Euro 2020 is on the horizon and Poland head into the tournament looking to finally make a splash.
Although they have twice finished 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.
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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 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 66 goals for Poland have come at major tournaments).
Lewandowski heads into the Euros fresh from beating Gerd Muller’s long-standing goalscoring record for a single Bundesliga season, netting a ridiculous 41 goals in just 29 appearances for Bayern. That return extends to 48 in 40 across all competitions.
Poland’s Euro 2020 squad
Goalkeepers: Lukasz Fabianski (West Ham), Wojciech Szczesny (Juventus), Lukasz Skorupski (Bologna).
Defenders: Jan Bednarek (Southampton), Bartosz Bereszynski (Sampdoria), Paweł Dawidowicz (Verona), Kamil Glik (Benevento), Michał Helik (Barnsley), Tomasz Kedziora (Dynamo Kiev), Kamil Piątkowski (Rakow Czestochowa), Tymoteusz Puchacz (Lech Poznan), Maciej Rybus (Lokomotiv Moscow).
Midfielders: Przemysław Frankowski (Chicago Fire), Kamil Jozwiak (Derby), Mateusz Klich (Leeds), Kacper Kozlowski (Pogoń Szczecin), Grzegorz Krychowiak (Lokomotiv Moscow), Karol Linetty (Torino), Jakub Moder (Brighton), Przemysław Płacheta (Norwich), Piotr Zielinski (Napoli).
Forwards: Dawid Kownacki (Fortuna Düsseldorf), Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich), Arkadiusz Milik (Marseille), Karol Swiderski (PAOK), Jakub Swierczok (Piast Gliwice).
The head coach: Paulo Sousa
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.
Sousa: Klich energy vital to Poland
No team in the Premier League covered more ground than Leeds United during 2020/21, with Marcelo Bielsa’s men pressing the opposition relentlessly and crucifying teams in transition.
Midfielder Mateusz Klich has been at the forefront of that almost superhuman effort and Sousa believes the 30-year-old’s energy and technical ability can ‘determine the strength’ of his Poland team this summer.
“Mateusz Klich played well, but it can be even better, because that’s what football values he has,” Sousa said of Klich following a recent 1-1 friendly draw with Russia.
“He is a very energetic footballer. He’s everywhere. He has a good cross, he is looking for goals and is technically very good. He can determine the strength of the team.”
If Poland need to go hunting for possession, or even get taken all the way to extra-time, Klich’s superior fitness and work rate, garnered from working under Bielsa, will certainly come in handy for Sousa.
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 Grzegorz Krychowiak 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 youngster Jozwiak starting and using his energy and dynamism to break opponents down. Piotr Zielinski could also start out on the left.
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.
Many of the core members of this squad are leftovers from the unsuccessful 2018 World Cup campaign, where Poland crashed out in the group stages. However, Bartosz Bereszynski is no longer a guaranteed starter, while veteran playmaker Kamil Grosicki has been left out of the squad altogether. Sousa has experimented with a 3-4-3 system recently and it is one the Poland players are familiar with having used it in Russia three years ago.
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: DLWDLLWWDWW
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.