Poland and Slovakia will lock horns with each other at Gazprom Arena on Monday in the opening Group E fixture of the UEFA Euro 2020.
The first round of fixtures in the UEFA Euro 2020 continue on Monday as things kick off in Group E, where Poland face off against Slovakia at the Gazprom Arena in St. Petersburg, Russia, hoping to hit the ground running in the competition.
Poland sealed qualification to their fourth successive European Championships with consummate ease as they finished top of Group G, winning eight of their ten games (D1 L1). However, their form since has been a bit of a concern as they endured a difficult UEFA Nations League campaign last year, winning just two of six games (D1 L3), meaning they finished third in their group and missed the boat to the finals.
This eventually led to the sacking of manager Jerzy Brzeczek who had been in charge since 2018, with Paulo Sousa taking over in January this year. Things haven’t been off to the best of starts under the Portuguese either, with Poland winning just once in five games in 2021, playing out draws against Russia and Iceland in the friendlies leading to the Euro 2020.
Unlike Poland, Slovakia had to take the longer route to the Euros as they finished third in Group E, meaning they had to enter the playoffs based on their Nations League position in 2018/19. They were made to work hard by the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in the playoff stages, but ultimately, the Sokoli prevailed to enter the competition.
However, Slovakia’s form ever since has been a bit concerning as they were relegated from League B of the Nations League last year, while they have managed just one win in their last six, although they are unbeaten in the last five (W1 D4), including the pre-Euro friendlies against Austria and Bulgaria last week.
The last time Poland and Slovakia clashed was in November 2013 in a friendly encounter which the latter won 2-0. Ahead of their latest meeting this Monday evening in Russia, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both teams.
Team News & Tactics
Poland will be hamstrung without the absence of two key forwards in Krzysztof Piatek and Arkadiusz Milik, both of whom will not be involved in the Euros due to injuries, with the latter withdrawing from the squad earlier this week. Other notable absentees include Arkadiusz Reca and Krystian Bielik.
There are some positives, though, as the likes of Maciej Rybus, Bartosz Bereszynski, Mateusz Klich, Dawid Kownacki have all recovered from their minor issues and are available for selection. However, question marks remain on Jan Bednarek’s availability, who is currently undergoing training alone, with the Southampton defender likely to be subjected to a late fitness test ahead of the game.
Manager Paulo Sousa will set his team up in a 4-4-2 formation, which will transition into a 3-4-3 when Poland are in possession and attacking. Juventus stopper Wojciech Szczesny is likely to get the nod ahead of former Arsenal teammate Lukasz Fabianski in goal for the White and Reds. Kamil Glik and Bednarek ought to form the centre-back partnership, provided the latter is passed fit.
At right-back, Bereszynski is likely to get the nod ahead of Tomasz Kedziora, with the Sampdoria man tucking in centrally to form a three-man defensive unit when Poland attack while left-back Tymoteusz Puchacz pushes forward down his flank to support the forwards. Grzegorz Krychowiak will hold the key in the middle of the park, providing cover to the defence, while his partner Piotr Zielinski will have the license to push upfield.
22-year-old youngster Jakub Moder ought to start on the left, from where he will drift in centrally, allowing Zielinski and Puchacsz to bomb forward while Kamil Jozwiak will hug the touchline on the right and look to find captain Robert Lewandowski and fellow striker Kownacki inside the box with his crosses.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Szczesny; Bereszynski, Glik, Bednarek, Puchacz; Jozwiak, Krychowiak, Zielinski, Moder; Kownacki, Lewandowski
Slovakia will be without striker David Strelec who has been ruled out of the tournament, while fellow forward Ivan Schranz is also likely to miss out on Monday after picking up an injury in the friendly against Austria. As a result, manager Stefan Tarkovic has an underwhelming set of options in attack, which could seriously hamper Slovakia in the tournament.
Under Tarkovic, the Sokoli set up in a 4-5-1 formation, packing up at the back and the middle by sitting deep to deny the opposition any space and look to hit them on the break. Newcastle United’s Martin Dubravka will be the man in goal for Slovakia, shielded by a back four comprising Peter Pekarik, Milan Skriniar, Lubomir Satka and Tomas Hubocan. The full-backs, Pekarik and Hubocan, are unlikely to venture forward at all.
Patrik Hrosovsky will line up as the main holding midfielder for the Slovaks, hoping to keep a lid on Piotr Zielinski’s output. He will be supported by Juraj Kucka and captain Marek Hamsik, who will also have to shoulder the majority of the creative burden for his team.
Ondrej Duda and Robert Mak ought to be the two wide players who will be key for Slovakia when they break on the counter at pace. The duo will look to feed the lone striker, who ought to be 21-year-old Robert Bozenik, who has four goals in 16 games for the national team, with Michal Duris an option from the bench.
Probable Lineup (4-5-1): Dubravka; Pekarik, Skriniar, Satka, Hubocan; Duda, Kucka, Hrosovsky, Hamsik, Mak; Bozenik
- This will be the ninth meeting in total between Poland and Slovakia. Of the previous eight, the former have won three while the latter have picked up four victories (D1).
- Under new manager Paulo Sousa, Poland have failed to win four of their five games (W1 D3 L1). The White and Reds have shipped in at least one goal in all but one game during the Portuguese’s tenure.
- Robert Lewandowski is Poland’s all-time leading goalscorer with 66 goals and has made the most appearances for the national team as well (119). Likewise, for Slovakia, Marek Hamsik tops both charts with 26 goals and 126 caps.
Player in Focus
Robert Lewandowski (Poland)
Who else but the goal-scoring, defence-scaring, record-breaking captain of Poland, Robert Lewandowski. The 32-year-old is coming into the Euros after yet another scintillating season with Bayern Munich, during which he broke all kinds of records on his way to plundering 48 goals in 40 games in all competitions.
However, his record in major competitions in international football does not do justice to his unquestionable quality. Indeed, Lewandowski scored just once in the last two editions of the Euros while he went without a goal in the 2018 FIFA World Cup. That is something that he will be extra motivated to change this summer, meaning Slovakia will need to be on high alert against the 32-year-old forward.
Milan Skriniar (Slovakia)
In order to stop the threat of the Poland skipper, Slovakia will likely look up to star defender Milan Skriniar, who himself is coming on the back of a successful season with Inter Milan, having played an integral role in their Serie A title triumph. Indeed, he was part of the defence that ended the campaign with the least number of goals conceded in the Italian top-flight (35).
The 26-year-old certainly possesses the defensive nous needed to tackle the threat posed by Lewandowski. If he can win the battle against the Bayern Munich superstar, Slovakia could very well be looking at the possibility of a huge win.
Poland 1-0 Slovakia
Poland have been well below their best of late, and matters will only be made worse by the absence of Arkadiusz Milin and Krzysztof Piatek. But with Robert Lewandowski in supreme form, the White and Reds are always within a chance. Throw in Slovakia’s lack of a genuine goal threat at the other end, Paulo Sousa & co. could end up sneaking a narrow win on Monday in St. Petersburg.