manner of the win over Middlesbrough, the fitness of key players, the international break and the challenge of facing a coach he has admired for years.

There’s much, much more too.

Here’s the transcript of what was said – starting with a statement about poorly young Bluenose Tommy Plant.

 





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