Tag Archives: smuda

Poland Euro 2012 Preview

When Franciszek Smuda first took over the Polish national team he seemed to have a large amount of naïve optimism surrounding the team. Starting with a 4-3-3 formation early in his tenure, Smuda wanted Poland to play ‘like Barcelona, to have his players know exactly where each teammate was by instinct.’ However, many players from the real Barcelona taught Smuda and a young Polish team, including names such as Kamil Glik and Marcin Sadlok in defense, a lesson in his first match in charge: you have to be damn good to be able to play like that.

Since that early promise of beautiful football Smuda has taken a more pragmatic approach. It would be simple to analyze the squad as two banks of four who only attack on the break and rely on Lewandowski, but Smuda has options in attack and what combination he chooses might depend on the opposition as much as it depends on form and ability.

The defense

It’s no secret that Poland’s back four has been a question mark during Smuda’s reign, much like it has been since the departure of stalwarts such as Tomasz Waldoch, Tomasz Hajto, and Jacek Bak. He has finally seemingly decided on a central pairing that would have come as a shock to followers not long ago – French born defender Damien Perquis and Anderlecht hard man Marcin Wasilewski. Perquis is recovering from an arm injury and should be good to go from the start of the tournament. He is more of the reader of the game between the two of them, good in the air despite lacking some of the physical tools of Wasilewski. Meanwhile the Belgian based defender loves to attack the ball and though he may get caught out of position sometimes, if you ask him to defend the box he is as good as anyone.

The right side of defense will be patrolled by Lukasz Piszczek, the Dortmund regular who forced his name into the discussion of the best right backs in Europe. A forward who was converted to wing, then finally converted to full back, he has an endless motor that will push the opposition winger back, deliver a cross, then race back to break up a counter. The other side is a bit of a question mark. Sebastien Boenisch is Smuda’s first choice but he is just coming back from a serious injury and is suffering from a lack of match fitness. He recently went 90 solid minutes against Andorra but if he is deemed not ready his spot will be filled by the unspectacular Jakub Wawrzyniak, a possession keeping full back who won’t exactly dominate the flank.

Probable Polish starting XI for Euro 2012.

 

The middle

Here Smuda has a number of solid, if uninteresting, names to pick from. Dariusz Dudka, Eugen Polanski, Rafal Murawski, and Adam Matuszczyk are all decent players, but no combination of them is going to dominate possession at Euro. Whatever two the Polish coach picks will most likely be asked to sit in front of the defense and provide a shield to the backline. When they get the ball look for them to spray quick passes wide into the channels; keeping the ball in the opposition half would be nice but not the mandate of these players.

Murawski and Polanski seem like the likely choices to start for Poland with Dudka as their chief back up. Murawski seems to have beaten Dudka for the starting job beside Polanski. The diminutive midfielder has been good since his return to Lech and he is probably the best passer of the bunch.

The attackers

This is where Smuda’s selection gets interesting. Right now the probable set up seems to be Maciej Rybus on the left, captain Jakub ‘Kuba’ Blaszczykowski on the right, with Ludovic Obraniak supporting star man Robert Lewandowski. Both Rybus and Blaszczykowski are fit and disciplined players who are willing to track back, create a bank of four with the central midfielders, before making direct forward runs and delivering service to Lewandowski. Rybus replaces Slawomir Peszko, a similar type of player who is good on the counter but was kicked of the team for a drinking mishap involving the police.

The two main subs out wide will be the Turkish based duo of Kamil Grosicki and Adrian Mierzejewski. Both players offer something different to the attack. Grosicki is a speed merchant who likes to stay high up the pitch and exploit the space in behind the opposition full back. He is just as likely to cut in and have an attempt on goal himself as he is to create for others. A useful player later in the game to take advantage of a weary backline when in need of a goal, the Sivasspor player is not disciplined enough to be trusted by Smuda from the start.

Trabzonspor’s Mierzejewski, on the other hand, is a player who thrives with the ball at his feet. He loves to try through balls, crosses, tricks and one-twos and is Poland’s most creative player. Unfortunately he can be quite inconsistent but even if he is not producing offensively he can still be counted on to work hard without the ball.

