Jakub Piotr Kiwior is a 22-year-old Polish centre-back who has spent time in Anderlecht’s youth system, a breeding ground from which the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Vincent Kompany have been produced in the past. During the 2021/22 season, Kiwior earned his first move to the big leagues, moving from MŠK Žilina to Spezia for a fee of €2.2 million. Then-manager Thiago Motta, bought Kiwior to stabilise their midfield and gave him 21 starts in what was his first season in the Serie A.
The performances in the second half of the season earned the attention of some of the big clubs around Europe, with AC Milan, AS Roma and West Ham United all being linked with attempts to purchase the young central defender. Furthermore, Kiwior’s performances earned him a call-up to the Polish national squad for their UEFA Nations League games against the Netherlands and Belgium. It is believed that Kiwior has rejected the opportunity of playing for bigger clubs and getting bigger wages for the opportunity of playing time at Spezia, in order to give himself the best chance of going to the World Cup with Poland.
This tactical analysis will come in the form of a scout report to show exactly what’s made Jakub Kiwior stand out in a poor Spezia side. The analysis will highlight the characteristics and skills Kiwior possesses to make him so strong defensively and the tactics that should be used to make the most of his biggest strengths. The young centre-back has some limitations, but the right fit can allow the player to thrive in certain conditions at a high level around Europe.
Jakub Kiwior is a tall, young defensive-minded player. At 189 cm tall, Kiwior has a large frame and long legs which he can use to his advantage to reach further away from him to dispossess opponents.
During the 2021/22 season, Kiwior spent the majority of the season as a left-sided defensive midfielder, tasked with the job of protecting the left-hand side of Spezia’s defence. The heat map below shows how although playing as a midfielder, Kiwior spent most of his time just outside of his own box.
At the start of the current season, Kiwior has spent more time in a deeper role, at the centre of a back three. The player’s slightly less mobile frame means it is more preferable for him to play deeper, where less ground has to be covered and can allow other more aggressive defenders to jump up out of position and attempt to win the ball back.
Breakdown of Kiwior’s defending abilities
Jakub Kiwior is a defensive soldier, who battles hard and is a tough tackler. Arguably, the strongest aspect of his game is his ability to consistently win defensive duels. Kiwior can reliably engage in duels with opposition attackers and win the ball back, while he can use his long legs to cover more distance, as well as the possibility of reaching around an opponent to whom he’s got touch-tight. The image below shows Brahim Diaz protecting the ball from the Polish defender, with the 22-year-old having the ability to wrap his leg around Diaz and win the ball back.
Whilst Kiwior is a strong tackler, he can struggle to get close to an opponent at times if they are too quick and agile for him. The player doesn’t have a low centre of gravity when defending, which causes his agility and balance to be quite weak.
As a result, he will struggle to delay his opponents when in 1v1 isolated scenarios in wide areas. It is too easy for attackers to unbalance Kiwior, which is a nightmare in wide areas where the player has a lot of ground to cover.
In tight areas, Kiwior is excellent at winning duels, however, in open spaces, he can’t even engage in those duels as opponents can stay at a distance and put the defender on the back foot. This image below perfectly shows Kiwior’s inability to turn quickly which allows the opponent to pretend to go one way, before quickly turning away and having a shot on goal.
Jakub Kiwior also has a great ability to position himself in the right place to sniff out dangerous situations. He has shown his great awareness of danger when he has played in both centre-back and defensive midfield roles.
Although only 22, it seems as if Kiwior has a good understanding of the game and understands the right defensive areas to prioritise, especially when the ball is in transition. In the game against Belgium, Kiwior demonstrates his ability to read danger by ‘attacking’ his own box quicker than the Belgian attacker when he sees Kevin De Bruyne about to whip the ball across the face of the goal.
Another skill which further demonstrates Kiwior’s good defensive awareness is his ability to anticipate passes and intercept them. When Kiwior plays in a midfield role, his job is different and he is tactically flexible to understand the different needs of the role. The Pole can adjust the way he plays to suit the requirements.
