As the Ekstraklasa comes to a close after its 21 game, longer-than-usual Autumn round; on paper at least it is business as usual. Familiar names sit at both the top and bottom of the table, while European competition continues on past the Christmas break once more without the participation of Polish teams.
Reigning Champions Legia Warszawa sit atop the pile, five points clear of their nearest challengers. However their domestic form hasn’t exactly set the league on fire. Whilst their record of fourteen victories is three more than second-placed Górnik Zabrze, they have also managed to lose six – a number bettered by the five sides sitting behind them.
Although they lead the pack, coach Jan Urban was dismissed hours into the winter break, mostly thanks to the Wojskowi’s dismal display in the Europa League. Five straight defeats meant that they were rooted to the bottom of Group J before they had even netted their first goal; a 2-0 away victory against Apollon Limassol at least preventing total embarrassment. Urban’s replacement, former Manchester United and Blackburn Rovers defender Henning Berg, will take charge from January; and now has the unenviable task of ensuring that Legia pick up their 10th league title – the only competition in which they remain.
14-time champions Górnik, who have weathered a late storm to go into winter in second position, have already been forced into a change of leadership. Following the appointment of Adam Nawałka to the Polish national team, returning boss Ryszard Wieczorek has lost two of his five games in charge – against the club’s fiercest rivals Piast Gliwice and Ruch Chorzów.
Wieczorek did however finish 2013 with an impressive bang: his side earning a more-than-deserved 3-1 cup victory over Legia – winners for the last three seasons. That now leaves Górnik as the highest-ranked side remaining in the competition, and therefore the favourites. 41 years since they last lifted the trophy, and 25 years since their last silverware, Górnik fans may feel that a new era is about to be heralded.
One club who are in no rush to change their manager is 2011/12 Mistrz Polski Wisła Kraków. After Robert Maaskant’s overspending won them the title, financial problems befell the White Star; and when two successive seasons of mediocrity followed, they were mocked for returning to Franciszek Smuda – now in his third spell at the club.
But despite some early setbacks, including trialling a Romanian student who had fraudulently claimed to be a professional player; Smuda has turned his side into serious title contenders on a limited budget. Excellent performances from young goalkeeper Michał Miśkiewicz have been integral to Wisła conceding just 19 goals – the league’s lowest tally; whilst a rejuvenated Paweł Brożek returned to Kraków after failing to impress in Turkey, Scotland and Spain. His 11 strikes make him the league’s top scorer, and have attracted the attention of the new Poland coach.
While they sit in fourth, well within a shout of the European spots, 2013 will be a year which Lech Poznań will be happy to see the back of. Struggling for any form of consistency, and with numerous reports of the board losing faith in coach Mariusz Rumak, some may see it as a surprise that he is still in a job. However as one of the lowest paid coaches in the league, the 36 year-old represents good value for money; and with the points totals being halved before the league splits in two, an opportunity still exists for the Kolejorz to make a late push.
The three surprises of the season by far currently occupy the positions from fifth to seventh; Ruch Chorzów, Pogoń Szczecin and Cracovia were touted as possible candidates for the drop before the season kicked off.
After avoiding relegation on goal difference last season, an early-season change of coach for Ruch swung momentum; with their all-Polish team going on an eight-game unbeaten run between September and November. Three further wins, including a surprise comeback against local rivals Górnik, catapulted them up the table in December.
Pogoń, another side close to relegation last term, also went through a strong spell winning five in seven outings. However just four points from their final seven has dragged them away from the top of the table.
However the biggest surprise of the three are newly-promoted Cracovia, who were rumoured to be close to dismissing coach Wojciech Stawowy just days after finishing second in the second-tier, due to their unattractive and unflattering style of play.
Oh, how things have changed at Ulica Kałuża; with the Pasy‘s new brand of attractive football gaining not only plaudits throughout the Polish sports media, but also results to go along with it – the 1-0 win at Górnik being the biggest highlight.
After a sluggish start, the second newly-promoted side, Zawisza Bydgoszcz, finally got into gear around September; following it up with October’s back-to-back home wins against Wisła and Legia. Heading into winter maintaining a 6-game unbeaten run (which included a 6-0 thumping of Piast Gliwice), their early-season status as relegation fodder now seems wholly unjustified.
