While many will be familiar with what is going on at the top and the bottom of the Polish Ekstraklasa, attention during the next two weeks will turn to the important battle taking shape in the middle of the table. Many clubs – from Legia to Pogoń at the top, and from Piast to Widzew at the bottom – know whether they’ll be taking part in a European hunt or a relegation battle over the final six weeks of the season; leaving just five-or-six sides unsure of which side of the divide they’ll fall.
Though not mathematically certain, it is extremely likely that Zawisza Bydgoszcz will earn a place in the Ekstraklasa’s Championship Group for the final seven games, with a top-eight finish extremely close to being secured. Sitting in sixth position on 42 points; the newly-promoted side look set to build on their impressive Pierwsza Liga campaign – requiring just two points from their remaining two games.
While they may face stiff opposition in those two games: leaders Legia on Saturday, followed by Ruch Chorzów the following weekend; they can also confirm their Championship Group status should Lechia Gdańsk drop points either at home to a resurgent Zagłębie Lubin, or away at Śląsk Wrocław. While fellow promoted side Cracovia can mathematically equal their points tally, the head-to-head record between the two sides ensures that Zawisza cannot be overtaken by them.
Though it took Ryszard Tarasiewicz’s side until the Round 7, 2-0 win against Cracovia, to pick up their first victory in the top-flight since April 1994 (coincidentally against another Kraków side, Hutnik); the blue-and-blacks quickly turned things around, and began to show that they were no pushovers.
With new acquisitions in the shape of Hérold Goulon, Luis Carlos, Bernardo Vasconcelos and Igor Lewczuk, slotting in beside players who were integral in Zawisza’s promotion: Michał Masłowski, Kamil Drygas and Wojciech Kaczmarek to name but a few; October victories against the three previous Ekstraklasa winners in Wisła Kraków, Śląsk Wrocław and Legia Warszawa, began to show that Tarasiewicz had brought together the right balance of old and new.
While Zawisza may be on course for their most impressive season since the fall of Communism, they have had to do it with a number of issues going on in the background.
During Zawisza’s 2-0 victory over Widzew Łódź back in November, fans of Widzew’s city rivals ŁKS attempted to gain entry to Bydgoszcz’s Zdiszław Krzyszkowiak stadium – undoubtedly aiming to cause trouble. Because they have a longstanding friendship with Zawisza, the travelling ŁKS fans were expecting a warm welcome from the hosts.
However that was not to be the case. Under the orders of club owner Radosław Osuch, armed Police blocked the entry of the alleged troublemakers, with fights breaking out on the concourses. Fans of the blue-blacks were quick to brand their club’s owner as a “traitor” and an “informer”, whilst Osuch turned against the club’s ultras groups. The stands were empty for the following home game – a 6-0 demolition of Piast Gliwice. The numbers have been lower than usual ever since.
Back on the pitch, Tarasiewicz’s men have gone from strength-to-strength – steadily climbing into a strong position. Led by eight-goal midfielder Masłowski, and the 12-goal partnership of Vasconcelos and Luis Carlos; Zawisza have dispatched of Górnik Zabrze and taken a point at home to Lech. Leading up to this weekend’s clash with the leaders they have also gone on to complete the double over both Wisła and Śląsk, with back-to-back 1-0 victories.
As well as their surprising league form, Zawisza have had a cup run to focus on. And after dispatching of GKS Katowice, Pogoń Szczecin and Górnik; only Jagiellonia stand between them and May’s final at Warsaw’s Stadion Narodowy.
But already without midfielder Hérold Goulon due to a spinal injury suffered in December, Zawisza must now complete their run-in without top-scorer, and most impressive performer Masłowski, who picked up an injury to the adductor muscle against Śląsk. Whilst the absence of their star man will clearly be a huge loss; players such as Sebatian Ziajka, Sebastian Dudek and Vayhan Gevorgyan will be more than ready to step up to the plate.
With just two points, and a two-legged semi-final remaining before the current Zawisza crop can place themselves among the best that the club has ever seen, Tarasiewicz will be keen to drill focus into his squad. But even without Masłowski and Goulon; with two shots at European qualification, they won’t be happy to settle.
The Ekstraklasa surprise package have the ability to go on surprising. But given their performances this season, should we really be that surprised at all?