Sebastian Szymanski Tactical Analysis

The Polish first division, or Ekstraklasa as it’s officially known, may not be considered one of the elite leagues in Europe but with the increasing reputation of the Polish national side as well as Legia Warsaw’s forays into the UEFA Champions League, Polish clubs deserve some recognition for their improvements in player development in recent years. Players like Robert Lewandowski, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Arkadiusz Milik all cut their teeth in the Ekstraklasa before moving on to the big leagues in European football, making the league an exciting place to observe young talent. None more eye-catching at the moment than Legia Warsaw’s Sebastian Szymanski.

The 19 year old attacking midfielder has not taken long to establish himself as an important player in Legia Warsaw’s first team as a chief playmaker. Having also made the Polish World Cup preliminary 35-man squad it won’t be long before Szymanski is a regular for the Polish national side as well as being touted as a possible transfer to Europe’s elite leagues. But what is it that makes the 19 year old from Biala Podlaska so special? We take a closer look.

Creative Hub

Young footballers can often be thrown around in many positions, filling gaps where their team needs them but only the best are utilised so widely because of their enviable talent. Whether as an attacking midfielder, a central controlling player or playing in a wide role, Sebastian Szymanski provides the goods for his team in the form of goals and assists. His track record of doing so from different positions is an indicator of both Szymanski’s quality and maturity.

Sebastian Szymanski Tactical Analysis
Szymanski’s average position map above shows the amount of different positions he’s played in, versatility can be key to a breakthrough for young players.

Quality is obvious in technical ability but knowing how to pass and shoot is no use without the when and why, this is where maturity can be a huge asset for a young player. Luckily for Szymanski he has vision and timing above most his age.

Sebastian Szymanski Tactical Analysis
Playing between the opposition’s line of midfield and attack, Szymanski shows himself in space to receive, all the while keeping his head up to know where every player is in relation to the ball. He is taking the creative responsibility here, not hiding and waiting for other, older players to take charge.
Sebastian Szymanski Tactical Analysis
Noticing the space the opposition have left to their right hand side and the subsequent run into that space made by his teammate, all before the ball has reached him, Szymanski needs no more than 1 touch to send his forward runner through on goal to score. The vision to see the run and the timing and technique needed for the pass have cut apart the opposition in 1 touch of the ball by Szymanski.

The most accurate way of figuring out who is a team’s best player isn’t always who is scoring the goals or who looks most skilful and flashy in possession, rather the best player is typically the one who is trusted most by their teammates to pass to. Watch Barcelona and all of their players look for Lionel Messi in possession, not just because he is their best goal scorer but because his qualities make him the team’s creative hub. Watching Legia Warsaw, Sebastian Szymanski is a player trusted more than most by his teammates, when he’s available they pass to him. This says a whole lot more about the 19 year old than any stats can. It’s Szymanski’s end product though that has helped create this trust, the 19 year old can be deadly with the ball at his feet and his head on a swivel.

Sebastian Szymanski Tactical Analysis
Szymanski has gotten himself into space beyond the opponent’s midfield and he receives the ball in the left channel in a 2v2 situation. With much of the field still to cover, timing and decision making here will be crucial.
Sebastian Szymanski Tactical Analysis
Szymanski pushes forward to evade the recovering midfielders, his forward teammate is marked closely by a defender and Szymanski slows down his marker so he can make his next decision, does he dribble his way past into the white space beyond his marker? Or does he keep the ball close in the hopes of a better option emerging?
Sebastian Szymanski Tactical Analysis
Many a young player would get excited in such a situation and perhaps run at the back-line or just shoot from distance. But Szymanski’s maturity is on full display here as he holds possession just long enough for a better option to emerge in the form of his forward running teammate, Szymanski times the pass well to his colleague who takes the ball into the box before finishing smartly.

Goal Scorer

While playmaker may be his chief role for his team, Szymanski has the ability to knock a few past the keeper himself when in position, an important trait for an aspiring young attacking midfielder. Whether it be set-pieces, long range shots or even headed goals, Szymanski has got the lot in his locker which makes him not only a very exciting young prospect but a very versatile footballer.

Sebastian Szymanski Tactical Analysis
The opposition defence are back in numbers and have crowded out the Legia player in possession. The offload to Szymanski who hangs around in space outside the box is made and noticing a large space just 20 yards out from goal, Szymanski lets the ball run past him, taking his marker with him.
Sebastian Szymanski Tactical Analysis
But with a quick touch back to his left, Szymanski has sent the defender the wrong direction and created a bit of space from which to shoot, if he can do it quickly.
Sebastian Szymanski Tactical Analysis
But with technique in abundance, Szymanski fires off an unstoppable shot across the goalkeeper and into the far bottom corner, creating a goal from almost nothing.

