One-trick pony? More than Lewandowski in the locker for Poland at Euro 2016
Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | March 1, 2016
Nobody scored more goals en route to the Euro 2016 finals in France than Bayern Munich and Poland frontman Robert Lewandowski with 13.
Almost as prolific for his country as he is at club level, lethal Lewandowski is rightly one to watch at the Euros, where Coral make him a 16/1 shot to be the tournament’s leading marksman.
It would be wrong, however, to think that he is all the Poles have up their sleeves. Other talents, either established but now in the shadow of the star striker or emergent ones, will be on show at the France finals.
Menace Milik the perfect partner
Ajax frontman Arkadiusz Milik possesses a similar international goals to games ratio to senior strike partner Lewandowski. Scoring six in qualifying to supplement the star, Milik’s 10 in 22 overall represents a 0.45 rate, while Lewandowski’s return of 34 in 73 is just higher.
On course to break the 20-goal barrier for a second successive season in Amsterdam, it is a marvel how the Dutch giants made Milik’s move from Bayer Leverkusen permanent so cheaply.
He has repaid Ajax with 16 goals in 33 games up until the end of February, and Milik will continue to challenge the likes of Dirk Kuyt and Luuk de Jong for the Eredivisie Golden Boot.
National coach Adam Nawalka’s willingness to pair Milik with Lewandowski has borne fruit, as Poland were top scorers in qualifying with 33 in total. It is a couple up top, even if the former drops deep at times.
Deadly duo are double trouble
To put into perspective how impressive the Polish front two’s tally of 19 between them is, let’s compare them to Euro 2016 Group C rivals Germany and unbeaten England.
Lewandowski’s Bayern Munich teammate Thomas Muller netted nine in qualifying for World Cup winners Germany. Add in three apiece from Mario Gotze, Max Kruse and Andre Schurrle, and Poland’s dynamic duo outdid twice their neighbours’ number in attack.
Just to match the scoring exploits of Lewandowski and Milik, you need add together goals from Three Lions captain Wayne Rooney (seven), Danny Welbeck (six), Theo Walcott and Harry Kane (three each) – again four players whose sharpshooting work was done by two prolific Poles.
It is fair to say, then, that the threat is dual not one-dimensional. Nor is it beyond Milik to belie his status as junior partner and outscore Lewandowski, with odds of 50/1 for the younger striker to be top of the Euro 2016 charts.
Poles do not want for wide options
While the reserve striking options of Artur Sobiech and Lukasz Teodorczyk are less launded than Lewandowski and Milik, there is real strength in depth to Poland’s wing positions.
Prior to picking up a calf problem from which he is due to return to action in March, Wolverhampton Wanderers’ winter window signing Michal Zyro made a real impact with three goals in two Championship games. Tall for a wide player at over 6ft 2in, he will want to add to his four caps and catch Nawalka’s eye this spring.
While Zyro is Wolves’ present and future, their past also has a presence on the Polish roster in the form of Slawomir Peszko. His diving antics did not please the Molineux faithful, flopping rather badly both literally and metaphorically.
Peszko has somewhat rebuilt his career domestically, however, at Wisla Krakow, yet will be wary of two wide talents entering their prime in Kamil Grosicki and Maciej Rybus. Both have more caps than Peszko at a younger age.
There is then fit-again former Poland captain Jakub Blaszczykowski to consider. Nicknamed Kuba for simplicity’s sake and to stop the kitman running out of letters, his loan spell at Fiorentina has underwhelmed, but the Borussia Dortmund-owned wideman could have one last hurrah at the Euros.
A career-threatening knee injury has robbed Blaszczykowski of what pace he possessed, but now he could be Poland’s David Beckham – ensuring quality deliveries rather than speedy wingplay. Four assists in 16 games for the Florence team shows clear signs he still has it.
Coveted Krychowiak coming into his own
In midfield, the Polish one to watch is Sevilla anchorman Grzegorz Krychowiak. Perhaps the highest-regarded Eastern European holding player since understated Czech Republic destroyer Tomas Galasek, a top Premier League team like Arsenal are still crying out for someone of Krychowiak’s calibre.
Popping up with the occasional long-ranger, as well as patrolling in front of his back four with surety, Krychowiak also draws salient comparisons with Celtic legend and Bulgaria centurion Stiliyan Petrov.
Nemanja Matic’s mantle has been passed to the Pole, with Krychowiak looking likely to be in line for a move from Seville if he impresses on international duty.
Another engine room operator, and a more creative one at that, to keep an eye on is Piotr Zielinski. Spending a second successive season on loan with Empoli from Udinese, the Serie A side’s owners, the Pozzo family, could send him to another outpost of their empire.
If Zielinski, who turns 22 before the tournament, isn’t showcasing his talents at Watford next term, then that may be because Liverpool have bought him. Jurgen Klopp is already linked in dispatches with bringing him to Anfield this summer.
Besides Krychowiak and Zielinski, there’s veteran Sebastian Mila and a plethora of deep-lying names for Nawalka to consider. Tomasz Jodlowiec (Legia Warsaw) is the eldest of these plodders at 30, then there’s younger legs in teammate Ariel Borysiuk and Karol Linetty (Lech Poznan).
Glik needs to be glue holding rearguard together
While goalkeeper trio Artur Boruc (Bournemouth), Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea City) and Wojciech Szczesny (on loan at Roma from Arsenal) are all familiar faces to British audiences, it is in defence where perhaps Poland can be got at.
They averaged conceding a goal per game in qualifying, and Torino captain Kamil Glik needs to take those club leadership qualities into turning out for his country.
Dortmund full back Lukasz Piszczek turns 31 on the eve of the tournament, and remains the biggest name in defence. It will be his third Euros, and Poland have finished bottom of their pools in both 2008 and 2012.
This time, however, the Poles are odds-on at 1/3 to qualify for the knockout phase, 5/4 to bow out in the last 16 and 4/1 chances to be eliminated in the quarter-finals.
Michal Pazdan of Legia is Glik’s preferred partner at centre half, while clubmate Artur Jedrzejczyk acts as backup to Piszczek at right back. Jakub Wawrzyniak will like as not be the left back, with fellow 30-something Lukasz Szukala providing a tall option in the heart of defence at 6ft 5in.
All round, then, this is a Polish outfit better-equipped than recent years to make an impression on Euro 2016, especially in a pool that also contains Ukraine and plucky Northern Ireland.
For more Euro 2016 content in the build-up to and during the tournament, check out Coral’s dedicated page.