Ekstraklasa Round 18 Preview

After what seems like an eternity (it was actually 9-and-a-half weeks), the Polish Ekstraklasa is finally back. Whilst we’ve been sitting, waiting for our fix of the Polish top-flight; we’ve seen a couple of big transfers, clubs nearly going under, stadium disputes and last week’s postponed SuperPuchar. But all of those troubles can finally be forgotten about this weekend, as we get down to that all-important, nitty-gritty return of the Polish football league.

ŁKS Łódź – Polonia Warszawa (Fri 17, 18:00 CET)

On paper, there should only be one winner at the opening fixture of the Ekstraklasa Spring round, and that is Jacek Zieliński’s travelling Czarne Koszule. Polonia are sitting pretty in third place – just two points behind their cross-city rivals Legia – and won five of their last six games before the break.

ŁKS however, are in complete contrast. Having nearly gone completely out of business last month, they lost coach Ryszard Tarasiewicz; and the incoming management duo of Piotr Świerczewski and Andrzej Pyrdoł have had to rely on freebies to strengthen their squad. Their performance this season has been nothing short of inept, but after somehow managing wins at Cracovia, Korona and Widzew as well as at home to Podbeskidzie, they have managed to stay outside of the bottom two.

One man who will be fired up for this game is ŁKS’s new midfielder Grzegorz Bonin, released by Polonia just last month by owner Józef Wojciechowski following a number of under-par performances, and deemed not worthy of his high wages. Despite being well up for revenge, Bonin is unlikely to help ŁKS perform any shock over his former club – Polonia should win this with ease.

Prediction: ŁKS 0-3 Polonia

Lech Poznań – GKS Bełchatów (Fri 17, 20:30 CET)

With a job on the line, Kolejorz boss Jose Mari Bakero is under extreme pressure to make his Lech side perform from the first whistle. With anything less than a European spot being deemed not good enough, they will need to go all out to ensure three points against struggling Bełchatów. With Latvian hitman Artjom Rudnev banging in the majority of Lech’s goals, Bakero could do with a couple of midfielders chipping-in to help the cause.

The visitors meanwhile have picked up a couple of young prospects during winter, in the form of Ruch Radzionków twins Mateusz and Michał Mak; as well as their former Cidrów team-mate Paweł Giel. For now, coach Kamil Kiereś’ aim is to blend the youth and experience in his squad together, to create a team which is capable of staving off relegation for another season.

Whilst Bełchatów are definitely more than capable of staying up, their season will not get into gear this week. Lech should be able to see off their visitors with ease, as they did in the first game; but whether Bakero can get Lech firing on all-cylinders remains to be seen.

Prediction: Lech 4-1 Bełchatów

Widzew Łódź – Podbeskidzie Bielsko-Biała (Sat 18, 13:30 CET)

So far, both Widzew and Podbeskidzie have sat in the middle of the table, picking up a few wins and draws – comfortably out of the relegation dogfight which they were expected to be in amongst.

Widzew have since lost arguably two of their better players – Piotr Grzelczak and Adrian Budka – to Lechia Gdańsk and Pogoń Szczecin respectively; and how quickly they’ll adapt could have a massive bearing on how their season pans out.

Podbeskidzie meanwhile haven’t been as drastic is getting rid of players, but they have brought in a few decent players including Łukasz Mierzejewski from Greek side Kavala. Although they may not be causing waves in the Ekstraklasa, Podbeskidzie are more than holding their weight against some seasoned sides; expect them to make a game of their Spring opener.

Prediction: Widzew 1-1 Podbeskidzie

Cracovia – Lechia Gdańsk (Sat 18, 15:45 CET)

Two more sides who have performed below expectations so far this season, 15th placed Cracovia and 12th placed Lechia are within touching distance of each other, and a win for the home side could see them overtake their visitors.

Cracovia have shed some of their deadwood, including flop striker Andrzej Niedzielan, and strengthened in midfield and attack; whilst their opponents have done similarly, bringing in Widzew’s Grzelczak and Lech Poznań midfielder Jakub Wilk.

Both sides have so-far been relatively poor in attack (the two lowest scorers), but not too leaky at the back; and whilst this one could swing either way, there likely will only be a goal-or-two in it.

Prediction: Cracovia 1-0 Lechia.

