When the Ekstraklasa fixture list is announced at the start of the season, the tie between Legia Warszawa and Wisła Kraków is amongst the first games which many fans look for. With the intense rivalry – not only between the two clubs, but the two cities in general – the “Derby Polska” has become one of the most enthralling, and fiercely-contested “derby” games in Poland, despite there being almost three-hundred kilometres separating the the sides. With that in mind, all eyes will be on Ulica Łazienkowska on Friday evening as the two sides meet in the Ekstraklasa.
Whilst the two sides are two off the most successful in recent Polish football history, both are currently going through their fair share of problems both on and off the pitch. Whilst Wisła won the championship in 2011, their performances last season left a lot to be desired. The Biała Gwiazda’s patchy form has carried onto this season too, causing the Ekstraklasa’s fourth managerial casualty of the season so-far.
Despite winning three of the last five Polish Cup competitions, Legia have had to wait a little longer for the all-important League title to head back to the capital. With two runners-up medals and two third-place finishes since their last victory in 2006, pressure is at an all-time high in the Legia camp to deliver that elusive ninth title. But they only have their selves to blame – leading the way last season, a capitulation in form allowed an under-performing Śląsk Wrocław side to pip them at the post.
Having lost their 100% record with a 2-2 draw at Górnik Zabrze three weeks ago, Legia fans went on to see their side held in both the Warsaw derby a fortnight ago, and then away at lowly Zagłębie Lubin last week. Dropping six points in three games has so-far seen Legia unable to overtake leaders Widzew Łódź, however they do remain one of only two unbeaten sides in the league, and are still hot favourites to lift the trophy at the end of the season.
On the other hand, Wisła are currently going through a torrid spell, picking up just seven points from their six games so far. With their only victories coming against a slow-starting Lechia Gdańsk and bottom-of-the-table GKS Bełchatów, Wisła have lost games against both promoted clubs, and also dropped points at struggling Podbeskidzie. Following the club’s 2-0 away loss to Piast Gliwice last week, coach Michał Probierz promptly handed in his resignation before the team bus had even left Górny Śląsk. His replacement, Wisła’s Młoda Ekstraklasa trainer Tomasz Kulawik, was announced in the week.
Even with money problems becoming more and more common across Poland, it’s almost surreal to imagine the country’s footballing powerhouses struggling financially – however that is exactly what is happening at the moment.
Even though both clubs managed to power through to the Europa League knock-out rounds last term, neither stand a chance of repeating the feat this season. Wisła’s seventh-placed finish saw them end up nine points off of the European spots last season; and whilst Legia did manage to snap up a spot in the Europa League qualifying rounds, they were beaten 3-2 in the Play-off round against Norwegian side Rosenborg. This loss had massive effects on Legia, as their budget for the season had been based on them reaching the group stages of the competition.
Legia’s European adventures proved to be even more costly for the club, due to the actions of a number of the Wojskowi’s fans. After crowd trouble in both legs of their 2nd Qualifying Round tie against Latvia’s Liepajas Metalurgs, the club were fined a total of €25,000; whilst the away leg against Austrian side SV Ried saw the club fined a further €3,000. Earlier this week, UEFA also issued a further €35,000 penalty to the club for the fans’ actions in the second leg against Ried – bringing the total to €63,000!
The club has also yet to be punished for the actions of the travelling “support” during the play-off game against Rosenborg, where fans set fire to seats inside the stadium. With the fine total expected to surpass the €100,000 mark – just for their Europa League ties – it is of no wonder why the club is in so much financial trouble.
Whilst Legia’s problems appear to be having a massive effect on the club, they aren’t short of their own problems down in Kraków. With no European competition and a half-empty stadium, holes have begun to appear in the Wisła budget too. Over the last few months, there have been reports of the club not being able to play their players’ wages, undoubtedly causing unhappiness within the squad.
The financial problems also played a huge part in deciding who replaced Probierz in the Wisła dug-out for the rest of the season. With former Poland boss Franciszek Smuda touted as a possible replacement for weeks, and the availability of fairly big names including Orest Lenczyk, Piotr Nowak and Czesław Michniewicz, the clubs owners opted for Kulawik – a cheaper alternative – on a short-term deal.
Both sides are facing a few injury problems ahead of the 151st Derby Polska, with the home side slightly worse off. Young midfielder Rafał Wolski – still yet to make an appearance for Legia this season – continues his spell on the sidelines after picking up an injury during the summer. He is joined by former Southampton star Marek Saganowski – one of the club’s leading performers this term. During the last week, the four-goal striker underwent a routine medical test where evidence of a heart abnormality was detected. The 33-year old – recently called into the Poland national squad to face England – will be unable to train whilst further tests are conducted, and his space in the national squad will likely go to Górnik’s Arkadiusz Milik. However Legia can count on the return of midfielder Ivica Vrdoljak, who has recovered from a knee injury.
Wisła are also likely to have a couple of injury worries ahead of the game, with club captain Radosław Sobolewski still suffering from a knee injury of his own, and defender Łukasz Burliga also out. As well as their injuries, the visitors will also be without Honduran striker Romell Quioto, who is serving the fourth-game of his ban following a straight red card against Polonia Warszawa.
One of the main problems for new coach Kulawik to address will be Wisła’s leaky defence. One of the first issues he may be keen to address will be in between the sticks, as Estonian stopper Sergei Pareiko has made a number of key mistakes over the last few weeks. However, the game against Legia may not be the ideal situation to throw young Michał Miskiewicz in.
Over the last few games we have also seen shaky performances from the White Star’s back-line – notably the performances of experienced centre-backs Arkadiusz Głowacki and Osman Chavez during their 3-1 home loss to Polonia.
Without their 4-goal striker Saganowski, Legia will have one out-and-out striker in the form of Daniel Ljuboja – however his only goal in September came from the penalty spot in the Warsaw derby. One positive though for the home side is that they have a number of attacking midfielders who have chipped in over the last few games. Both Michał Żyro and Dominik Furman have hit two goals this season, whilst Miroslav Radovic, Jorge Salinas and Michał Kucharczyk have also struck in recent games.
Legia will also not be able to rely on their fanatical support from the Żylecie (North Stand), after half of it was closed following the recent troubles. With many of the fans boycotting the fixture, Legia will not only see a half-empty stand for one of the most-important games of the season, but they will also be without the massive tifo displays, for which the club is renowned.
Kuciak – Rzeźniczak, Jędrzejczyk, Astiz, Wawrzyniak – Kosecki, Furman, Vrdoljak, Salinas – Radović – Ljuboja
Pareiko – Jovanović, Głowacki, Czekaj, Frederiksen – Szewczyk, Wilk, Jaliens, Melikson – Boguski, Genkov
Legia Win: 51
Wisła Win: 58
Last Six Meetings
30/03/12: Wisła 0-0 Legia
02/10/11: Legia 2-0 Wisła
21/05/11: Legia 2-0 Wisła
12/11/10: Wisła 4-0 Legia
08/05/10: Legia 0-3 Wisła
06/11/09: Wisła 0-1 Legia
The 151st meeting between Legia Warszawa and Wisła Kraków takes place on Friday 5th October at 20:45 CET (19:45 GMT).