The Euros are upon us and in Paulo Sousa, Poland have a brand new head coach at the helm. The Portuguese has been given the task of taking them into this summer’s tournament having topped the qualification group under Jerzy Brzęczek with eight wins out of ten and will want to achieve more success than his predecessors did in the last international tournament. The 2018 World Cup wasn’t one that was kind to Poland. Drawn in a group with Colombia, Japan and Senegal, Biało-czerwoni finished bottom under Adam Nawałka, with the former Lech Poznan boss resigning from his role shortly after.
The upcoming tournament could be looking more promising, however. Sousa has a talented squad at his disposal and Poland may be a team many choose to root for. After all, who doesn’t love an underdog?
The furthest Poland have ever gone in an international tournament came in Euro 2016. A Renato Sanches goal took the quarter-final tie to penalties where they were knocked out by eventual winners Portugal, with Ricardo Quaresma scoring the winning spot-kick after Jakub Błaszczykowski’s effort was saved by Rui Patricio. With no honours won in the national team’s entire history but with a fresh start in Sousa’s arrival, fans will be hoping for as close to a repeat of the last Euros as possible and potentially watch their team go one further.
The Squad –
Defenders: Kamil Glik (Benevento), Maciej Rybus (Lokomotiv Moscow), Bartosz Bereszynski (Sampdoria), Jan Bednarek (Southampton), Pawel Dawidowicz (Hellas Verona), Michal Helik (Barnsley), Kamil Piatkowski (Rakow Czestochowa), Tomasz Kędziora (Dynamo Kyiv), Tymoteusz Puchacz (Lech Poznań)
Midfielders: Przemysław Frankowski (Chicago Fire), Grzegorz Krychowiak (Lokomotiv Moscow), Piotr Zielinski (Napoli), Mateusz Klich (Leeds United), Kamil Jozwiak (Derby County), Jakub Moder (Brighton & Hove Albion), Przemyslaw Placheta (Norwich City), Kacper Kozlowski (Pogon Szczecin), Dawid Kownacki (Fortuna Düsseldorf)
Forwards: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich), Arkadiusz Milik (Marseille), Krzysztof Piatek (Hertha Berlin), Karol Swiderski (PAOK), Jakub Świerczok (Piast Gliwice)
Key Players For Poland
Robert Lewandowski – where better to start than with Poland’s all-time top scorer, appearance maker and current captain. Robert Lewandowski is probably the best striker in the world right now. He scored 48 goals in 40 appearances in all competitions for Bayern Munich this season and had a hand in nine assists and helping his side to a record ninth consecutive Bundesliga title.
Lewandowski has been Poland’s number nine since 2008, achieving 118 caps and scoring 66 goals for his national team. Normally playing in a partnership with either Arkadiusz Milik or Krzysztof Piatek, he has the freedom to drop deep and link play or get in the box to get on the end of crosses or through balls, and nine times out of ten Lewandowski will finish; there is little doubt over how lethal he is. Now 32-years old, this summer’s European Championships will likely be the last opportunity Poland’s golden boy will have of topping a wonderful career with international glory.
Wojciech Szczęsny – as one of the weaker nations that are taking part in Euro 2020, defending will likely be a theme in how they set up against the better teams. This makes the job Wojciech Szczęsny has in goal even bigger. Having joined Arsenal’s academy from Legia Warsaw’s when he was just 16, Szczęsny became the first-choice goalkeeper from the 2011/12 season. The latter years of his Gunners’ career saw him become more error-prone and after the arrival of Petr Cech, he was sent on a two-year loan to Roma, before his good form in Rome saw him leave permanently to Juventus.
He has proved himself as a fine successor to the legendary Gianluigi Buffon, conceding just 30, 43 and 38 goals in the last three seasons and helping to keep 16, 12 and eight clean sheets. He has been Poland’s number one since 2009, keeping clean sheets on his debut and full debut and has since earned 52 caps for his country. Szczęsny will be disappointed his club were unable to win another Scudetto under Andrea Pirlo and will hope for more success at the upcoming Euros.
Grzegorz Krychowiak – Premier League fans may recognise this name and wonder where they remember it from. To jog some memories, he spent a brief loan spell at West Brom during early 2018 and was a part of the team that were relegated for the first time since the previous decade. Having previously played for Sevilla and earning a move to French giants PSG, Krychowiak has seemingly had a fall from grace having joined Lokomotiv Moscow in Russia after that loan move. Don’t be fooled though, Grzegorz Krychowiak is the steel of Poland’s midfield and is an important cog in how Paulo Sousa sets up.