Śląsk Wrocław – Ruch Chorzów (Sat 18, 18:00 CET)

Probably the biggest tie of the weekend takes place at the new Wrocław Municipal Stadium, as Orest Lenczyk’s top-of-the-league Śląsk host Waldemar Fornalik’s fourth-placed Ruch. Whilst Śląsk have done well to earn their four-point lead at the summit, the big surprises of the season are the Niebiescy, who finished last season just above the relegation spots.

 Ruch’s strikeforce of Maciej Jankowski, Arkadiusz Piech and Paweł Abbott have been on fire so far this term, bagging 17 between them; but will come up against a strong Śląsk defence – including new Celtic signing Jarosław Fojut – which has only conceded 13 in 17 games.

Whilst Ruch’s midfield is filled with battlers, Śląsk can count on a creative midfield consisting on Sebastien Mila, Waldemar Sobota and Łukasz Madej. This tie could eventually come down to who wins the midfield battle; and that could depend on the condition of the Wrocław pitch.

Prediction: Śląsk 2-0 Ruch

Zagłębie Lubin – Wisła Kraków (Sun 19, 14:30 CET)

It hasn’t been a great league season for either side so far, but for very different reasons. Many expected Wisła to be challenging for the title, yet they are stuck ten-points off of the pace back in sixth. Meanwhile Zagłębie were expected to put in strong performances with their improved squad, but ended up spending most of the term in a battle to end autumn off of the bottom – a battle which they eventually lost.

Wisła have already returned to competitive action, with their 1-1 Europa League draw with Standard Liege; and coach Kazimierz Moskal would have gained a few insights on how his team will play on the frozen pitches of Poland. Moskal may also be thinking about rotating his vast squad slightly in anticipation of Wisła’s second leg next week, which they will have to gain something from to progress.

Zagłębie have strengthened slightly in winter, with former Górnik captain Adam Banaś and Kaiserslautern’s Jiri Bilek likely to go straight into the starting line-up. But Pavel Hapal will know that his new signings alone won’t be enough to survive; his team will have to drastically up their form if they want to be playing in the Ekstraklasa next autumn.

Prediction: Zagłębie 1-3 Wisła

Górnik Zabrze – Legia Warszawa (Sun 19, 17:00 CET)

Doubts about the ability of Górnik’s Ernest Pohl Stadium to host Ekstraklasa football this spring were evident as recently as last week; but after a late decision to allow the go-ahead, the Trójkolorowi can now concentrate on the football. And their first task will be to try and earn something from the side who currently occupy second position.

With talk of many players leaving due to the club’s financial problems, Górnik have managed to only lose Adam Banaś and Tomasz Zahorski so far during the transfer window. But with rumours that first-choice keeper Łukasz Skorupski is on his way to Hoffenheim, it’ll be interesting to see who Adam Nawałka starts. Unfit captain Adam Danch is likely to be replaced by new signing Błażej Telichowski, whilst the impressive Prejuce Nakoulma has returned from the African Nations Cup.

Like Wisła, Legia have also already returned to competitive action; drawing 2-2 with Sporting Lisbon on Thursday. Seven-goal midfielder Miroslav Radovic is still not fit to play; and it isn’t known if Maciej Rybus will be risked ahead of his move to Terek Grozny, after picking up a slight knock in Europe. Even so, Legia should have enough quality to see off their hosts, but a difficult pitch could make life difficult for the visitors.

Prediction: Górnik 1-2 Legia

Korona Kielce – Jagiellonia Białystok (Mon 20, 18:30 CET)

With just three points separating Korona and Jagiellonia, this is another game which could go either way. The sides have picked up six wins apiece, with the hosts picking up a few more draws in their Autumn campaign.

Korona sold their leading striker Michał Zieliński to Górnik, with Daniel Gołębiewski heading in the opposite direction. They have also made a couple more signings, but midfielder Milosz Przybecki – on loan from Polonia – is ruled out through injury. With Zieliński gone, Leszek Ojrzynski will now be relying on his out-of-form strikers to stop Korona being dragged into a relegation fight.

Jagiellonia have also been active in the transfer market; with Andrius Skerla, Hermes and Grzegorz Bartczak all heading away from the club. Jaga did manage to pull off the on-loan return of goalkeeper Grzegorz Sandomierski, who had left for Belgian club Genk earlier in the season; as well as midfielder Nika Dzalamidze, who joined from Widzew. With veteran striker Tomasz Frankowski leading the line, Jagiellonia could just have that cutting edge to see them past Korona.

Prediction: Korona 1-2 Jagiellonia

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