The other French born player in the squad, Bordeaux’s Obraniak, is also expected to be a starter for Poland. He doesn’t possess the athleticism or pressing ability of the other players but he is Poland’s most cultured midfielder, capable of providing a pin point pass or cross and creating a chance out of nothing. Look for him and Mierzejewski to battle for the spot behind Lewandowski. Both can also play on the wing and it’s possible there will be a time where neither will play if Poland go with a 4-1-4-1/4-3-3 set up.

Up front not much needs to be said. Lewandowski is the starter and will be relied upon heavily to provide goals. His back ups are Pawel Brozek and Artur Sobiech though neither had a strong season. The latter looks to have the inside track to be Poland’s second striker but neither is close to usurping Lewandowski. It is possible one might be subbed in to partner Lewandowski if Poland are in need of a goal.

The style

Like mentioned earlier Poland will not be expected to dominate possession at the tournament. They simply don’t have the quality to do so and will thus rely on quick attacks to score. There are two avenues Smuda takes to creating quality chances – 1) By countering quickly, getting the ball into the channels right away so his direct and fast attackers can exploit space vacated by the opposition and 2) By taking turns throughout the match pressing the opposition near half and in their own end to win the ball near the opposition box when their defensive shape is compromised.

The first tactic is nothing special or interesting, it is the way many reactive sides who have less talent approach matches, but the second approach is something that Poland have done to decent effect in their friendlies. In their 3-1 win against the Ivory Coast the Poles scored twice after winning the ball in the Ivory Coast’s half while they created numerous chances against quality opposition such as Portugal and Germany by surprising them with their pressing when the backline had the ball near the half way line.

Poland’s pressing isn’t perfect, however, with cultured midfielders such as Andrea Pirlo able to break the press and then attack a slightly out of shape Polish team, as he did in Italy’s 2-0 win over the Eastern Europeans. Poland will need to press at times, however, because their defense is simply incapable of lasting 90 minutes with mistake free football and because their lack of quality passers in the back and midfield means creating decent chances starting in their own half will be very difficult.

The conclusion

Poland are not favourites by any stretch despite being hosts. They will need to do what many weaker sides need to do to be successful: play reactive, defensive football, counter efficiently, get big performances from individuals (such as Lewandowski, Blasczykowski, and Szczesny) and nip a set piece goal here and there.

What they can do to relieve some of the pressure from both their defense and offense is press the opposition at times when they are being lackadaisical and in areas where winning the ball would start an instant attack, and with numerous athletic attackers, including the Dortmund trio who are used to a high octane pressing game, Smuda’s pattern of pressing will be interesting to watch.

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Poland 1 – 0 Norway: Center backs dominate lackluster game

Starting line ups for the match. Obraniak and Lewandowski often switched wings.

The Polish national team won their third successive match but like their victory against Moldova it was another slow and uneventful 1-0 win. The result itself is something Polish fans can be proud of but Norway carried much of the play in the second half following an attacking switch. This game showed that individual tactical instructions can compensate for formational shortcomings. It also showed that that doesn’t always necessarily lead to a win.

Norway start rigid

Immediately one could see Norway’s formation without the ball. The team was obviously very disciplined and when not in possession they almost instantaneously lined up into a 4-1-4-1 formation. Two solid banks of four were separated by a midfield anchor man to fill in any space between the lines. Poland’s 4-3-3, which seems to be the preferred choice of Franciszek Smuda given he has used it in three straight matches, had trouble finding space in the attacking third. When you combine a lack of movement from an out of form Jelen, positional discipline from a tough defending side, and a lack of a true offensive creator, you’re always going to struggle for chances.

Norway seemed content to let the Polish back line have the ball and only pressed when the ball came near half. Eventually Tettey and Grindheim started pressing slightly higher but only pressed the midfielders, not the Polish defenders. Norway let Poland have the ball in non-threatening positions and cut off passing lanes before pressing their opponents when the ball entered the final third. Lewandowski and Obraniak took turns trying to drop into space beside Hauger but they often found themselves closed down either by him, a full back, or another central midfielder. It was going to take some bit of creative movement for Poland to get a chance be it a deep overlap from a full back, a central midfielder bombing forward, or Jelen dragging defenders around for the attacking midfielders. It was in fact a forward run from central defender Kamil Glik that began the move that gave Poland the goal.

