Ekstraklasa Preview: Sunday 16th and Monday 17th February

With the opening four games delivering nine goals, four red cards, and four late penalties; attention turns to the second half of the weekend where there are leads to be chased, ground to be made up, and scores to be settled. Here are brief previews of Sunday and Monday’s games in Ekstraklasa Matchday 22.

Ruch Chorzów – Jagiellonia Białystok (Sunday 16th, 13:00 CET)

When these two sides met back in mid-September, no-one could have predicted how significant the result would have been to Ruch Chorzów’s season. Jagiellonia’s 6-0 demolition of the Niebiescy was not only embarrassing for the 14-time Polish Champions; but it also cost manager Jacek Zieliński his job, when he resigned the following day – presumably before he was pushed. Slovakian coach Jan Kocian took the reins at Ul. Cicha just three days later, and the transformation was almost instant.

Unbeaten in their next eight games, and with further losses to just Lech and Legia, Ruch stormed up the Ekstraklasa table, finishing 2013 in fifth position – a world away from the 14th spot they found themselves in following their hammering in Białystok.

Unfortunately for Jaga, what at-the-time seemed like a morale-boosting win, had pretty much an opposite effect. Though a 1-0 victory at lowly Podbeskidzie followed, just five points from their next eight games saw them drop well into the bottom half; but strong home wins against Śląsk and Wisła did ensure winter was a little brighter for Piotr Stokowiec’s team.

Neither side have made waves in the winter transfer window, though both have strengthened slightly. Ruch captured Georgian-born former Russia U21 midfielder Roland Gigolaev from Dinamo St Petersburg; whilst Jagiellonia picked up Seweryn Michalski (Mechelen), Joel Perovuo (HJK Helsinki), Sebastian Rajalakso (Syrianska) and Roberts Savalnieks (Metalurgs Lipava) to bolster their numbers. Ruch however did lose one of their key players, when Łukasz Janoszka switched Upper for Lower Silesia. How much of an impact this will have on them remains to be seen.

But despite not bringing in massive names, both will be looking to climb even higher in Spring; Jaga to consolidate a top-half finish, and Ruch to pull themselves into the European spots. With new, exciting managers in Kocian and Stokowiec at the helm, what’s to stop them?

Zagłębie Lubin – Górnik Zabrze (Sunday 16th 15:30 CET)

One of the more intriguing clashes of Ekstraklasa Matchday 21, second-placed Górnik’s trip to fourteenth-placed Zagłębie may not be as straight forward as it seems on paper. With an underperforming squad in autumn, Orest Lenczyk has strengthened his Miedziowi side even further during the break; bringing in a host of new names to replace those let go during the break. Keeper Silvio Rodić is in line to replace error-prone Michał Gliwa, whilst Łukasz Janoszka, Johan Bertilsson and Manuel Curto look to add some firepower to the joint-worst attack in the league.

Having only lost one of their key players, Górnik will surely consider their winter dealings as a massive success. Though Krzysztof Mączyński’s move to China was surprising, they will be happy to have kept hold of Paweł Olkowski, Prejuce Nakoulma and Mateusz Zachara – until the summer at least, anyway. Trójkolorowi boss Ryszard Wieczorek can also be happy with hi signings too; with Szymon Drewniak joining on loan from Lech, and fan-favourite Robert Jeż returning to the Ernesta Pohla following disappointing spells at Polonia Warszawa, and Sunday’s opposition Zagłębie.

Though Górnik will go down as favourites for the clash, there are a lot more factors than league position and previous form to take into account – most notably Górnik’s injury crisis. With at least six defenders having struggled with injuries recently, Wieczorek’s back line is down to the bare bones. If Zagłębie’s new boys hit the ground running, they have the potential to cause serious problems for the title challengers.

And if anyone is going to make the difference for the home side, it will be those new boys in attack. In their 11 games away from home so far, Górnik managed 16 goals – just one less than their opponents’ tally home and away combined. Lenczyk will need to pick things up quickly if they want to avoid a battle against the drop; but Sunday’s game will be an extremely tall task.