Headed goals aren’t something you expect from a 5’7” creative midfield player who spends most of his time delivering crosses and aerial passes for a teammate to head, yet the proof exists as you’ll see below that Szymanski can finish with his head to add to his goal scoring arsenal which already includes powerful long range shots and clever free-kicks. The ability to score from open play gives Szymanski the ability to play as a second striker, playing-off of a number 9 and making late runs into space around the penalty area.

Sebastian Szymanski Tactical Analysis
As an attacking midfielder should, Szymanski has positioned himself between the opposition’s midfield and defence. His #9 teammate is occupying the near centre-back and the left winger is being watched by the opposition’s right-back, leaving a gap in the defence if Szymanski can time his run correctly.
Sebastian Szymanski Tactical Analysis
Timing his late run well and attacking the space between the opponent’s centre-back and right-back, Szymanski’s teammate delivers a superb cross onto Szymanski’s head and the Polish youngster loops his header into the bottom left corner.

Set-Pieces

Not many 19 year old players would be entrusted with free-kick and corner-kick duties for a senior team but having established himself as a more than capable taker of both aforementioned set-pieces, Szymanski’s superb talent for such situations are evident in almost every appearance he makes.

Sebastian Szymanski Tactical Analysis
As it is a very tough angle to score from directly, situations like this are often treated like corner-kicks, just send a good ball across the box and see who can get something on it. But Szymanski has different ideas.
Sebastian Szymanski Tactical Analysis
He whips the ball around the wall and toward the far bottom corner of the net, sending the ball through what little space there is between the goalkeeper and his defenders, hoping to confuse both as to how to deal with it. The plan works and Szymanski has his goal.

Szymanski has a favouring for hitting free-kicks toward the far post, often bouncing off the ground along its way. That might seem counterproductive and favourable for the opposition’s goalkeeper but if it’s done correctly this type of free-kick is hated by goalkeepers. The reason being that it causes so much confusion, the goalkeeper doesn’t know whether to come out and claim the ball, wait for it on his line or let his defence deal with it. This technique again displays Szymanski’s vision and maturity.

Sebastian Szymanski Tactical Analysis
A standard free-kick setup in which the Ajax defence sets their defensive line along the penalty area. There isn’t much space beyond that defensive line for Szymanski to hit but he has plenty of teammates to attack the cross.
Sebastian Szymanski Tactical Analysis
His captain has come up for the corner and although starting in an offside position, he makes a clever out-and-in movement to get in front of his marker before guiding the swiftly travelling ball perfectly into the far corner. This situation leaves a goalkeeper stranded with no chance of knowing the ball’s trajectory until it’s too late.

Team Player

Szymanski isn’t the type to stand with hands on hips while his side are out of position, an accusation often made about players of his ilk. There is plenty of evidence that Szymanski loves a tackle and is always willing to dig-in for his team to win the ball back.

Sebastian Szymanski Tactical Analysis
Legia have just lost possession in the final third and Sporting Lisbon look to counter quickly. Not one to stand around, Szymanski works hard to track back and protect his defence.
Sebastian Szymanski Tactical Analysis
Not afraid of a physical interaction, Szymanski slide tackles the Sporting midfielder before moving back into the space beyond Sporting’s midfield, looking to receive in space.

The 19 year old isn’t selfish in possession either, always playing with his head up to pick out the best option in attack. This team-first mentality is another sign of maturity in the young midfielder and sets him apart from many players his age.

Sebastian Szymanski Tactical Analysis
Not fancying himself in an aerial dual, Szymanski moves behind the defender as the forward ball drops. The defender makes a mistake in letting it drop and Szymanski pounces, taking it down and looking to dribble around the same defender.
Sebastian Szymanski Tactical Analysis
He twists and turns the centre-back and leaves him on the floor as he advances into a scoring position, a 2v1 situation has emerged.
Sebastian Szymanski Tactical Analysis
As the goalkeeper and remaining centre-back close him down in the expectation of a shot, Szymanski keeps his head and is aware of all his options. He disguises a pass to his right as a shot which buys his teammate that extra second to stroke the ball home into an almost empty net.

These attributes and traits make Szymanski a dream to play with, something usually said about cultured, mature footballers who are in their prime or latter years as a professional. For it to be so obvious in a 19 year old is rare indeed and may elevate Szymanski’s profile above most of his generation when scouts of the biggest and best of Europe come looking for Ekstraklasa’s best young talent.

Conclusion

Watching Sebastian Szymanski, it’s hard to believe he’s only 19. His maturity is evident in both the way he works for his team and by the fact that his teammates trust him to dictate the team’s attacking phases. He plays with a tenacity and directness that makes him very exciting to watch and is a player that fans of most teams across Europe would be more than happy to see at their club.

Legia Warsaw have not qualified for the Champions League for the 2018/19 season but Szymanski’s talents are likely to be on display in the Ekstraklasa as well as in the Europa League, not to mention possibly Polish international games as they look to rebuild after a disappointing World Cup appearance this summer. The young lad looks well worth the watch.