Poland’s dependence on Robert Lewandowski is the team’s biggest concern for the European Championship.
The 32-year-old Lewandowski is already the country’s leading scorer with 66 goals in a record 118 appearances, and he just broke the Bundesliga’s 49-year-old record for goals in a season with 41 in 29 appearances for Bayern Munich.
Just over his last 10 games, Lewandowski has scored 17 goals.
Poland coach Paulo Sousa, who was surprisingly appointed to lead the team in January, needs to set up his players to get the best from Lewandowski, while also considering his backup options in case his captain is absent.
Sousa is a former Portugal midfielder going into his first major tournament as a national team coach, and he has already seen what can happen if Lewandowski is missing from the lineup.
The skillful striker injured his knee in Poland’s 3-0 World Cup qualifying win over Andorra on March 28. Without him in the lineup, Poland then lost its next game to England 2-1.
Lewandowski’s absence over the following four weeks arguably hurt Bayern in the Champions League — the No. 9 almost certainly would have converted some of the many chances in the quarterfinal loss to Paris Saint-Germain.
Sousa’s predecessor, Jerzy Brzęczek, was fired after failing to get the best from Poland’s greatest asset. Poland finished with two losses and two draws in a Nations League group with Portugal and Italy, and Brzęczek’s cautious team style was slammed as “frightened” by Polish soccer federation president Zbigniew Boniek.
Adam Nawałka, who had been in charge of the team for five years before stepping down after the 2018 World Cup, had fared better with a system set up to benefit Lewandowski.
Sousa looks to do the same and has already drastically altered Brzęczek’s set up for a more attacking focus, starting with three at the back.
Lewandowski will be supported up front by Arkadiusz Milik, who spent last season at Marseille on loan from Napoli, but Hertha Berlin forward Krzysztof Piątek is out of the tournament with an ankle injury.
Other options in attack include Dawid Kownacki of Fortuna Düsseldorf, Karol Świderski of PAOK Thessaloniki and Jakub Świerczok of Piast Gliwice — a surprise inclusion despite a fine season for the Polish club. None come close to the caliber of Lewandowski, however.
Poland will open against Slovakia in St. Petersburg on June 14 and then take on Spain in Seville on June 19 before returning to Russia to face Sweden four days later. It’s a round trip of more than 7,000 kilometers (nearly 4,500 miles).
Poland has other mainstays in the squad, notably defensive lynchpin Kamil Glik of Benevento and driving midfield force Grzegorz Krychowiak of Lokomotiv Moscow. Glik, now 33, makes up for a lack of pace with anticipation, while Krychowiak — who previously played for Reims, Sevilla and PSG — helps with his experience and positional play.
In goal, however, Sousa faces a dilemma. Regular starter Wojciech Szczęsny is in poor form so West Ham goalkeeper Łukasz Fabiański could take his place.
Regardless of who starts in goal, the bulk of the attention will be on the other end.
Ciarán Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP