Euro 2020 is creeping ever closer, and Poland head into the tournament looking to finally make a splash.
Although they have twice finished in third at World Cups (in 1974 and 1982), Poland have never gone past the quarter-finals at a European Championship, having reached the last eight in 2016 only to come up short on penalties against Portugal and bow out.
The best players Poland are bringing to Euro 2020:
Goalkeeper: Lukasz Fabianski
Poland are one of the few nations on the continent to head into Euro 2020 with a genuine question as to who their best goalkeeper is. Well, they should be anyway. Wojciech Szczesny will probably get the start but you’d struggle to argue that he’s been better than West Ham’s Fabianski this season, even if he does somehow play for Juventus. Fabianski has been immense for the Hammers in their impressive campaign and if Poland were brave, they would make him their starter in the summer.
Defence: Jan Bednarek
Poland are definitely a side built on their attack, but at the back they have been anchored for the longest time by Kamil Glik. However, at 33, he is now being supplanted as the major defensive force by Southampton’s Jan Bednarek. Coached supremely by Ralph Hasenhuttl, Bednarek is a tall, powerful presence who can organise and marshal the defence, as well as offering an aerial threat at the opposite end of the field.
Midfield: Karol Linetty
Poland are blessed with a lot of talented midfielders; there’s veteran winger Kamil Grosicki, experienced defensive midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak, the flighty winger Kamil Jozwiak and Leeds’ Mateusz Klich. So, there’s plenty of choices available, but Karol Linetty stands out in that crowd.
The reason Linetty stands out is what he offers to the side, chiefly: verticality. Linetty is a tenacious and intense midfielder whose box-to-box runs provide Poland with a penetrative presence when Robert Lewandowski does his dropping-deep-to-link-play thing. Linetty’s ability to break lines and find space with his innate movement ensures that Poland never become a slow, stilted side.
Attack: Robert Lewandowski
Well, who else was it going to be? The greatest Polish player to ever lace them up is his country’s record appearance-maker and record goalscorer. Lewandowski is world class in every single sense, and was voted as FIFA’s Best Men’s Player for 2020, and he’s also won Polish Footballer of the Year nine times in the last 10 years. There’s just no doubting his genius.
Lewandowski is so good that genuine top-class forwards like Arkadiusz Milik and Krzysztof Piatek are fixtures on the Polish bench. While both men are talented, and Piatek in particular has an impressive goals-to-caps ratio, they cannot get anywhere near to the enduring genius of Lewandowski. He can score goals of any kind, link play with his brilliant mind and he’s as composed on the ball as you’ll find (although just two of his 63 goals for Poland have come at major tournaments).
The head coach:
Jerzy Brzeczek guided Poland to qualify for Euro 2020, however an underwhelming performance in the Nations League as well as what Polish FA president Zbigniew Boniek labelled “discouragement” in the team saw him sacked and replaced by Paulo Sousa.
The Portuguese coach was last seen managing Bordeaux to a mid-table finish in Ligue 1, but is most famously known for his spell in charge of Swansea City a decade ago. However, Sousa was at his best when coaching Maccabi Tel Aviv and Basel, winning a title with each side in successive seasons. That 2015 Swiss League remains his last trophy and he’s struggled since then, but will hope to rebuild himself with this talented Polish side.
It’s hard to say exactly what approach Sousa will take to managing Poland, but assuming he follows Brzeczek’s system as well as similar tactics to his last spell as a coach with Bordeaux, it’s likely that Poland will play a 4-2-3-1.
With a defence anchored by Bednarek and Glik and potentially the experienced Maciej Rybus, Poland will likely focus everything on their attacking talents. With the likes of Grzegorz Krychowiak or Piotr Zielinski around to anchor the midfield, Karol Linetty will have freedom to provide an energetic presence at both ends of the pitch.
Klich is the natural choice to play in the hole and will bring his experiences with Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds to benefit Poland. Out wide there are many options but a mix of young and old could work, with youngsters Jozwiak and Sebastian Szymanski starting and using their energy and dynamism to break opponents down, with veteran Grosicki an option to enter the fray late on, if required.
Of course the whole system is a set-up to get Lewandowski as many chances in front of goal as humanly possible. The striker is the deadliest man in football right now and if Sousa can keep supplying him with chances, Poland could go very far.
The form guide
Euro 2020 Qualifying: WWWWDLWWWW
Poland were very impressive in their qualification for Euro 2020, though they did have a relatively easy group. They won four straight games before a loss to Slovenia and a draw with Austria could have sent them off the rails. However, they rebounded to win their final four matches and qualify with ease for this summer’s tournament.
Recent fixtures: LWDLLWWDWWL
Poland’s form has been less impressive over the last 12 months. Two storming friendly wins over Finland and Ukraine disguise the fact that they’ve won just two of their six Nations League matches (both against Bosnia). However, 2021 has seen an improvement, with four points from their first two World Cup qualifiers before a narrow defeat to England.
Chances of winning:
Poland are not among the favourites for Euro 2020. They are currently 80/1 to win the tournament with Sky Bet which reflects their status as outsiders. Obviously with talents like Lewandowski on the field you’ve always got to give Poland a chance. And the fact that they can throw on top-class forwards like Milik and Piatek if things aren’t going so well means they have to be taken semi-seriously.