Poland will need more than just Robert Lewandowski to qualify in tough World Cup group, predicted line-up and stats | The Sun
POLAND have had a rough couple of recent tournaments – they will be dreaming of better in Qatar.
Still in the ranks is the prolific Robert Lewandowski, now of Barcelona.
However, going into the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, the Polish national team has become somewhat of an unknown commodity.
A new manager is again in the hot seat, with former Poland U21 boss Czesław Michniewicz now in charge going into the tournament.
Young talent has also started to break into the senior squad.
Spezia’s Jakub Kiwior, Feyenoord’s Sebastian Szymanski, and AS Roma’s Nicola Zalewski all likely to be not just on the plane to Qatar, but in the starting lineup for the first group stage match.
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Predicted starting XI
Through his short time in charge of the Polish national team so far (eight matches), Czesław Michniewicz has experimented with different personnel and starting formations to try and find the best solution.
This 3-4-2-1 system has been what the Polish boss has used in their last warm-up games before the World Cup.
Looking at the defence, Juventus’s Wojciech Szczęsny is an absolute guarantee to start in goal for Poland.
The 66-cap international has become the undisputed #1 between the sticks since Łukasz Fabiański’s retirement from international football last year.
Moving forward into the defensive line, we predict that Michniewicz will stick with three centre-backs.
Aston Villa’s Jan Bednarek and Benevento’s Kamil Glik will likely start, with Spezia’s Jakub Kiwior being a surprise addition to the starting lineup.
Though he only has 4 senior caps to his name after making his senior international debut earlier this year, the 22-year-old has begun to establish himself firmly in the manager’s plans.
Moving up the pitch into midfield, 93 cap man Grzegorz Krychowiak will once again be the anchor in the midfield at another international tournament for his country, with the Al-Shabab player being Poland’s most experienced starter in midfield.
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Next to him will likely be Torino midfielder Karol Linetty, who after an indifferent campaign for his club in the 2021/22 season, has excelled for club and country so far this term.
Moving out to the wing-back/wide midfielder positions, Nicola Zalewski and Matty Cash look like the likely starters.
In the attacking positions, Sebastian Szymański will likely start alongside Piotr Zielinski in attacking midfield.
Szymański has had a very good start to the season for Feyenoord, with 4 goals and 4 assists across all competitions so far this season.
Finally, leading the line for Poland will be none other than Robert Lewandowski.
Poland’s all-time leading goal scorer with 76 goals for his country will be hoping he can add to that tally at the end of November.
Michniewicz opts for a style of play based on quick ball progression by playing it long towards a centre-forward or into the channels for the attackers to run onto.
They are also not a high possession side. Following are a couple of examples of Poland’s attacking style of play that we expect to see them utilise in the World Cup.
As we saw in the data metric above, Poland are not a high-possession side.
They instead look to win possession back and then quickly attack, looking for space in behind the opposition’s defence, and playing long balls into these channels.
An example of this is shown above from Poland’s recent UEFA Nations League match against Belgium.
In the phase of play above, notice how the player in possession has options to play the ball short and continue to build, notably a square ball to his direct right.
However, with Belgium playing a back three, the wing-back on the far side is advanced and out of position as a result of the last Belgium attack.
The Poland player then plays a long crossfield ball into the space on the opposite side of the field.
This allows them to break the Belgian press, and attack quickly while their defence is not organised.
Above shows an even better example of Poland’s preferred route one style of attacking football.
Preceding this image, the ball was played all the way back from the Belgian attacking third to Szcesęny in the Poland net.
He then played the ball out wide to the defender, who was able to send a cross in behind the Belgian defence towards the forward running in behind.
The ensuing long ball can find the forward running in behind the defender’s back shoulder.
However, the shot is sent over the bar, but the movement and pass are, again, what Poland will look to produce plenty of during the World Cup.
Another thing to notice in this attacking phase from Poland is that all 10 outfield players are essentially beyond midfield and in the opposition’s half.
While it is rare for them to send all of their outfield players forward, this allows Poland to overwhelm their opposition in the attacking half of the pitch.
It also allows them to be prime targets to win either first or second balls when they are played long from the backline.
As a side that is not possession-oriented, the ability to win these first and second balls is key to being able to attack successfully.
While they may be categorised as a long-ball team and not really possession-based, Poland are still capable of using quick passing sequences as a means of getting into the attacking half of the pitch. In the phase of play above, this is demonstrated.
The goalkeeper plays the ball long into the wing-back. The defender can head the ball on first-time to the midfielder who is running unmarked in behind the Dutch fullback who is isolated in a 2v1.
