Jacek Zielinski has been criticized by some for turning offensive powerhouse Lech Poznan into a defensive minded side. In three domestic matches his side had only conceded one goal but they had also only won one match, a 5-0 thrashing last week. Meanwhile Dnipro had won five of seven matches in the Ukrainian league and needed to overturn a one-nil loss at home to advance in the Europa League.
Both squads lined up in identical 4-2-3-1 formations so the tactical intrigue was limited to individual players. Lech lined up with the right footed Kielb on the left wing and Krivets in a central midfield role. Meanwhile Dnipro had Rotan shuttling into wide areas behind their powerful if immobile striker Seleznyov. The first thing to notice was the difference in the two lone strikers. Seleznyov was keen to stay on his axis, on the shoulder of the last defender. While he at times was found drifting into the channels, in truth this is when he looked most dangerous, he didn’t feel much like dropping back. Tshibamba, on the other hand, was very active in going wide and dropping deep into midfield. This might have been a managerial instruction. On every goal kick and throw in it seemed that Tshibamba would be the target, even to the point of dropping deeper than Stilic. Of course the benefit is that Tshibamba is now attacking the ball in the air, he is much better at that than the skillful Stilic, but this also opened up space up front for Stilic and Kielb to attack.
Jacek Kielb is a naturally right footed player and so he found himself constantly cutting in onto his favoured foot and two of Lech’s most dangerous strikes in the first half came about when Kielb found space in the middle and struck, once he was saved and once he shot wide. Meanwhile Dnipro also found themselves mostly attacking down the left. Their left fullback, Denisov, looked a lot more willing to go forward than their right back. This meant Konoplyanka had a lot of support when attacking and he was a constant threat when he had the ball, Denisov’s tireless running offering an outlet. Lech’s right wing was pinned back, Wojtkowiak and even Kikut finding no joy going forward but they were competent in defense. It should be noted Kikut is an adept right back and he buffered Wojtkowiak well.
Both sides needed their wings to be their attacking outlets because both Stilic and Rotan had trouble finding the ball. Both attacking midfielders had trouble shaking the double pivots both sides employed. Neither side had a numerical advantage in midfield so neither side dominated possession and in truth both sides remained cautious, preferring their front fours to try and unlock the defense. In fact Lech’s best move of the half came when Stilic won the ball in midfield and Lech countered. Tshibamba again drifted wide to create space which was filled by a forward charging Krivets but the Belarussian’s final ball was poor.
When watching Krivets play this match I could not help but be reminded of Bastian Schweinsteiger. The Bayern man is clearly a superior footballer but broke through as an attacking midfielder and was a goal scorer and goal maker. Krivets is often deployed in a more advanced role but in this match played alongside Bandrowski. He was tidy in possession, made smart passes, won his share of tackles and went forward when there was an opportunity. He had an overall understated but fine match.
In the second half it was apparent Lech were content to defend deep. They invited Dnipro to come at them and were more than happy to soak up pressure and stay in their defensive shape. Dnipro shortly brought on Homenyuk for Kalynynchenko which brought about a change in formation, Homenyuk went up front, Rotan went to the right wing and the visitors played a 4-1-3-2. Instantly Rotan found space on the right, something he couldn’t find in the middle because of Lech’s double pivot and the lack of movement by Seleznyov. The striker was the next one to be sacrificed as he came off for Oleksander Gladkyy. Dnipro were now more fluid as their new strikers were more mobile and the change in shape allowed Rotan to move about the pitch and Lech had trouble picking him up.
Tshibamba had faded by about the hour mark and not long after Wichniarek came on for him. Though not as willing to drop deep in possession Wichniarek showed great pressing from the front. Neither team really pressed all that well in the match but the newly introduced striker clearly had energy and he did well to disrupt the possession out of the back. Dnipro dominated possession as the match went on and Lech defended deeper and deeper. Dnipro tried to create space to exploit but Zielinski’s men were well disciplined and Dnipro were forced into early crosses which Lech on the whole dealt with well.
After the introduction of Drygas for Stilic Lech got their best chance of the second half. Kielb had the ball on a counter and cut in once again. Krivets used a run by Wichniarek to find space to his right and Kielb slipped him in but Krivets was well blocked. Lech however did not need the goal and usually countered with only 3, maybe 4 players in the latter stages of the game. They showed they were content with sitting deep, conceding possession, and only pressing in dangerous areas. It worked against Dnipro but one wonders if Zielinski will need to change his philosophy in the next round.