Lech Poznań – Śląsk Wrocław (Sunday 16th, 18:00 CET)

Arguably the tie of the weekend; Śląsk’s trip north to Poznań may not hold the same significance as it would have last season, but both have a point to prove heading into the final half of the season. Despite sitting in fourth position, Lech trail leaders Legia by a massive twelve points thanks to disappointing results on the road – including a 2-0 defeat in Wrocław back in September. The 2011/12 league winners Śląsk however have seen disappointment both home and away; a tally of 24 points leaves them closer to the drop zone than the top-four.

Home and away form looks extremely straightforward for this clash. Lech can count on their home form; with six wins and three draws from their ten home games, Ulica Bułgarska has become something of a fortress for the six-time champions – Pogoń Szczecin the only side to leave Poznań with all three points. Śląsk’s away form meanwhile has been in complete contrast; a 2-1 victory in Gdańsk the only time that WKS returned to Wrocław as victors.

Incoming players been limited at Lech so far, with Finnish defender Paulus Arajuuri the only deal of note being done at the ENEA Stadion. They do however have the experience of Rafał Murawski and Bartosz Ślusarski missing for their squad. Both big earners were rumoured to be on their way out at the end of the season to cut costs; however this was speeded up after the players criticised the club’s coaches.

Śląsk meanwhile have brought in three new names; English defender Tom Hateley, Udinese keeper Wojciech Pawłowski, and Paweł Zieliński – brother of Polish international Piotr. They also managed to stave off interest from Legia Warszawa for top scorer Marco Paixao. The Portuguese was subject of a number of bids by the leaders; each one rejected as they failed to come close to Śląsk’s valuation of the striker.

The pressure is now on Śląsk’s Czech boss Stanislav Levy, who headed into the winter break with speculation of his impending dismissal. That may have only turned out to be paper talk during the long winter months; but failure to turn their season around, and there is a possibility that fans will begin to call for his head.

However with such impressive home form, it is difficult to look past Lech for victory on Sunday evening. Already filled with strength throughout the team, a lack of activity in the transfer market may not necessarily be a bad thing for Mariusz Rumak’s side. It may be a long shot to win the title, but as we’ve seen many times before, it is never a good idea to discount the Kolejorz.

Piast Gliwice – Wisła Kraków (Monday 17th, 18:00 CET)

The weekend’s final game sees Franciszek Smuda’s resurgent Wisła Kraków side make the 70-mile hop to Gliwice, where they face a Piast side which struggled for consistency during Autumn.

Buoyed by the signings of Dariusz Dudka and Semir Stilić, the Biała Gwiazda are currently enjoying their best season since lifting the title in 2010/11. With Paweł Brożek and Łukasz Garguła flying high in the goalscoring charts, and strong performances from the likes of Arkadiusz Głowacki and Michał Miśkiewicz, there is now real optimism at Reymonta 22 that Wisła’s temporary blip following Robert Maaskant’s reign may finally be over.

Piast meanwhile are a mere shadow of the side which finished in fourth position last season, and now sit in a lowly twelfth position. From one of the league’s most highly-rated managers, Marcin Brosz is one of a few managers who found himself at risk of losing his job towards the end of the year.

Reliance on striker Ruben Jurado is also extremely high, with the Spaniard netting over a third of Piast’s league tally. Transfers into Ulica Okrzei have been relatively minimal too, with two signings from Portuguese club Braga’s ‘B’ team the highlights. They also received a blow when two-goal defender Damian Zboźien headed for a new adventure with Russian club Amkar Perm.

Whilst their away form is nowhere near as good as their phenomenal home record, Wisła are massive favourites to start off 2014 as they finished 2013. Piast meanwhile look destined for the relegation group when the league splits into two. They’ll need a change in fortunes if they wish to distance themselves from a late battle against the drop.

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