Ekstraklasa in Europe: Legia Warszawa – Sporting Lisbon

Thursday sees the return of Polish teams to competitive action following the long Winter Break. First up is Legia Warszawa, who take on Portuguese giants Sporting Lisbon at 7pm local time (6pm UK). Can Legia pick up from where they left off before the break, or will the lack of competitive action catch up with the Legioniści?

Before play paused in December, Legia were a side who were impressing many throughout Poland. Despite losses to Korona Kielce, Podbeskidzie, leaders Śląsk Wrocław, and their massive cross-city rivals Polonia; an eight-game unbeaten run in the league catapulted Legia up into 2nd place in the Ekstraklasa.

Legia were also debunking the myth that Polish clubs can’t compete in both the league and Europe at the same time, qualifying from their Europa League group after just four games!

But after the long, drawn-out winter break, Legia have turned into a selling club; with some of their most gifted players heading out of the door at the Army Stadium. Portuguese midfielder Manú and Israeli counterpart Moshe Ohayon have both left the club; but both were seemingly not in coach Maciej Skorża’s plans, having made just ten appearances between them this season.

The first major loss to the club during the transfer window was midfielder Ariel Borysiuk, as German Bundesliga side Kaiserslautern offered Legia around two-million Euros for the 20 year-old. Borysiuk was a product of Legia’s youth academy, who had made an impressive 82 appearances for the club since breaking into the first-team at 17.

Despite at one point being linked with Everton, another of Legia’s young midfielders – Maciej Rybus – recently signed a 3-and-a-half year deal in Russia with Terek Grozny. Whilst the deal has netted Legia a further 2.7 million Euros, Rybus will not actually move until the Russian transfer deadline day – 24th February – meaning he will be available for both legs against Sporting.

But even with almost 20 million złotys arriving into the Legia bank accounts – bar a couple of teenagers – Legia have failed to bring anyone of note in to replace their outgoing stars. The mooted swoop for Podbeskidzie’s Sylwester Patejuk has so-far failed to materialise, and Legia could be left short of numbers in the middle-of-the-park.

Skorża’s unhappiness at the Legia board for selling his best players, has also been noted. Rumours in the Polish press are that he is even considering getting out of the club if they fail to bring in reinforcements.

The one silver-lining for Legia is their youth academy. Having already brought through the likes of Borysiuk and Rybus, the next generation of stars are slowly beginning to trickle through the filter. At 20-years old, Rafał Wolski is already making his way into the first team, and could get his chance to partner another exciting youth product – Michał Żyro – behind the experienced Serbian striker Daniel Ljuboja during the remainder of the season.

For the tie against Sporting, Legia are likely to be without another midfielder, in the form of Miroslav Radovic, who is out with a rib injury. Both Ivica Vrdoljak and Jakub Kosecki also picked up knocks in pre-season, but could be fit to play.

Legia will likely play a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Dusan Kuciak minding the net. The back four will likely consist of Artur Jędrzejczyk, Michał Żewłaków, Marcin Komorowski and Jakub Wawryzniak; whilst Jakub Rzeźniczak is in line to replace Borysiuk, and could play alongside Vrdoljak if fit. Janusz Gol will sit behind the lone striker Ljuboja, and could possibly be supported by Rybus and Żyro.

Legia will start the tie with the home advantage, and Sporting will not take too kindly to the freezing cold Warsaw temperatures. If Legia can grab an early lead in the first leg, they could be very tough to break down. But with the contrasting surroundings of a white Warsaw and a sun-drenched Lisbon, it has the potential to well-and-truly be a tie of two very different games.

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