Where Things Stand – Part Three: Chasing Europe

The business end of the table. Three medals and three European spots up for grabs.

Runaway leaders? Perhaps – no side has held an advantage this big since Wisła Kraków stormed the league in 2010/11. The current leaders have also not led the way at this stage since 2016, despite lifting three of the four titles since then. There are still eleven games to go, but it is Legia’s title to lose.

The interesting battle in the top half is that for the two (or maybe three, depending on the Cup Winners) Europa league spots. Just two points separate five teams; a good run of victories giving a chance of putting pressure on the leaders, should they stumble, while a bad run could potentially mean missing out on the top eight altogether.

Click here for Part Two

Click here for Part One

1. Legia Warsaw – 51 pts.

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2. Piast Gliwice – 43 pts.

3. Cracovia – 42 pts.

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4. Śląsk Wrocław – 42 pts.

5. Lech Poznań – 42 pts.

6. Pogoń Szczecin – 41 pts.

There feels an air of inevitablity about this season. Familiarity, even. Legia Warsaw haven’t always been at their best this season, but they haven’t needed to be. Inconsistency elsewhere in the league means that, despite the Wojskowi’s ocassional hiccup, their lead is still a colossal eight points. Yes, there have been defeats. Seven of them, to be precise. Two sides even have fewer. But their sixteen victories are three more than anyone else, and the reason they’re so comfortable. From this point, anything other than Legia’s 14th-title – levelling the record held by Górnik Zabrze and Ruch Chorzów – would be a catastrophic failure.

In his first permanent spell in charge of the club, after two brief caretaker stints, Aleksandar Vuković is finally building his team – although not without a few setbacks. Both Carlitos Lopes and Jarosław Niezgoda moved on during the autumn, potentially leaving gaping holes in the Legia attack. Several players have stepped into the goalscoring void though; notably Guinean José Kanté and former QPR winger Paweł Wszołek.

Legia have quality running throughout their squad, but there are none more exciting than a young duo who won’t be in the capital beyond the summer. As the last line of defence, Polish U21 international Radosław Majecki has been in imperious form – an ever-present in the league, attracting the attention of Ligue 1 giants AS Monaco, who shelled out €7 million to take him at the end of the season. Just in front, left-back Michał Karbownik made the step up from the second team, and has since attracted reported interest from the likes of Barcelona and Tottenham.

All is not yet lost for reigning Mistrz Polski, Piast Gliwice; at this stage last season they sat seven points behind the leaders, and had only three more points than they do now. It is, however, unlikely that they will be able to match their performance on the way to winning the title, where they won eight and drew two of their final eleven games.

The summer loss of star midfielders Joel Valencia (to Brentford) and Patryk Dziczek (Salernitana) could have been extremely damaging to the Silesians, but coach Waldemar Fornalik has developed a side which is significantly greater than the sum of its parts. A strong defensive line, including former Legia back-up Jakub Czerwiński and well-travelled full-back Bartosz Rymaniak. A reliable and creative midfield, with the likes of Spaniard Gerard Badia and Englishman Tom Hateley. An effective attack, led by 19 goals from former Charlton cast-out Piotr Parzyszek and ex-Atletico Madrid junior Jorge Felix.

Although their title may be relinquished in the coming weeks, a top-three finish would be by no means a disappointment for a club only in its tenth ever top-flight campaign. After their 2-1 win in Warsaw before the lockdown, confidence is high at Okrzei 20, and Europe is once again well within their reach.

Cracovia are also looking to get into Europe for the second successive season, following on from their fourth-placed finish last term. Given the off-the-field problems – notably stripping former Polish international Janusz Gol of the captaincy, following his reported unwillingness to accept a 50% paycut during the Covid-19 crisis – talking solely about football again, will be more than welcome.

Another top-four isn’t something they’ll manage on their recent form, though. Four successive defeats before the postponement – against fellow top-three sides Legia and Piast, Górnik Zabrze, and Kraków rivals Wisła – saw them drop abruptly from the summit. A continuation of that form in their final four games of the regular season, although unlikely, could even see a dramatic drop into the mid-table battle.

