In two days’ time the Ekstraklasa returns after an achingly long two-month break. The winter lull has been anything but for Polonia Warsaw with day after day of agonising transfer speculation. This period has unfortunately seen the dismantling of the team that played so impressively in the autumn. Polonia have lost experienced defender Marcin Baszczyński, young striker Łukasz Teodorczyk, wing-back Tomasz Brzyski and their top goalscorer Vladimir Dvalishvili, the last two leaving to title favourites and bitter city rivals Legia Warsaw. It also seems very likely that Łukasz Piatek, Đorđe Čotra, Adam Kokoszka, Aleksandar Todorovski and Sebastian Przyrowski have played their last games for the club. All this means that Polonia’s starting eleven in the spring round of games will be almost unrecognisable. Whilst the loss of these players is disappointing there has been an air of inevitability about their departure. They are gone, others have come in and I for one am positive about the return of football and the end of the repetitive transfer talk which has surrounded the club, well at least until the summer anyway.
So what can we expect from Polonia in the spring? Quite simply no-one really knows. Polonia’s main strengths are their coach Piotr Stokowiec and their main attacking threat Paweł Wszołek. Stokowiec is an intelligent and ambitious manager and one who was able to turn Polonia into an exciting attacking force in the autumn with very little pre-season preparation. It is his job now to form a new team, and there’s no reason why he cannot perform miracles once more. Wszołek turned down the chance to go to Bundesliga club Hannover 96 in January and his continued presence at Konwiktorska means Polonia still have one of the most dangerous attackers in the Polish league in their ranks. There will be a lot of pressure on Wszołek, and I think he will miss playing alongside his friend Teodorczyk but he is talented enough to create and score in equal measure in the spring.
Polonia gets their campaign back under-way against Lechia Gdańsk on Friday night. Who are the other likely starters for the new Polonia? In goal it seems probable that Mariusz Pawełek will start on Friday. There were rumours that Pawełek would leave to Turkey in January but he has remained in Warsaw and is a decent shot-shopper.
Polonia’s defence will be much changed. Only one player, the left-back Adam Pazio, played regularly before Christmas. Pazio is strong in the tackle, quick and gets up to support the attack well. With the departure of Polonia’s other full-backs Pazio will surely make the left-back spot his own. I feel he could be a key player for Polonia in the spring.
In central defence one place will be taken up by the experienced Wojciech Szymanek. Whilst Szymanek lacks pace he covered well for Kokoszka when the latter was suspended against Pogoń Szczecin and is well capable of playing at Ekstraklasa level. Alongside Szymanek the other centre-back seems to be a toss up between the Estonian international Igor Morozov and ex-Polonia Bytom defender, the Slovakian Martin Baran. Many have commented on Morozov’s lack of physical strength so I’d guess that Baran will start on Friday. At right-back I think that the new signing, Lithuanian international Vytautas Lukša, will start. Not so much is known about Lukša but his relatively regular appearances for the Lithuanian national side suggest he has talent. There are many question marks over the Polonia defence and it will be interesting to see how quickly the chosen four click together.
Polonia’s midfield looks more promising. Whilst Wszołek will start on one wing, the other winger seems likely to be the talented Miłosz Przybecki. Przybecki shone for Ruch Radzionków in liga I several years ago and his pace and quick feet could provide much excitement in the spring. Like Pazio the sale of players provides Przybecki with a great opportunity to show what he can do.
In the centre of midfield one sure starter is Tomasz Hołota who played regularly for Polonia in the autumn. Hołota showed himself to be good in the tackle, and intelligent with the ball. Next to him most probably will start Polonia’s former player Jakub Tosik who has returned to the club after a torrid time in Ukraine with Karpaty L’viv. Just like in central defence it will be interesting to see how quickly Hołota and Tosik click together on the pitch.
Perhaps Polonia’s greatest problems exist up front. It will be extremely difficult to replace the departed Dvalishvili and Teodorczyk who scored a combined 12 goals in the autumn. The czarne koszule‘s main striker will be Daniel Gołębiewski, who missed chance after chance in the pre-Christmas game against Pogoń. Stokowiec has just signed Jagiellonia Bialystok’s young and inexperienced Pawel Tarnowski on loan to partner Gołębiewski and on Thursday Polonia will give a trial to former Lechia Gdańsk forward Ivans Lukjanovs. Polonia’s problems in attack are such that football journalist Konrad Mazur has suggested that they may turn out in a 4-2-3-1 formation on Friday. This would require someone playing behind Gołębiewski as a withdrawn striker. That player may well be Jacek Kiełb, an attacking midfielder on-loan from Lech Poznan. Kiełb is certainly gifted but is also very injury prone. It remains to be seen whether he can stay injury-free long enough to provide the support Polonia need in attack.
The sheer amount of changes at Polonia mean that is almost impossible to predict how they will perform in the spring. Everything depends on how quickly the team gels together. Luckily the 28 points the club gained in the autumn means that Polonia will almost certainly not go down, this will hopefully allow the players to play without pressure and who knows where this will take them. Stokowiec has quite a job on his hands but his epic feat in the autumn suggests that further success is certainly not beyond him and the club.