Poland World Cup 2018 team guide: tactics, key players and expert predictions | Football

This article is part of the Guardian’s 2018 World Cup Experts’ Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organisations from the 32 countries who have qualified for Russia. theguardian.com is running previews from two countries each day in the run-up to the tournament kicking off on 14 June.

Once again Poland scored a lot of goals in qualifying, but they conceded a lot as well. In fact, they had the worst defensive record of any group winners, which is why coach Adam Nawalka has turned the focus to defending before the World Cup, just as he did before Euro 2016. There, Poland conceded just two goals, joint-best with Italy in the tournament.

Nawalka has shifted the formation from a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 to a 3-4-3 in a bid to improve flexibility and create an element of surprise. “We want to try something new and maximise the potential of some players,” said Nawalka before the November friendlies against Uruguay (0-0) and Mexico (0-1) where he first introduced the new formation. “We’ve already used that system in training so the shift will be fluent. The roles will be divided in a way that we can change from three to four during the game”, he added. In March against Nigeria (0-1) and Korea (3-2) it looked better, with the players more comfortable, but 3-4-3 still needs some work. That said, the side are dangerous from set-pieces and strong on the counter.

In goal, Nawalka has a enviable choice between Wojciech Szczesny and Lukasz Fabianski. In defence, no matter if it’s three- or four-man, Kamil Glik and Michal Pazdan in the centre are safe. If Poland play with four at the back, the right side will belong to Lukasz Piszczek and Maciej Rybus will take left. Piszczek and Rybus can also play as wingbacks in a 3-4-3 system.

Arkadiusz Milik

Midfield, however, is an area of concern. For years Poland have lacked a creator in the middle but with Napoli’s Piotr Zielinski that has changed. But the 23-year-old has to show he’s capable of leading the team on such a big stage. Zieliński can play either centrally alongside Grzegorz Krychowiak, whose form has dipped since his impressive Euro 2016, or further up the pitch as one of three attackers, with Robert Lewandowski in the No 9 role.

The new system was also a result of a lack of wingers. Kamil Grosicki is ever reliable for the national team, but there’s little else to chose from. Jakub Blaszczykowski returned from injury just before the end of April, while others lack experience to start in Russia.

Poland’s success may rest on Lewandowski, but the key could be Arkadiusz Milik. The Napoli striker came back strongly after a second ligament injury in his career and if he’s on top form, Poland’s chances look much better.

Probable starting XI:

Poland probable starting XI



Poland probable starting XI

Which player is going to surprise everyone?

Milik. The Napoli striker has worked his way through rehab and built his upper-body strength, returning to good form in spring. Nawalka is a fan of the 24-year-old and ideally he will partner him with Robert Lewandowski up front, allowing the younger man to capitalise from all the attention opponents pay to the Bayern striker.

Which player is likely to disappoint?

Michal Pazdan impressed during Euro 2016 but since then has failed to improve. Nawalka has stuck with him and he has a good partnership with Kamil Glik – with Pazdan doing the Monaco defender’s dirty work – but his form has slipped this season.

What is the realistic aim for Poland at the World Cup 2018 and why?

Following success at Euro 2016 and a solid qualifying campaign, the appetite for success is high. This is the best Polish team since the early 80s but the fans are not getting too ahead of themselves. When in form, Poland should progress from the group and this is a minimum requirement. Realistically the quarter-final is the most this team can achieve in Russia.

Michal Gutka writes for Przegląd Sportowy.

Follow him on Twitter here.




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