In a midfield role, Kiwior has to be more proactive and prevent passes from reaching opponents more often than he would if he played as a central defender. The image below shows Kiwior’s vision to see an unmarked opponent and move across into the path of the pass to intercept it.
In the middle of the back three, he has to allow other defenders to win the ball back while covering to fill in the gaps. On the other hand, in a midfield role, he has to be the one intercepting those passes. Kiwior has shown his ability to do both these parts of the game well.
Kiwior has shown his ability to use his frame and body orientation to position himself well when defending the box deep and coming up against sustained pressure where crosses and attacks consistently come.
The Spezia man places himself in a position where he is close enough to stop the opponent from getting onto the end of a cross while also covering enough space behind him to prevent opponents from sneaking in behind him. Kiwior is reliable and commanding in his own box, with the ability to lead his back line in terms of holding the defensive line and having the trust of his own team to clear the ball away from danger.
Another aspect of Kiwior’s ability to defend the box so well is his superior ability in aerial duels to win headers often and dominate them so well. The Pole uses his height, combined with his ability to jump higher and earlier to ‘float’ in the air for a few seconds which allows him to win headers more often than not. In the image below, it is clear to see that Kiwior jumps so early and gets over the opponent so well that they can’t even get off the floor to contest the aerial duel.
One final aspect of what makes Kiwior such a strong defender is his ability to make recovery tackles when necessary. Jakub Kiwior uses his long legs to help with recovery challenges which can help him cover large distances. The image underneath displays Kiwior’s ability to come across to the other side of the pitch and make up for his midfield partner’s error by sliding across and making a last-ditch tackle.
All of these skills in defending make Kiwior someone who is wanted by many teams, especially ones that prefer to defend deeper and are happy with crosses coming in from deep. The likes of Kiwior are perfectly happy with direct balls coming in, and a team like West Ham or Roma who do defend deeper would perfectly suit the young Pole.
On ball style
At Spezia, it hasn’t been easy for Kiwior to display or have the opportunity to improve his ability on the ball. They have often been playing a more direct style of football which bypasses Kiwior and the midfield line to avoid the risk of losing the ball. When Kiwior has received the ball in deeper areas, he has shown his ability to make progressive passes into the midfield line just like in the image below.
One underrated aspect of Kiwior’s game is his quarterback-like long balls from deep. The centre-back has shown his ability to play cross-field diagonal balls into open spaces for his teammates to run onto.
Kiwior has an excellent ability to strike through the ball which allows him to make the long balls frequently and over very large distances. This ability to strike through the ball also applies to shooting opportunities, although these have been rarely ever come by when playing for Spezia. In the image below, Kiwior has completed a 60-70 yard ball over the top which went perfectly into the path of his teammate.
One problem which Kiwior has with the ball, and which will prevent him from playing for a top possession-based side, is his inability to deal with pressure. Kiwior can be quite stiff on the ball, so he can’t beat anyone, or manipulate the ball to open up a better passing angle. This forces the centre-back to either release the ball quickly when he has space or to simply clear the ball and give it to his opponents.
Kiwior hasn’t been playing for a side that wants possession, so it’s yet to be seen whether he is capable of first-time passes to his teammates under pressure, but teams will definitely try to force Kiwior to have the ball with his back to goal, with his inability to turn quickly enough.
This analysis has showcased just how strong of a defender Jakub Kiwior can become, although there are some clear deficiencies which will prevent him from reaching the top level. Nevertheless, Kiwior is an excellent defender and the likes of West Ham and Roma would greatly benefit from the strong defensive presence he could provide, while the Polish national team will also be stronger as a result of his style, especially with international football being played at a slightly slower pace, with less pressure on the ball.
The Spezia man is still only 22, so he has plenty of time to reach his prime, especially with defenders typically reaching their prime slightly later on. His defensive intelligence has the potential of becoming even better as he ages to mask his lack of agility and turning radius both with and without the ball.