Like Lech Poznań further up the table, ninth-placed Jagiellonia Białystok have also struggled to string a set of positive results together. Massive wins against Ruch Chorzów (6-0) and Wisła Kraków (5-2) stood out in autumn; but generally, wins against the sides below and losses against those above mean that their mid-table position is justified.
Lechia Gdańsk got of to a promising start to their season with a 2-2 friendly draw against Barcelona’s megastars, and it was followed up with an eight-game unbeaten run. Back-to-back 4-1 defeats against Widzew Łódź and Lech Poznań however brought Michał Probierz’s side back down to earth. Unable to score back-to-back wins since late August, Lechia’s slide down the table has been steady. If they harbour hopes of finishing in the top half, and subsequently playing in the Championship group, a strong start to Spring is needed.
After surprising everyone to finish in the final European spot last season, 2013/14 has seen Piast Gliwice suffer from a tremendous hangover. Starting the season with wins against Cracovia and Zagłębie, it took until late September for them to register another win. Whilst losses against the clubs a the top were to be expected, hammerings by Pogoń and Zawisza have left them with much work to do during the final nine rounds.
Under Leszek Ojrzyński Korona Kielce were known for their disciplinary issues, and since the arrival of Spanish coach Juan José “Pacheta” Rojo Martin… Well, not a lot has changed. 6 red cards have once again left Korona’s disciplinary record far from clean.
Without a win in their first four games, Ojrzyński’s dismissal came despite protests from fans and players. Whilst Pacheta picked up a win in his first game in late August, it took him until October to register his second. But with Korona rooted in the relegation zone, a resurgence towards the end of the season lifted them into 12th – just a few points from the top half.
One of the most disappointing team performances this season has come from Śląsk Wrocław, with the 2011-12 champions laguishing in the bottom half for a large portion of autumn. If it wasn’t for Portuguese striker Marco Paixao though, it potentially could have been much worse. The former Hamilton Academicals frontman has netted eleven times for Stanislav Levy’s side – as many as all of Śląsk’s other strikers and midfielders combined.
Starting the season in promising fashion with an impressive Europa League elimination of Club Brugge, the slide down the Ekstraklasa table began quickly. Besides a 2-0 victory against Lech, results have been less than satisfactory; leading to a number of questions over their Czech coach.
While Śląsk are struggling, their rivals Zagłębie Lubin are having many more problems both on-and-off the field. On their third coach this season after the dismissals of Pavel Hapal and Adam Buczek, the Miedziowi are now in the hands of former Śląsk boss Orest Lenczyk. Only goal difference – massively helped by six goals from striker Arkadiusz Piech – prevents them from occupying a relegation spot.
Poor performances with such a talented squad have led to much animosity from the fans in recent weeks, with three players even being attacked on the streets by so-called “fans”. With squad morale at an all-time-low, a turnaround of the grandest scale is required if Zagłębie wish to prevent a relegation scrap.
Joining Zagłębie as the league’s worst scorers, Podbeskidzie Bielsko-Biała sit in the same position as at the same stage least season – although with two more points to their name. It is goals however which are the main difference from last term. Losing the league’s top scorer in Robert Demjan could prove very costly for the Górale, as their tally of seventeen league strikes is nine less than 2012/13.
Podbeskidzie have already seen a change in management with Czesław Michniewicz dismissed after a run of poor results which saw them rooted in the bottom two. Former Korona boss Leszek Ojrzyński has managed impressive victories over Lechia Gdańsk and leaders Legia, but with just nine points from his nine games, he has still been unable to pull them from the relegation spots.
Stuck at the bottom of the Ekstraklasa; four-time Mistrz Polski Widzew Łódź simply deserve their status as favourites for the drop. With an unwanted away record of ten defeats from ten games, it is just their four wins (Zawisza, Korona, Lechia, Pogoń) and three draws (Jagiellonia, Podbeskidzie, Śląsk) at home which at least keep them in touching distance with their closest rivals.
Coach Rafał Pawlak – the second man at the helm this season – actually has a worse record than his predecessor, Radosław Mroczkowski. Seven points from his twelve games in charge have left serious doubts on whether he’ll still be in charge when the league restarts in February, with some rumours naming former Poland coach Waldemar Fornalik as a possible replacement. On the other hand, Widzew might need more than just a change of leadership to turn their fortunes around.