For those of you that don't know the Ekstraklasa is the top flight of Polish football. I apologize for the fact that the preview is coming out a few weeks late, I took the chance that the league wasn't going to start on time due to some corruption scandals, but more on that later. As with the Bundesliga & Championship previews I am joined by a special guest in this case, Michal Krakowiak. All of Michal's comments will be in Italics so that you are able to tell them apart. You may also recall that Michal was the winner of the Confederations's Cup pool that I ran.
Before we jump into things here is a little overview of the Ekstaklasa. There are 16 teams in the Polish top flight, with Wisla Cracow last season's Champions. The Champion gets placed in the Champions League Qualifying while teams two and three are placed in Europa League Qualifying. The bottom two teams are relegated. Now that you have some background on the league, let's get right into the big topic in Polish Football, the corruption scandal.
Investigation in the Polish football is under way. Every now and then new players, referees and clubs officials get arrested for corruption that occurred in the past. Jagiellonia Bialystok started the season with 10 negative points as a penalty for corruption. Widzew Lodz who won the 1st division last season were penalized for corruption by relegation to a lower division and as a result they will stay in the 1st division for at least one more season. Thanks to this, Korona Kielce got automatically promoted to Ekstraklasa in favour of Widzew. Another club from Lodz, LKS, who finished 7th in Ekstraklasa last season, got relegated to 1st division due to not getting a license for playing in the highest division in Poland (financial instability). Because of this, last season’s last team in the league, Cracovia Cracow, remained in Ekstraklasa. All this chaos made starting the league on time uncertain. In the end, the league started out, but LKS and Widzew decided to sue the Polish FA for unfair treatment, relegations and loss of income from sponsors and TV…
It sounds to be similar to some of the situations that we have seen in Scotland, England, & Italy. I am glad to see that the league has taken a strong stance against corruption and financial instability as that is a major threat to football worldwide. As a Pompey fan I would fully expect us to be penalized if our takeover falls apart as well. If Leagues don't deal with financial instability strongly then more leagues could end up like Argentina's which has been unable to start. It did look that the start of the season would be delayed but the league pressed on with the scheduled start. So now on with the predictions.
Who will win the league?
Lech Poznan - because the team has matured after last season adventure in the UEFA Cup and although they lost their captain Rafal Murawski, who moved to Rubin Kazan – the Russian champion, Lech managed to kept forwards Robert Lewandowski and Hernan Rengifo, and brilliant central midfielder Semir Stilic on the team. Lech also bought three valuable players: a goalie Grzegorz Kasprzik, a former international - left back Seweryn Gancarczyk and last season 1st division top scorer Krzysztof Chrapek. Having easily won first two matches in the league, and as the only Polish team still playing in Europe, they assured their rivals they will finally go for gold this season.
I am going to go with Wisla Cracow to repeat as Ekstraklasa Champions. They have gotten off to a disastorous start in Europe, by being eliminated by FC Levadia Tallinn of Estonia in the 2nd round of Champions League qualifying. However I think that they will recover from this dissappointment and take advantage of the fact that their main rivals for top spot Lech Pozan will have to play extra matches as they are still involved in the Europa League.
Who are the rest of the top 5?
Wisla Cracow and Legia Warsaw made some good transfers during the summer break. Wisla got three footballers with experience in their national teams: midfielders Lukasz Gargula and Slovenian Andraz Kirm, and right back Pablo Alvarez from Uruguay. If Wisla doesn’t lose their top scorer Pawel Brozek, who’s rumored to be on the wish list of AS Monaco and Hannover 96, they should be the biggest threat to Lech in the race for the championship.
Legia got only one player, forward Marcin Mieciel, who was playing in German Bundesliga’s VfL Bochum, but also released three Spanish players who were a huge disappointment last season and were a heavy burden on the club’s budget.
Polonia Warsaw, GKS Belchatow and Slask Wroclaw will fight for the places behind the podium.
I have Lech Poznan in second spot, in what I feel will be quite a close title race. Legia Warsaw will follow in third to get the last European place, just ahead of their Warsaw neighbours Polonia. Then I have Lechia Gdansk sneaking into fifth spot.
Who will get relegated?
Odra Wodzislaw and Piast Gliwice will be unfortunate and go down to the 1st division.
I agree that Piast Gliwice will take the drop however I think that they will be joined by Arka Gdynia.
Young talents to watch
Great dribbler Patryk Malecki, offensive midfielder from Wisla, should make a debut in the senior national team this season.
Robert Lewandowski and Semir Stilic from Lech Poznan may both get transferred to better leagues in the Winter or after this season. Lech managed to keep them on the team during this transfer window despite solid offers from Borussia Dortmund and Celtic Glasgow. Stilic was also matched with Arsenal London before he moved to Lech.
Adrian Paluchowski and Maciej Rybus from Legia. Paluchowski was supposed to be the fourth striker on his team but turned out to be the best goal scorer in the preseason friendlies and in the beginning of the season. Rybus, left winger, is on his way to the senior national team and soon he should get called up.
Kamil Glik from Piast. This central defender moved to Piast from… Real Madrid. He moved from the C team, and his good form last season caught attention of some top German and Greek clubs. He still plays in Ekstraklasa, but it seems to be only a matter of time when he moves to a bigger club.
Anything Else of Interest?
Franciszek Smuda, last season Lech’s manager, is currently unemployed, but very likely not for long. Polonia Warsaw’s owner Jozef Wojciechowski wants him to take over the managerial position in his club. Smuda also wants to make his dream come true and work as the Poland’s national team manager in case Leo Beenhakker and his team blow it and don’t make it through the World Cup qualifiers.
I am always interested in the transfers that teams make. It will be interesting to see if any of the teams make a move to bring Polish Striker Ebi Smolarek back to Poland. He was released from his contract at Racing Santander after a disappointing season on loan at Bolton. He would be a big boost to any of the teams in the title race.
So there you have it, The Ekstraklasa preview. Thanks to Michal for all of your help. Stay tuned for more Previews. The EPL preview will come out next followed by La Liga & Serie A.