Analysis-Soccer-Poland must solve Lewandowski puzzle

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - World Cup Qualifiers Europe - Poland training - Legia Stadium, Warsaw, Poland - March 27, 2021 Poland's Robert Lewandowski during training REUTERS/Aleksandra Szmigiel/File Photo

ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - Robert Lewandowski was Europe's most lethal striker last season but Poland failed to get their talisman firing on all cylinders in Monday's 2-1 defeat by Slovakia in their European Championship opener.

The 32-year-old is his country's leading scorer with 66 goals and came into the tournament having helped Bayern Munich win a ninth straight league title with 41 goals to break Gerd Mueller's 49-year-old Bundesliga scoring record for a single campaign.

Lewandowski has only scored two goals at three major tournaments combined, however, and coach Paulo Sousa is still working out how to get the best out of his prize asset.

The striker cut a frustrated figure at the tip of Poland's unfamiliar 4-3-2-1 formation against Slovakia, as he was starved of the service he is used to at Bayern.

Despite dropping deeper to get involved, he touched the ball only 22 times in the first half, fewer than any other Poland outfield player, as Slovakia grabbed the lead in the 18th minute from an own goal by goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.

"From one point of view, it would have been good to have had more passes, more opportunities," Lewandowski, who had three attempts blocked and two off target, said.

"But from the other, I also must adjust to the situation. These are Euro finals, you will not have so many chances. I am aware of that."

Sousa tweaked his tactics as Poland showed more intensity to equalise through Karol Linetty shortly after the break, but Grzegorz Krychowiak's red card in the 62nd minute meant they struggled for the rest of the game.

Slovakia's Milan Skriniar scored the winner to extend Poland's dismal record in opening games at major tournaments to one win in their last 10.

With Poland sure to rely just as heavily on Lewandowski in their matches against Spain and Sweden, their hopes will rest on Sousa finding a system that better suits their top player.

At Bayern, Lewandowski enjoys a superb connection with his attacking team mates and looked like he could have done with the services of a partner like Thomas Mueller alongside him.

But Sousa is without two of his leading forwards in Arkadiusz Milik and Krzysztof Piatek, who are injured, and the Portuguese said his team need to be braver ahead of the clash with Spain on Saturday.

"The idea was to be the protagonists with the ball and create chances, and we did that. We could do better. We need to be better and show more courage, especially in our back line," Sousa said.

"It's not only the Poles who are disappointed. I'm disappointed – the whole squad is disappointed – because we cannot lose the game in this way."

(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru, editing by Ed Osmond)

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