With twelve goals in his last four games, and ten goals in eight qualifiers for his country, Poland striker Robert Lewandowski is rightly picked as the danger man for the upcoming clashes with Scotland and Ireland. His ability to unlock defences and punish weaknesses has not gone unnoticed either, with the Bayern frontman singled out by a Scottish press worried for their back-line, and bookmakers who place him at 13/10 to score at anytime. But while Gordon Strachan must find a way to stop European football’s in-form man, focusing solely on Lewandowski could be a final nail in the Scots’ Euro 2016 coffin.
Despite leading the scoring charts with ten goals from eight games, ‘Lewy’ has only actually scored in half of those: failing to hit the back of the net in the victories at home against Germany and away in Georgia, and the draws with a Scotland and Ireland. The difference for Poland in this campaign has been the emergence of a strike partner, Arkadiusz Milik.
In previous campaigns, if teams have been able to stop Lewandowski, they have invariably been able to stop Poland. For this reason, the Białe-Orły’s Euro 2012 and World Cup 2014 qualifying campaigns suffered disappointing failure, with a lack of goals a huge factor in their downfall. In only four of their thirteen games during those two competitions were the Poles able to score more than once: away in Montenegro, at home to Moldova, and the two clashes with minnows San Marino.
But now, with the added complication of Ajax frontman Milik, the Polish attack is an altogether different proposition. Where they had struggled, they are now the best in Europe: 29 goals being three more than England, and seven more than the Germans. Milik himself has netted six times, with only Lewy and German striker Thomas Müller scoring more in Group D. Poland also have shared goals amongst their squad, with eleven different scorers – along with Spain, the joint-highest number – in their eight games.
Lewy is undoubtedly in some of the best form of his career, but in the past this hasn’t always translated into his performances for the national team. Finally though, with Milik in the team alongside him, the 27-year-old is reaping the rewards. Not only do opposition defences now have one world class player to deal with, they also have a potential future world class striker too. If a coach instructs his players to “double-up” on Lewandowski, it can afford space to players such as Milik, and the attacking midfielders to cause havoc; but risk giving Lewandowski room to play his own game and, well, you all know what can happen…
Under both Franciszek Smuda and Waldemar Fornalik, Robert Lewandowski’s game was all about scoring goals; but Nawałka has given him more responsibilities, helped make him an all-round player in the Polish White-and-Red, and – in contrast to the dark period under Fornalik – made him simply un-droppable. He’s less selfish, bursting with confidence, more-willing to drop deep for the ball, and in doing so he creates space around him for his team-mates. Milik, Błaszczykowski, Grosicki, Krychowiak, Mączyński; all have hit the net in qualifying, and given the chance won’t hesitate to do so again.
Lewandowski may be the focal point of the Polish attack, but it’ll be naïve to believe he is their only threat. If Gordon Strachan’s side do so tonight, they could well be saying goodbye to their Euro 2016 dream.