It wasn’t exactly the start that Polish fans were hoping for as Adam Nawałka’s new look squad slipped to a 2-0 defeat against Slovakia in Wrocław, before holding Ireland to an uninspiring goalless draw in Poznań. Ryan Hubbard tries to find some positives to take from the international weekend.
1. It may not be working just yet, but it’s nice to see a Poland coach try something different.
Look, let’s be honest; Poland won’t play a competitive game until the Euro 2016 qualifiers kick-off in the second half of next year. That is almost ten months for Adam Nawałka to tinker, experiment, and ultimately put together the best possible squad capable of reaching the tournament in France. The squad may have been littered with relative unknowns outside of Poland – many of whom will find themselves not in Nawałka’s master plan. But the inclusion of players such as Rafał Kosznik, Krzysztof Mączyński, Marcin Kowalczyk and Adam Marciniak will serve as a notice for even the most seasoned Polish international, that the former Górnik boss won’t be afraid to look a little outside of the box to replace them if the complacency that set in under both Franciszek Smuda and Waldemar Fornalik rears its head again.
But even with squad devoid of some of its bigger names, Poland’s first two games under the new leader were not impressive to say the least. The simple mistakes which slipped in against Slovakia may have been reduced by the time that they met Ireland in Poznań, but still a lack of urgency, togetherness and, most worryingly, a finished product were on display for the best part of the 180 minutes.
The road to Paris however is a very long one, and judging a coach on his opening two games may be a little harsh. Poland fans will do well to remember Leo Beenhakker’s first two matches in charge – a 2-0 loss in Denmark and a 3-1 home defeat to Finland; the Dutchman then going on to lead the Białe-Orły to fifteen victories and eight draws in his next 23 games. Nawałka will unlikely match his former teacher’s record, but if Poland are still struggling after a few more games with their more experienced players, then it may be fair to start thinking about criticism.
2. Is it time to forget about the 4-2-3-1?
It worked to varying successes under Smuda, and hardly worked at all under Fornalik. Friday’s game with Slovakia may have been the final nail in the coffin for the Polish 4-2-3-1 formation. On too many occasions we have seen Lewandowski stranded on his own up front, waiting for some form of support; and by the time it arrives, possession is lost as the opposition look to form a quick counter against the vulnerable full-backs.
With débutantes Paweł Olkowski and Rafał Kosznik on either side of an almost equally inexperienced centre-back pairing of Marcin Kamiński and Artur Jędrzejczyk, mistakes were always going to happen against Slovakia. Tie that in with the fact that both of the full-backs have gained plaudits for their attacking performances rather than their defensive ones at Górnik Zabrze this season, and the White Eagles’ back line did look a little exposed.
But whilst the 4-4-1-1 opted for against Ireland didn’t quite have the hoped effect, the back-line did look a little more solid (although the Irish attack didn’t really test them), and the number of players in advanced positions during Polish attacks did seem more threatening. If Nawałka decides to stick with it for a few more games, we may start to see some improved results.
3. New faces, but the left-back problem isn’t quite solved yet…
After years of poor performances and to-ing and fro-ing between Jakub Wawrzyniak and Sebastian Boenisch, it is something of a relief to see the new coach look outside of the box for Poland’s troublesome left-back position. But with Rafał Kosznik and Adam Marciniak both having history at club level under Nawałka, their selections did come under scrutiny from many fans, with some accusing the 56 year-old boss of favouritism – despite the fact that the two are performing excellently for Górnik and Cracovia respectively. Also thanks to his impressive showings ahead of Wawrzyniak for Legia, Tomasz Brzyski’s call-up was lauded by fans and journalists. But though considered the best option of the three, Nawałka clearly sees more in the attacking option he could give the team; his two short substitute appearances coming in place of midfielders Waldek Sobota and Adrian Mierzejewski.
Whilst Kosznik started well, and looked a decent attacking threat against Slovakia; overall it wasn’t the greatest showing from the 30 year-old – one or two mistakes crept in, whilst his inexperience began to show as the game progressed. Marciniak meanwhile was one of the better performers against the Irish, playing 90 minutes and looking relatively solid throughout; but whether he is up to the task of facing off against a team with more attacking threat remains to be seen.
For the time being, Nawałka’s decision to bring three new left-backs into the fold has merely created more questions than answers. But for now, it’s nice to think that the answer may possibly be different to what the former selekcjoners had led us to believe.
4. Somebody needs to teach the team how to shoot
Now 375 minutes since Adrian Mierzejewski score Poland’s last goal – the fifth in San Marino, Poland’s biggest problem is their lack of goals. With shut-outs against Ukraine, England, and now Slovakia and Ireland, the answer to the goalscoring question is the one which Nawałka needs to find if he is to succeed in his Euro 2016 mission.
On their few attacks in both of the weekend’s games, Poland looked more dangerous from outside of the box than inside of it, and even then many of the shots from distance failed to find the target. In fact, over the two games just nine shots managed to hit the target, and even then neither David Forde or Matus Kozacik were really tested.
But though in front of goal Poland have been less than prolific, in the build up to the Ireland game they had actually been practising their shooting – however it was with a rifle rather than a ball. As a part of Nawałka’s team-building exercises, the squad took time from their Grodzisk training camp to head to a nearby shooting range. Rather ironically, the most accurate player on the day was unused goalkeeper Przemysław Tytoń.
5. Maybe the answers lie in youth?
Whilst the senior squad were drawing jeers from crowds in Wrocław and Poznań, Marcin Dorna’s Under 21 side were busy making the country proud with high-scoring victories against Malta and Greece, in their attempt to qualify for the 2015 European Championships. Goals from Michał Chrapek, Bartłomiej Pawłowski, and back to back hat-tricks for Arkadiusz Milik helped the youngsters to 5-1 and 3-1 wins, leaving them in an excellent position to qualify for the tournament.
With goals at a premium for the Reprezentacja, Milik’s nine goals in seven U21 games have made him the obvious focus for many journalists. Another player with links to the new coach, Milik has long been thought of as one of the country’s next superstars; and once qualification for Euro 2015 is confirmed, it’s likely that Nawałka will turn to his former “supersnajper” to shadow, or even partner Lewandowski.
But looking elsewhere, there may be other options – if not now, then for the near future – for Nawałka to consider. Malaga winger Pawłowski has been in impressive form both for club and country, whilst Legia’s Dominik Furman is making a name for himself in the defensive midfield position. Paweł Wszołek, Bartosz Bereszyński, Piotr Zieliński, Rafał Wolski; another four names who will also feel as though they have a chance of finding themselves in Nawałka’s plans around summer time.
It may not look so bright for Poland at the moment, but the light shining from the youth side is signalling that the future might not look so bad after all.