Usually playing as the deepest midfielder in a double pivot, his role means he regularly sees the ball when his side are in possession, looking to progress it to the strikers or wingers whenever the opportunity arises. The Pole is composed enough on the ball to bring it forward with a good range of passing and be strong in the tackle and shield it from the opposition. With 79 caps for Poland, Krychowiak featured in every game his country took part in the last two tournaments and is the experienced head in a relatively young midfield. He has also popped up with nine goals from midfield this season, making him Lokomotiv’s top scorer, and will hope to take this sort of form into the Euros.
Piotr Zielinski – as good as Lewandowski’s finishing ability is, Poland’s main man will need service if he is to put away chances and this is why Piotr Zielinski will be so important for Paulo Sousa at the Euros. The 27-year old has starred for Napoli since his move from Udinese in 2016, being on the endless list of talent that has been picked up by the terrific Pozzo scouting network having joined Le Zebrette’s academy from Zagłębie Lubin as a 17-year old.
Zielinski has played internationally at every level since U15 and is set to embark on his first proper experience of the Euros, having played just 45 minutes in 2016. Splitting his four games under Sousa by twice occupying the left-hand side and twice playing as a #10, Zielinski’s ability on the ball allows him to come inside onto his favoured right foot. He has a good eye for a pass, notching 11 assists for his club this season and has begun to chip in with more goals too, with eight compared to his previous total of just two and has enjoyed his most productive campaign to date. Everyone involved with the Poland national team will have their fingers crossed that Zielinski can replicate this form at the Euros.
One to Watch
Michał Helik – in order to play in a Valerien Ismael team, you need to be comfortable on the ball, have a nice range of passing and have good aerial ability. Michał Helik has this in abundance. The 25-year old has been one of the best centre backs in the Championship this season as Barnsley defied all the odds and reached the play-offs, following his move from Cracovia. He thoroughly deserved his first Poland call-up for the World Cup qualifiers in March and will look forward to his first international tournament this summer.
Normally playing in a back three for his country just like for his club, Helik has a similar role to that under Ismael. He uses his ability to start moving from the back with patient build-up, linking up with the other centre backs, wing backs, and the deepest midfielder. A solid defence will be the key for Poland’s success at the Euros meaning Helik will have to be at top form, and if the love and admiration from Barnsley fans is anything to go by, the Poland faithful should have little to worry about.
Paulo Sousa can be proud of his playing career, plying his trade as a defensive midfielder for a number of top European clubs that included Benfica, Sporting CP, Juventus, Dortmund and Inter Milan. He was perhaps most successful in Germany and Italy, winning two Champions League titles as well as numerous league titles and domestic trophies with both them and Benfica. He is yet to recreate that level of success as a manager with disappointing spells in England with QPR and Leicester, although he did guide Welsh side Swansea to their highest league finish in 27 years. He also oversaw glory in Hungary, Israel and Switzerland, winning league titles with Videoton, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Basel.
Having taken over the Poland national team just five months ago after brief spells with Fiorentina, Tianjin Quanjian and Bordeaux, he will be looking forward to his first major tournament as a manager and will be licking his lips at the prospect of writing his name in Polish football folklore by causing a major upset.
Style of Play
In the short time, Paulo Sousa has been in charge of the Poland national team, there are similarities to the formations he uses. Setting his team up in either a 3-4-1-2 or a variation of a 4-4-2, there is a consistent use of strike partnerships and double pivots, with build-up play always starting with the centre backs. Once the deepest midfielder, usually Krychowiak, gets on the ball, they utilise slow, patient passes to wait for the right opening in front of them in which they can pick out one of the two strikers.
The way the opposition sets up defensively alters the way the strikers operate, either pressing them on the edge of the box to force quick passes out wide or sitting off and allowing them to turn and shoot if the opportunity presents itself. If not the striker in possession will normally look for a through ball to his partner or spread it out to the wingers and wait for a cross to come in. Out of possession, Poland press from the front by pressuring and harassing the opposition defenders and goalkeeper, looking to force a turnover.
Can Poland cause an upset?
Poland have a talented group of players and should be one to watch at this summer’s tournament. While many people will be keeping an eye on Lewandowski, the likes of Zielinski, Krychowiak, Klich and Moder are all unique midfielders in their own right, the former of which will play a key role in supplying the main man up top.
They have some solid defenders and a fantastic goalkeeper, with Lukasz Fabianski even being a brilliant deputy to the ever-present Szczęsny. Having experienced just five games under Sousa, picking up four points from the three World Cup qualifiers as well as drawing their two warm-up games, they may start off at a slight disadvantage. However as mentioned, everyone loves an upset, and everyone involved with the national team will be driven by the opportunity to cause one. Grouped with Slovakia, Spain and Sweden, it will be a tough one to get out of for sure, but by no means impossible.
The Polish faithful should be excited about a potentially historic tournament.
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Main Image Credits- Embed from Getty Images