Glik found himself with acres of space in front of him as the Norwegian midfield was concerned Poland’s more creative players. Eventually he went so far that he had to be closed down which is when he dumped the ball off immediately to Dudka. This slight change in Norway’s shape gave Poland the slightest opening and it still took a nice bit of skill from Lewandowski to score but it showed just how rigid Norway were. It would have been nice to see a ball playing defender, someone like Sadlok be able to exploit the time on the ball but he probably would have struggled with Norway’s ‘route one’ attack.

Norway direct in attack

On the other side of the ball Norway played a very simple, direct game. Carew operated as a lone striker and the Scandinavian side relied on long balls directed at him to be turned into a free kick or a chance for the ball to be held up and let the midfield to join the attack. Carew had some measure of success against the Polish pair of center backs but both Glowacki and Glik held their own. Norway looked the most dangerous on set pieces or Riise’s long throws. There is nothing you can do tactically about this except practice for it and maybe inject some extra height in your side.

When Poland got in their shape there wasn’t much Norway could do other than lump the ball forward and hope Carew could fashion a chance. The only other times Norway looked dangerous was when Poland gave the ball away cheaply which didn’t happen too often because of the lack of pressure in dangerous areas.

Norway switch to a higher pressing 4-4-2

At half time Norwegian coach Egil Olsen made two substitutions which led to a change in formation for his side. He switched to a 4-4-2 which theoretically would give Poland the advantage. Having an extra man in midfield means you have the opportunity to pass around the opposition’s midfield two. Usually a team will compensate with this lack of midfielder by dropping a striker deep when out of possession to close down the deepest midfielder, however if the team with the 4-4-2 presses as a unit and the team with the 4-3-3 doesn’t have the ability and/or doesn’t present themselves for a pass then the advantage is negated. This is very much what happened in this match, even though the Norwegians may have lacked numbers in midfield they made up for it with systematic pressing ensuring that in the part of the pitch where the ball was they had enough men. Poland needed to make quicker, decisive passes and anticipate the closing down but often were forced backwards to Szczesny whose own distribution has been questioned.

Norway's 4-4-2 to begin the second half

Offensively Norway found much joy out wide in activating their full backs and in between the center back and full back channels as they were able to use their wingers and full backs to get around Poland’s midfield three. That being said they rarely threatened directly on goal as the Polish center back pairing, perhaps the biggest question mark in the squad, had a solid game. Despite getting forward more Norway’s best chances still came on set pieces. Riise’s throw ins were dangerous and his free kick forced Szczesny into the best save of the match. Eventually Grosicki came on for Jelen and while he was immediately more mobile and provided another passing option Poland still struggled to retain any possession or hit Norway on the counter. They relied on defensive solidity and a lack of ingenuity from Norway for the win.

For a 4-4-2 to be able to cope with a 4-3-3 without a striker dropping to midfield you need systematic pressing. In this example the M LC for Poland has the ball and every Norwegian midfielder takes away a close passing option, leaving the open man a long pass away in a non-threatening position. If he does complete the pass each Norwegian would shift over (the broken lines) again leaving the extra man a long distance away and in a non-threatening position.

Conclusions

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this lackluster match was the idea that a theoretical miscue in formation shift (i.e. going to a 4-4-2 versus a 4-3-3) can be compensated for by good individual tactical instructions (the pressing of Norway). This micro versus macro tactical idea can be a good debate but the correct answer is that getting both levels correct gives you the best chance of winning. Norway lost at the macro (formational) level but won at the micro (individual tactical) level. This meant they played better than in the first half but still weren’t able to pull out a win. There are many factors that lead to a win, tactics is just one amongst others such as luck, individual talent, and random error.

For Poland we learned that Smuda seems to have settled on a preferred formation. The 4-3-3 he played today is the same as the one that he played against the Ivory Coast with similar individual instructions. We also learned he’s willing to move players around within the formation with Blaszczykowski playing the deep role that Mierzejewski usually plays and Lewandowski filling the attacking midfield role vacated by the aforementioned Kuba. It wasn’t a pretty win but if you had asked any Polish fan before the match if they’d take a 1-0 win over Norway the answer would be a resounding yes. It remains to be seen if these wins are flukes or the side truly coming together as a cohesive unit.

Poland 1 – 0 Moldova: Smuda aims for stability

Poland's starting XI versus Moldova

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.

Positional discipline

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.

Disjointed pressing

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.

Conclusions

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.