Ekstraklasa Preview: Saturday 15th February

After Friday’s games mostly focusing on either the top or bottom of the Ekstraklasa, Saturday’s fixtures are an entirely different proposition altogether – looking at the important battle in the middle. With just a handful of points separating sixth and twelfth; the fight to enter the top-half’s Championship Group at the end of the season will seemingly go down to the wire. Whoever can emerge victorious from the games between these mid-table teams, will undoubtedly gain a massive advantage. Those who lose out risk a tough battle against the drop.

Cracovia – Zawisza Bydgoszcz (Saturday 15th, 13:00 CET)

Saturday’s games kick off in Poland’s second city with a clash between the two sides promoted from the Pierwsza Liga – both of whom performed much better than expected in the autumn.

After doubts about his style of play, and even rumours that he was to be dismissed after guiding them to promotion in dramatic style, Wojciech Stawowy has turned his Cracovia side into one of the most attractive and entertaining to watch in the entire league. With 31 goals in their 21 games so far, they have actually bettered a number of sides above them – including their most hated rival Wisła. They also have an impressive record of scoring in each of their last eleven outings; but in-keeping with their “entertaining” tag, their 34 goals conceded is only better than bottom side Widzew’s 40. A record which has undoubtedly prevented them from climbing above mid-table.

The Pasy were dealt a big blow to both their attack and defence in winter with the loss of goalscoring full-back Milos Kosanović, who headed to Belgian side Mechelen. However the acquisition of defenders Tomislav Mikulić (Panthrakikós) and Marcel Wawrzynkiewicz (Valerengens IF), and striker Deniss Rakels (Zagłębie Lubin) could prove to be more than adequate replacements. However with more points lost than won at Ul. Kałuży, a home win isn’t exactly a banker.

Or is it…? Ninth-placed Zawisza have the joint-worst away record (tied with Wisła) outside of the bottom-three; and with just two relatively low-key signings so far, they haven’t strengthened as much as others.

Coach Ryszard Tarasiewicz can however claim stability on his side. Not only have Zawisza managed to hang on to their best players despite threats from other clubs, they are yet to see anyone at all leave the Zdisław Krzyszkowiak Stadion. Despite interest from leaders Legia, star man Michał Masłowski will remain in the blue-and-black for the time being; and both Bernardo Vasconcelos and Luis Carlos will continue to spearhead the Zawisza attack until the summer at least.

And like their hosts, Zawisza are also on a run of their own. Having to go back to early November’s late defeat in Chorzów, the blue-and-blacks are now six games unbeaten – currently the best spell in the league. An away win might be too much to ask of Tarasiewicz’s side, but it’d be foolish to discount Zawisza returning to Bydgoszcz without something to show for their efforts.

Lechia Gdańsk – Pogoń Szczecin (Saturday 15th, 15:30 CET)

Emerging from the winter break, just three points separate the Ekstraklasa’s two northernmost sides, with Saturday’s visitors Pogoń sitting four positions higher than their hosts. However Michał Probierz’s Lechia have made strong movements in the transfer window – those of a side aiming for the top of the table rather than one targeting to just sneak into the Championship group.

Eighteen year-old defender Paweł Stolarski was undoubtedly brought in as “one for the future” by Probierz, but having made a number of appearances at Wisła Kraków, the “Polish Guardiola” should have no hesitation in playing him in the first team right now. The recent signing of Serbian left-back Nikola Leković will also help to strengthen up a defence which has shipped 28 goals so far this term.

However the most promising additions have been made to the Lechia attack, where Terek Grozny pair Maciej Makuszewski and Zaur Sadaev join Legia youngster Aleksander Jagiełło on loan. Makuszewski already has experience of the Ekstraklasa, impressing in his two years at Jagiellonia. Jagiełło’s first taste of senior football may have only came in Autumn at Podbeskidzie, but he comes highly rated by his parent club. Sadaev may not be as appreciated by Terek, but his team-mate Makuszewski believes that he’s good enough for the Bundesliga. A strong acquisition it seems…

But that isn’t to say that Pogoń haven’t done well in the transfer window too. 26 year-old Serbian midfielder Pavle Popara heads to Szczecin after spells in Greece, Cyprus, Romania and Bulgaria; whilst Patryk Małecki’s path to Zachodniopomorski is more well known, having fallen out of favour with Franciszek Smuda at his boyhood club Wisła Kraków.

Pogoń’s biggest signing however came just this week, when coach Dariusz Wdowczyk put pen-to-paper on a new deal until June 2017, despite having been linked with taking Probierz’s position at Lechia. Replacing Artur Skowronek a year ago, Wdowczyk turned a relegation-threatened side into one more than capable of a top-half finish. With his squad strengthened sensibly, there is no reason why the former Celtic defender can’t keep them in that all-important top eight by the end of April.

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