So after two months of transfer rumours, training camps and meaningless friendlies the Ekstraklasa came back to us on Friday night. Snow still lies on the ground and it’s still distinctly chilly but at least live, competitive football has returned. After a long day’s lecturing I made my way to Konwiktorska for Polonia Warsaw’s game against Lechia Gdańsk. The match was given an 20.45 kick-off and, whilst this is probably splendid in mid-May, it’s not the greatest time-slot for late February in Warsaw. Snow fell throughout Friday in the city and during the game as well, despite this the pitch was in pristine condition and the match was never in any danger of being called off.
Photo: Chris Lash
Whilst the game might not have enthralled commentators on television and twitter I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. For me it showed why going to games is so much more entertaining than watching them at home. Now admittedly if I had sat on my sofa I would have avoided the dubious honour of snow falling on me throughout the game and being frozen to the bone but that was ably compensated by the atmosphere. Amongst the highlights were ironic comments when Adam Pazio miskicked the ball for the umpteenth time and the happy discovery that Polonia actually possesses real toilets instead of portaloos. I also was delighted by the fan’s protest which took place mid-way through the first half. Polonia’s fans suddenly stopped singing and vacated the ‘stone stand’ (trybuna kamienna). Whilst I and other Polonia supporters in the main stand looked on in confusion we noticed the unfurling of a large banner declaring ‘I’m in Vienna, I’m making a bank transfer.’ This referred to Polonia owner Ireneusz Król’s decision not to come to Friday’s game and his notorious broken promises regarding the payment of player’s wages.
Photo: Chris Lash
The match itself failed to live up to the interesting goings on in the stands but it was still captivating in its own way. In the build-up to the game many pundits (including yours truly) tried to predict how manager Piotr Stokowiec would set his team up after a winter when many of Polonia’s top players have left for pastures new. The break has seen the departure of five first-team regulars including two free-scoring strikers (Łukasz Teodorczyk and Vladimir Dvalishvili). In the autumn round Stokowiec normally sent his team out in a relatively traditional 4-4-2 with attacking wingers and Dvalishvili playing as a slightly withdrawn second striker.
Polonia vs Pogon Szczecin (h), 10/12/12, 2-0 victory
Without Teodorczyk and Dvalishvili, Stokowiec was left with only one recognised striker, the courageous but technically limited Daniel Gołębiewski. This meant Polonia’s manager had a difficult task against Lechia, to put out an attacking team whilst lacking the necessary persona to play his preferred 4-4-2. The route he took shows that Stokowiec is a manager ready to experiment and bodes well for Polonia in the spring round of games. The first shock was the presence of three players, right-back Aleksandar Todorovski, midfielder Łukasz Piątek and goalkeeper Sebastian Przyrowski, who thought they had played their last games for the club. It was heartening to see that despite their expected departure, all three performed well and their commitment could not be questioned. The biggest surprise however was the way the team was set out. Stokowiec decided to send Polonia out in a highly unorthodox but adaptable formation which at times was a 3-6-1, at times a 5-4-1 and at times a 3-2-4-1.
Polonia in the first half against Lechia, 22/02/13
In an attempt to achieve defensive solidity Stokowiec used the recently acquired Jakub Tosik in an unfamiliar sweeper position, behind two other new signings the Estonian Igor Morozov and Slovakian Martin Baran. It has to be said that this ploy worked, all three had very good games and Lechia hardly troubled Polonia apart from their superbly worked 82nd minute goal. Tosik was especially impressive, cleaning up when Baran and Morozov made rare mistakes, showing composure on the ball and playing simple passes to build Polonia attacks. In midfield Piątek and his partner Hołota were set a simple task, sit relatively deep and feed passes out to Polonia’s wingers and wing-backs, a job which they achieved without much fuss.
Friday’s match once more confirmed that Stokowiec is a manager who likes his teams to attack down the wings. Indeed Polonia almost played with four wingers against Lechia. Adam Pazio and Aleksandar Todorovski had orders to get up and support the Polonia attack as much as possible and cover defensively when need be. Pazio was the more dynamic of the two on Friday, with Todorovski more comfortable in defence, but both players contributed well in defence and attack. In front of these wing-backs Stokowiec played Paweł Wszołek and Vytautas Lukša behind the lone striker Gołębiewski. Wszołek and Lukša were to provide support for Gołębiewski in the middle and also drift wide to create chances.
I think plenty of positives can be taken from the game. Polonia’s defence was solid and composed and the czarne koszule at times sprayed the ball around with confidence. Secondly most of the players acquired during the winter break performed admirably, even Lukša who has received a lot of criticism on fan’s forums. Lukša is technically gifted, has good vision and seems to glide across the pitch. I feel he will play an important role for Polonia in the spring. Finally Stokowiec seems to have got the substitutes right, with Jacek Kiełb exquisitely playing in Miłosz Przybecki for the late equaliser.
There were two principle areas in which to improve. Firstly it is clear that Polonia’s main problem is in attack. Gołębiewski often cut a solitary figure up front and Wszołek really didn’t provide enough support for the big striker. Stokowiec may need to get someone in before the transfer window shuts on Thursday evening. Finally Polonia’s attacks were deprived of their primary attribute in the autumn, pace. Often their build-up play was too pedestrian and lacking intensity, something which changed with the introduction of the lightening quick Przybecki in the 80th minute. It will be interesting to see if Przybecki starts in the next game.
The new Polonia may not have shone so brightly but for a work in progress there was much to praise about Friday night’s performance. Next up is Lech in Poznań, where Polonia can expect a considerably more difficult test than the one Lechia provided for them. Whilst things are looking bleak off the pitch, on it Polonia are doing just fine.
0 – 1
83′ P. Wisniewski
M. Przybecki 88′
1 – 1
|Coach: P. Stokowiec|
for V. Lukša 56′
for J. Tosik 75′
for A. Pazio 81′