Poland came out extremely flat in their Group H 2-1 defeat to Senegal – and it showed from the opening whistle.
Aside from Grzegorz Krychowiak’s back pass into ‘no mans land’ that allowed an alert M’Baye Niang to spring into action and pounce on the loose ball quickly before beating both Jan Bednarek and Wojciech Szczesny for the decisive goal, the Poles overall performance simply did not meet the expectations that come with being FIFA’s 8th ranked nation.Captain Robert Lewandowski, who made his World Cup debut on Tuesday, lamented the lack of organization and urgency as contributing factors to an otherwise lethargic team effort. The Bayern Munich star explained that Poland “played with no tempo or pace, and very little communication.” (via ESPN FC)
Lewandowski scored 16 goals throughout World Cup Qualifying, a record for a European qualifier, yet was unable to muster up any real chances against Senegal. Defender Kalidou Koulibaly did a standup job blanketing the 29-year old and limiting his touches and movement, forcing Poland to play down the wide channels where they didn’t enjoy much success in terms of creating chances.
Along with this, Poland struggled to find their groove, settle in and effectively build-up play which enabled Senegal to establish their shape and keep the game in front of them. Toss this all together and it is clear manager Adam Nawałka must tinker with his 4-2-3-1 (4-4-2) formation versus Colombia on Sunday if the Bialo-czerwoni are to advance out of the group.
The absence of Kamil Glik saw SPAL defender Thiago Cionek take his place alongside Michal Pazdan, a decision that left supporters on edge. Jan Bednarek, albeit a young and inexperienced international defender with just four caps to his credit, turned in solid shifts for Poland in the friendlies leading up to the tournament. The 22-year old Southampton man was the preferred choice by many, but Nawałka elected to go with experience, though Cionek looked nervy and rather tense in the back throughout.
Cionek‘s conservative play in possession and risky passing resulted in a slow, lifeless build-up that allowed Senegal to maintain a relatively high press with their forwards, and force Poland into several mistakes in their own half. Both Lukasz Piszczek and Maciej Rybus attempted to stretch the field a bit and offer the central pairing outlets to initiate the build-up, but it was often either too predictable or was quickly closed down by the opposition.
Most of what Poland did stir up came down the flanks, especially early with Kamil Grosicki running on the left. In those few moments where the Poles managed to break into the midfield and get Krychowiak or Piotr Zielinski on the ball to enter the final phase, there was that void in between the midfield and attack.
Zielinski’s the one true playmaking presence Nawałka has to link play and execute the final ball required for Lewandowski or Arkadiusz Milik to impact. Yet, it seemed as though the Napoli man was often occupying space too deep, assisting Krychowiak at times while Milik and Lewandowski were left isolated.
Poland’s best spell of football came in the final 10-15 minutes trailing 2-0. With no choice but to ramp up the intensity and push men forward, Poland finally got on the scoresheet after creating chances, earning corner kicks and providing some threat to Senegal back line. Whether this spell was contributed to the fact that Senegal felt content with the lead they held and could sit in to see out the result is certainly rational. But whatever the case may be, Poland can’t possibly turn in the same shift against Colombia and expect a different outcome.
Perhaps Nawalka should consider a 4-2-3-1 (4-5-1) with Bednarek replacing Cionek (provided Glik isn’t quite ready to go), and insert Karol Linetty to push Zielinski further forward on the left wing or in the hole behind Lewandowski where he can get regular activity on the ball in the attacking third. Linetty’s ball carrying ability and work rate should help sort some problems out in the midfield, and free up Poland’s best attacking talent for higher percentaged touches to score. Either way you slice it, Poland must change their approach against a Colombia side determined to respond after a defeat of their own.
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