The flicked-on ball is played into the space for the midfielder to run onto and move into the attacking half, making it a 4v4 against the Dutch backline in a span of only three passes.
Though Poland will not be the most expansive team to watch from an attacking perspective at this winter’s World Cup, they will create chances.
They also likely won’t create many per game, but all they may need is one to win if their defence can hold firm, which will be analysed in more detail next.
Poland are a team that will drop back and sit in a defensive block most times.
Their high PPDA, in the 66th percentile, also indicates that they don’t tend to press very high up the pitch.
With that said, Poland will adapt their game plan defensively to whatever it may call for.
Following are some examples of Poland in the defensive phase.
The image above shows Poland’s defensive shape and shows why they rank highly in blocked shots and recoveries in their own third. In their back-three system, they defend in a back five, with it turning into a 5-3-2 defensively.
Notice how eight outfield players are behind the ball with the midfield and defensive lines staying tight and compact, not allowing much space at all centrally.
Poland allows the space out wide for teams to attack them, but can stay tight and compact to not allow the play to get moved centrally.
That is exactly what happens in the defensive phase shown above, as Belgium are unable to move the ball centrally as a result of Poland’s defensive numbers in this area.
Due to this, the ball is closed down by the Polish defenders in the wide area and they can eliminate the Belgian attack.
The defensive phase of play above shows another tactic that Poland tends to do when they are in a low defensive block.
After they force the play into the wide channel, the wing-back, along with the ball side midfielder, look to close down the player in possession, with them looking to win back possession or force them to play backwards.
In this example, the Wales winger is forced to play the ball backwards, allowing the Polish defence to relieve some pressure.
Notice also how Poland have numbers back in the box defensively, and because they are strong in the air, they would consider themselves favourites to be able to clear the ball away from danger if a cross were to have been sent into the box.
This final example also shows Poland looking to double up against the player in possession out wide.
Once again, the Dutch player is forced to play the ball backwards, as there are no options for him to play forward to in advanced positions.
With the Polish defence forcing the Dutch to play the ball backwards, it once again allows them to reset defensively.
As this section has illustrated, Poland are a team that prefers to sit back in a low block and absorb pressure when they lose possession.
However, with that being said, don’t expect Poland to just sit back in a low block defensively at all times; they may alter their defensive tactics at times based on the opposition.
With Poland not being a possession-oriented side under Michniewicz, transitional moments are some of the most dangerous attacking moments for the team.
The image above shows a good example of exactly what Michniewicz’s side is capable of when regaining possession in vulnerable areas for the opposition.
After Belgium lost possession in Poland’s final third, the Polish players were able to break quickly on a counterattack as a result of Belgium pushing a lot of their numbers forward.
Seven of Poland’s outfield players can break, allowing them to possibly engage in a quick attacking move.
The image above shows another example of Poland attacking quickly as a result of a turnover by the opposition in a dangerous area.
After the ball is turned over by the Netherlands, Poland can quickly counter to try and create a goalscoring opportunity.
In this phase of play above, the Dutch full-back is caught out of possession, allowing for the ball to be played into the wide channel and behind the Dutch centre-backs.
Poland will be dangerous in transitional moments, so this will be something that other sides need to watch out for come World Cup time.
The attack is where Poland possess their game-changers. Obviously, there’s Lewa. But don’t forget Milik and Piatek – both more than capable of having an impact in Qatar.
Poland try to play direct from midfield, so Sebastian Szymański is a key member of the group – Linetty, Zielinski, Krychowiak, Villa’s Matty Cash, Frankowski and Zalewski all have decent long passing accuracy stats to make this effective.
In the final third, Szymański and Napoli star Zieliński will be key to supply their man man.
As we said, Poland will sit in a low black defensively and will rely on the aerial strength of their three from four main centre-backs – Glik, Kiwior, Bednarek and Wieteska.
It’s Lewandowski – shock.
Given the start he has made at Barcelona where he still scores goals for fun (turn a blind eye to how important those goals are in the really big games) and the fact he is the Polish all-time record scorer it is no surprise he is the man we expect to be key to their progress.
His goal stats throughout his career are phenomenal.
Lewa has to conserve his energy just a little bit more nowadays, but he is nowhere near the Ronaldo level of being carried.
Enjoy him while you can, he won’t be around forever!
The lazy assumption is “oh they’ve got Lewandowski, they are a dark horse” – but, really, Poland are not.
They should get out of the group – though that is not guaranteed with Mexico pushing them hard for second place.
If they do emerge from the groups, then we would predict a Round of 16 exit and Lewa waving farewell to major tournaments.
For even more detailed analysis of all 32 teams in the FIFA World Cup 2022, download your copy of the November Total Football Analysis magazine here
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