Leading goalscorers, Portuguese striker Rafael Lopes and Romanian winger Sergiu Hanca, have been the standout players in a side which could be described more as effective than spectacular. Under former the Polish Guardiola, Michał Probierz, the Pasy haven’t too often been commended for their stylish football, and would be happy to scrap their way to a medal.

Another side whose league position doesn’t relate entirely to their style of play, Śląsk Wrocław have at times been turgid to watch, but in that time have also shown glimpses of what they could do.

Throughout their team, Śląsk possess plenty of quality: Croatian left-back Dino Stiglec has been solid, former Polish international midfielder Krzysztof Mączyński dependable, and both Michał Chrapek and Przemysław Płacheta impressive. Then, in addition to their outfield men, without the impressive performances of goalkeeper Matus Putnocky, Vitezlav Lavicka’s side would be much lower in the table.

However, form has dipped since early December’s 3-0 hammering by leaders Legia; in their last games, just two wins have seen them drop out of the title picture. The loss of right-back Wojciech Golla to a cruciate ligament injury in January was significant, while further forward, winger Robert Pich has not quite reached the level expected of him. The lack of an effective striker has also proved problematic; however, the winter acquisition of Montenegrin Filip Raicević has at times looked promising.

With upcoming games against two relegation battlers and two mid-table sides, Śląsk now have a golden opportunity to get their season back on track.

Sitting down in fifth place, seven-time Mistrz Polski Lech Poznań have had a season of two very different halves. By the end of matchday 15, the Kolejorz occupied a place in the bottom half, with only five wins to their name. Six wins and four draws since then, and they were heading into their home clash against Legia with bags of momentum, and ideas of a return to continental competition after a season away.

There were worries that, particularly with the winter transfers of midfielders Darko Jevtić and Joao Amaral (to Rubin Kazan and Pacos de Ferreira respectively), Lech might have returned in the spring weakened; however, the replacement signing of Dani Ramirez from ŁKS has so far yielded a reasonable goal and two assists in five games. They have also kept a hold of some of their impressive academy graduates: Tymoteusz Puchasz, Kamil Jóźwiak and (the unfortunately injured) Robert Gumny all signing new contracts in February.

The club’s undoubted star, though, may not be around at Ulica Bułgarska for much longer. Striker Christian Gytkjaer tops the league’s scoring charts, with fifteen goals; but with his contract due to expire in the summer, the only extension signed was to stay for the duration of the delayed season, leaving a move to one of Europe’s bigger leagues almost inevitable. If the Danish international can carry on his impressive record, and help Lech convert some of their many draws (their nine so far is a league joint-high) into wins, Europe will surely be an inevitability and he’ll leave Poznań as a hero.

Propping-up the Ekstraklasa’s top six, North-western side Pogoń Szczecin have shown the least amount of consistency of those chasing a European berth. As well as their topsy-turvy form, the Granatowo-bordowe also possess both the weakest goalscoring record outside of the bottom three, and yet the most watertight defence in the entire league.

Already missing their top-scorer Adam Buksa, who moved to the MLS with New England Revolution in the winter, Pogoń have more recently also seen Bosnian midfielder Zvonimir Kozulj leave the club, as they looked to reduce costs amidst the Coronavirus pandemic. Now, the burden of increasing the club’s disml goal tally lies almost exclusively with former Leeds United misfit Paweł Cibicki and Austrian-Serb midfielder Srdan Spiridonović; beyond their three and six strikes respectively this campaign, it’s difficult to see where more goals might come from.

The solid defence may also come under pressure during the final four games of the regular season, as amongst them they face the both Lech and Zagłębie – two of only three sides to score more than 40 goals so far this campaign. With further home games against Cracovia and Lechia Gdańsk, unless there is a dramatic change, sneaking into the top half may be the best that Pogoń can hope for this season.

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