21 lip 2010
Through... but only
Lech Poznań, Polish league champion, needed two games, extra time and eleven series of penalties to beat in second qualifying round champions of Azerbaijan, Inter Baku. Polish side even won away, and was five minutes from advancing after draw but some pathetic defending proved costly as newly introduced, Karlsons got his goal.
MATCH. Lech dominated the game in the first half but their finishing was terrible and several chances went begging after Wichniarek and Arboleda shoots were saved. The visitors had no idea how to attack but only to send long balls and count on mistakes in Lech defence. They had to wait for it almost 84 minutes but when it happened, it was a series of mistakes. Left side of Lech wasn't covered enough, whole team backed down to their own box, cross was poor but nobody cleared it out, unmarked Zlatinov shoot was saved but Karlsons had no problem with finishing it to open goal.
Extra-time was pretty much of deep defending from visitors, and Lech even created some half-chances but when manager Zielinski subbed Wichniarek for Kiełb, there was no classic finisher to find the net and save disappointed fans a penalty shoot-out. Eleven series of penalties were needed, and the keepers were heroes. Lomaia saved two, but Kotorowski saved one more, when visitors keeper tried to beat him, and Lech will play with Sparta Praga in next round.
TACTICS. Zielinski took some lessons from last international season and changed the tactics to 4-2-3-1. The only problem is, for this game he did not have a single defensive midfielder. The attacking four was pretty creative, rotating for most of the game. Especially the striker, Wichniarek, was tracking back, making space for incoming Stilić, but more to the right side to play small games with right winger Peszko. Stilić tried to do the same thing with left winger, Kriviets but it was less effective as Peszko was used much often.
The problem with defence was that every player was too nervous, pressing was pathetic, nobody really attacked the ball and rivals. Too much space was given, especially when attacking line wasn't coming back to help. The distance between both defensive midfielders (Djurdević and Injac) was too big, luckily Baku players weren't good enough to take advantage of it. Moving without the ball from left to right (and right to left) was done too slow by Lech, and often full backs were exposed to defend on two rivals. On the board You can see how players moved, and which areas were most exposed by mistakes in defending.
MUCH MORE THAN A SIMPLE GAME How much important was that game for Lech Poznan and Polish football? Lech won championship last season and was vowed a team both, effective and attractive, and first club for few years that chances in qualifying to the Champions League weren't that slim. In Poznan they knew that playing even in group stage would put their club miles ahead (financially and in football terms) other teams from Ekstraklasa. Just month before opening their new stadium, Lech needs a success to fill 43,000 seats with season-tickets holders and single ones buyers. Definitely, playing in Champions League, would play part in bringing the club to another level.
And for Polish football? After few years of spectaculars disasters in qualifying stages of Champions League we breathe for a success like this and many teams would need to step up with their football not to make Lech a one and only power in the league. It could bring sponsors to other teams and increase attendance rapidly, as not only Lech is opening new arena for his team. Not to mention boost for the national team and its coach, Franciszek Smuda, just before Euro 2012 hosted by Poland and Ukraine.
But we should not get over-excited. Lech played really poor for most of the tie and should count themselves lucky to still be in Champions League. There are many things that needs to be improved, especially in terms of playing like a team, attacking and defending like one, and in players mentality, minimalism in their head. Much to do, and it doesn't get easier in another round as Sparta Praha awaits. First leg is an away trip for Lech and they will be strengthen by another striker, Tshibamba, bought from Arka Gdynia few days ago, and Bandrowski, coming back from suspension - the much needed help at defensive midfielder position.
Good luck to them, but nobody should be happy in Poznan, knowing how much needs to be done.