Poland vs. England: 6 Key Battles to Watch in World Cup Qualifier
England and Poland will square off on Tuesday in a crucial World Cup qualifier for both sides.
The former should have some confidence after putting San Marino to the sword in midweek, and on paper, the Three Lions are the superior side heading into Warsaw.
But they will be without the injured Theo Walcott, and Poland are a much better team than many give them credit for. They barely play any matches, but there are several players in their squad that can really sneak up on you.
This match will come down to a few major battles between key players on each side of the ball. Let's examine a few.
Lukasz Piszczek vs. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain picked up his first goal for England at the age of 19 against San Marino, continuing a great patch of form for club and country.
Tasked with stopping him on the left flank will be Poland's right back Lukasz Piszczek, who has proven to be one of the best in the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund.
One of the real undroppables in Poland's squad, Piszczek can really make it tough for opposing wingers when he's on his game, and he will need to be versus the continuous movement and dribbling of Oxlade-Chamberlain.
These two should have a spirited contest for as long as each is on the pitch.
Tom Cleverley vs. Eugen Polanski
We have seen Tom Cleverley's recent steady progression from promising youngster to a footballer who is really beginning to understand the nuances of the game.
For Manchester United and England, his midfield play has been exceptional, but he will be tested by the more seasoned Eugen Polanski in front of Poland's back four.
While not a wily old veteran, Polanski is 26 and has more experience at the club level than Cleverley does. Much of the Pole's task will be stifling one of England's main creative outlets, and he will know that successfully doing so will be a major boost to Poland.
Wayne Rooney vs. Marcin Wasliewski
I had to include one battle that involved England's de-facto captain Wayne Rooney, whose main marker in Warsaw will be Poland's de-facto captain Marcin Wasilewski.
Wasilewski, taking the armband for Jakub Blaszczykowski, is the most senior player in Poland's team and will no doubt organize the back four, trying to prevent England's main goalscoring threat from having a go at Przemyslaw Tyton.
Rooney, though, will probably not be deterred. Even the best center-backs in the Premier League cannot figure out a way to stop him these days, and it will be tremendously difficult for Wasilewski to come up with a way to neutralize Rooney's many strengths.
Ludovic Obraniak vs. Michael Carrick
Poland will probably not produce a whole lot going forward, but what they do will likely be produced by the feet of Ludovic Obraniak.
He has gotten off to a flying start with new club Bordeaux, scoring six goals in 19 Ligue 1 matches this season and orchestrating many of Les Girondins' attacks.
For his country, Obraniak plays a similarly pivotal role, and Michael Carrick will be tasked with denying him space in which to work. Carrick can probably give him a little more time than he usually might, because it will take time for enough Polish players to get forward and make an attack worthwhile.
If Obraniak can pull off a little bit of magic even once, it might be enough to see Poland through.
Adrian Mierzejewski vs. Ashley Cole
In place of Jakub Blaszczkowski, Adrian Mierzejewski will probably get the nod on the right wing, bringing valuable international experience into the side.
Unfortunately, he will be up against a man who is about to reach the 100-cap plateau for England in Ashley Cole, who will be nearly impossible to get the better of if he can stay focused for 90 minutes.
While he's no Blaszczkowski, Mierzejewski can still be a productive winger who supplies his teammates with the quality passes they need to sustain attacks. Robert Lewandowski, in particular, will benefit if he can deliver a solid performance.
Robert Lewandowski vs. Joe Hart
This little battle has been brewing for days, with each party taking a jab at the other.
Lewandowski has said that Hart got more than a little help when the two faced off in the Champions League (via the Daily Mail), and Hart hopes to replicate his incredible performance during the same match that ended in a draw (via the Telegraph).
Poland will need to win this battle if they want to have any chance of winning. Robert Lewandowski must be at his absolute best and find a hole in England's defence and either side of Joe Hart to grab a result for his country.
Thankfully for Hart, he will be helped by a very good, well-rounded defence that will reduce the amount of saves he will have to make. And, of course, being one of the most talented goalkeepers in the world doesn't hurt either.