With just six games remaining of the Ekstraklasa season, we’ve now reached what can only be described as the “business end” of the season. By now, we were expecting a couple of the title challengers to have fallen; but whilst we can almost comfortably say that reigning champions Wisła Kraków are out of the running, there are still five teams within just four points of the top spot. And with the winter favourites Legia Warszawa and Śląsk Wrocław hitting a rough patch, the final fifth of 2011/12 could potentially see any one of the top five emerging victorious.
Having lost their unbeaten 2012 run in a 2-0 defeat to Górnik Zabrze on Saturday, Korona Kielce now sit in fifth position having garnered a total of 41 points from their 24 games. Spring victories against Wisła, Śląsk and Polonia have highlighted the European challenge from Leszek Ojrzyński’s men in recent weeks, but with their recent loss in Zabrze, many will feel that the Złocisto-Krwiści‘s challenge may have hit a stumbling block.
Recovering from their blip will not be the easiest task, as they host a rejuvenated Lech Poznań at the Arena Kielc on Monday, followed by a Zagłębie Lubin side desperate to pull themselves clear of the relegation dogfight. Arguably there are three easier games to follow for Korona as they travel to ŁKS Łódź and GKS Bełchatów, before hosting Widzew Łódź in their penultimate fixture. However on the final day, they travel to current leaders Legia – a tough place to go to needing a victory.
Polonia Warszawa are under new management after Jacek Zieliński was dismissed following their 3-0 defeat at Korona last Monday. New boss Czesław Michniewicz was quick to make his mark, changing 5 of the starting line-up (some of it forced) for their tie with Śląsk Wrocław. The tinkering clearly paid off, as the Czarne Koszule defeated then-second-placed Śląsk 3-0. After a roller-coaster start to 2012 (3 wins, 3 losses and a draw), Polonia currently stay above Korona in fourth position by a single goal.
Their unpredictable form will mean that Polonia go into the run-in as outsiders, but with a new coach and under the watchful eye of Józef Wojciechowski, they cannot be written off. Their next two games seen them head to Zabrze to take on Górnik before hosting relegation bound Cracovia at Konwiktorską. Two tough ties follow as they host second-placed Ruch Chorzów before making the tough trip to Lech Poznań. If Michniewicz’s men can come through unscathed, the Black Shirts will fancy their final two games – at home to Zagłębie Lubin and away at Podbeskidzie – and could find themselves on the brink of Europe.
Śląsk Wrocław‘s recent form hasn’t exactly been that of a side chasing European competition – only one league win since the turn of the year has seen them succumb a four point lead at the top, and they now sit in third position three points off of the pace. In their seven games of 2012, Śląsk have dropped a total of 16 points – two more than they dropped during their 17 games in the Autumn Round. Their poor run has left them just a point ahead of fourth and fifth position, extremely close to dropping from the European spots altogether.
The one thing in Śląsk’s favour is that – on paper at least – they have the easiest run-in of all of the title-chasers. Home ties against Bełchatów, Jagiellonia and Zagłębie, and trips to Lechia Gdańsk (all of whom sit in the bottom six) as well as an out-of-form Podbeskidzie could see Orest Lenczyk’s Zielono-Biało-Czerwone get their season back on track. If they can navigate the banana skins to get back into the mix, Śląsk will face a final-day trip to their friends at Wisła Kraków possibly needing to win. If Michał Probierz can steer his Wisła side to the brink of a European place, it may not prove to be such a friendly tie at all.
Possibly the surprise of the season, Waldemar Fornalik’s Ruch Chorzów have proceeded to defy the odds and climb to second in the table, just a single point behind the leaders. Four wins and three draws in 2012 has helped the Niebiescy to become the only unbeaten team in the current calendar year, as well as lifting them past both Polonia and Śląsk into the runners-up spot. The Silesians’ progress has been aided by their strikeforce of Maciej Jankowski, Arkadiusz Piech and Paweł Abbott – the most prolific in the Ekstrtaklasa, scoring 23 between them.
Ruch’s run-in begins with a game which could be looked back on as the title-decider come the end of the season. They travel to take on leaders Legia on Saturday, where a win for the visitors would see them go two points ahead of the pack in the table – and put them in a prime position for their record 15th League title. But even should they win, their following games are no easy task, as they host local-rivals Górnik Zabrze in the hugely-anticipated Wielkie Derby Śląska before travelling back to the capital to face Polonia. Should they still be in a good position, Ruch will be full of confidence heading into the final three games – against the current bottom-three ŁKS, Cracovia and Lechia.
Current leaders and strong-favourites Legia Warszawa have failed to pick up a win, and only scored a single goal in their last three league games – against Wisła, Bełchatów and cross-city rivals Polonia. But despite this, the Wojskowi still haven’t lost a league game since their 2-0 reverse at Górnik Zabrze in mid-February – wins against Śląsk, ŁKS and Podbeskidzie making up their last seven. Leading scorer Daniel Ljuboja has failed to find the net since their 4-0 demolition of Śląsk, and Legia have had to rely on young Udinese target Rafał Wolski to grab three of their five goals since.
Despite their status of favourites, Legia’s final six could quite possibly be the most difficult of all of the challengers. Starting off with their home tie against Ruch, they then go on to face Wisła before hosting Lech Poznań in the capital. A home tie with Jagiellonia follows, before a midweek trip to Gdańsk to face a Lechia side likely to be battling relegation. Legia complete their season at home to European-chasing Korona, and depending on previous results may need something against Ojrzyński’s men.
Outside of the top 5, it is extremely unlikely that any side can make a challenge for the title. Both Lech Poznań and Wisła Kraków have picked up pace a little after a change of management, but are still too far off of the pace to be considered as candidates. The best that Lech can realistically achieve is European competition – and their chances will increase should either Ruch or Legia lift the Puchar Polski, allowing fourth position in the Ekstraklasa a European berth.
Lech’s run-in also consists of three sides in the top five – Korona, Legia and Polonia. A win in the first of these could see Kolejorz fired into the top four, but should they drop points, it could be difficult for them to challenge. Wisła also have to face-off against sides from the top five in the form of Ruch and Śląsk, but as they sit eight points from the European spots, it looks like it will be a very disappointing season for the Biała Gwiazda. However, even if the previous two “Mistrze Polski” aren’t necessarily challenging for the title this year, both Lech and Wisła will have a massive hand in deciding who will follow them as champions of Poland.