A line up composed of Ekstraklasa based players taking on the Moldovan national team in Portugal shouldn’t get anyone too excited. Polish fans could look forward to seeing new players being blooded into the national team set up and trying to impress Franciszek Smuda and they could see if Smuda himself did anything differently based on the players at his disposal. Interestingly enough it seems like Smuda, after much experimentation in both tactics and players, is starting to settle on a style of play and wants to build consistency, even in B team friendlies.
License to roam
During the initial stages of the match fans were (mis)treated to a poor pitch and a poor level of play. The Polish squad seemed to lack any positional sense what so ever. Dawid Nowak would sometimes be up top as a lone striker and then drift to the right wing. Michal Kucharczyk would be all over the pitch, popping up on either wing or ahead of Nowak. And Dawid Plizga often started deep before bombing forward and sliding wide. It made for a confusing opening ten minutes before one could really see how the side lined up.
Those three aforementioned players were the most interesting. When the team initially set up it looked like a 4-3-3 similar to the one Smuda played against the Ivory Coast. However, with Plizga, Kucharczyk, and Nowak license to drift wherever it sometimes looked like a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-2 although we shouldn’t get caught up in trying to label the formation. The interesting aspects were the individual instructions and tendencies of the players.The goal in fact came after Kucharczyk drifted to the right and Plizga bombed forward to the left to score a long range strike. While the keeper should have easily smothered the ball the point is Plizga got into a good position because Kucharczyk, who looked nervous on the ball, was energetic off it and created space. The young Legia forward did not have a good game but on his debut took up some interesting positions much like Ludovic Obraniak is allowed to do when given basically a free role when deployed on the wing.
The other three players of Poland’s front six were much more static which is what allowed for the creative freedom of the previously mentioned trio. Ariel Borysiuk sat in the middle of the pitch calmly breaking down any attacks that attempted to come through the middle. In possession he played sideways balls and short passes to maintain possession and launch counter attacks. Poland’s midfield in this match functioned much like the usual Murawski-Matuszczyk-Mierzejewski trio. Borysiuk plays a similar game to Murawski while Plizga and Janusz Gol sort of split the duties that Matuszczyk and Mierzejewski do. Gol worked hard in the middle of the pitch to win the ball back and help out defensively on the left side while Plizga tried to press and offer offensive support. Szymon Pawlowski meanwhile was happy to stay on the right touchline and had a decent game creating chances while being positionally disciplined.
With Kucharczyk roaming all over the pitch it was no surprise that Poland’s left hand side was where Moldova were creating their chances. Hubert Wolakiewicz didn’t help the attack much but it is difficult to do so when there is no winger on your side to offer support. Gol tried his best, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence he played on the left side of midfield as opposed to Plizga as Gol would do a better job of insulating that side. Even still Moldova created a couple chances on our left wing that kept Sandomierski and the defense alert.
Consistency in tactics
Even though we were playing weaker opposition Smuda didn’t change his game plan too much. Defensively we were expected to get back into our shape at which point we would then choose when to press. Once we got ten men behind the ball Moldova were at a loss to try and break us down. Going forward we didn’t try to maintain possession for a long time and probe the Moldovan defense but rather attempted to catch them on the counter. We were fairly successful at doing this as the Moldovans pushed forward often and played a laughably high defensive line that would have been exploited on the score sheet if not for Nowak’s poor finishing. Some might question why we chose to play a counter attacking game against a side we could be expected to dominate possession but one must remember that come Euro 2012 we will likely be the worst side there so in a way it makes sense to work on this style.
The pattern of play was set in the first half and continued into the second, Pawlowski did take over left wing duties from Kucharczyk as Jakub Rzezniczak came on and he offered more stability on the left side but being naturally right footed he still cut in often. Perhaps the only tactically interesting note of the second half was our pattern of pressing. As mentioned earlier we usually pressed once we got in our shape but like previous matches there were points where we pressed Moldova high up the pitch in an effort to win the ball back in a dangerous position. Usually it was Plizga who initiated it but there were times where he was the only one pressing and he got passed around easily and found himself out of position. Other times players followed his lead and Moldova were harried into losing the ball. Clearly this is something that needs to and can be worked on by the squad after becoming more familiar with each other and with Smuda.
With nothing else tactically interesting to comment on the second half was more of a chance to critique individual players. Nowak was actually having a decent game building up play but looked awful near the box. Grzegorz Wojtkowiak really led the makeshift back four well while Piotr Celeban settled down after a shaky start. Sandomierski was likely our best player, save for one error that should have tied the game. The game featured average performances from most of the players and while it is difficult to say who (if any) makes the Euro 2012 squad it will be interesting to see if the A team plays the same style of play against Norway in a couple days.