Tomorrow night all eyes will be on Legia Warsaw as they aim to be the first Polish team in 17 years to make it to the group stages of the Champions League. Their opponents will be the Romanian champions Steaua Bucharest who performed so impressively in the Europa League last season. In last week’s first leg Steaua controlled the first half taking a 1-0 lead. After half-time Legia’s performance improved considerably with Jakub Kosecki giving them a possibly crucial away goal and a 1-1 draw.
So what can we expect from tomorrow? Ekstraklasa review talked to Tristan Trasca, an expert in Romanian and Balkans football, for his opinion on Steaua and which side will progress to the holy grail of the Champions League:
Ekstraklasa Review (ER): Which players should Legia watch out for?
Tristan Trasca (TT): Steaua are strongest on their left-flank, with Iasmin Latovlevici (Lato) and Cristian Tănase. Lato isn’t a very good defender (as you might have seen with Legia’s goal) but he has great qualities in attack and provides excellent support for the very talented Tanase. Central midfielder AlexandruBourceanu is the beating heart of the team, he does most of its pressing and regulates the pace of Steaua’s game. On a good day, the right winger Adrian Popa can beat any left defender with his speed but he’s not been at his best at the start of this season. Federico Piovacarri is the new n°9 of the team. Even though he still hasn’t convinced everybody in Romania, he’s already bagged a few goals.
ER: What can you tell us about centre-back Vlad Chiricheș who’s just about to move to Tottenham Hotspur?
TT: He’s a very classy defender. He’s a very intelligent player, with great anticipation, composure and leadership skills. Technically, he is more like a n°10 than a central defender and he really helps Steaua build from the back. He only has one real weakness, strength. That’s why I think he’d fit in better in Spain, Germany and Italy than in England. He was excellent in last season’s Europa League, especially against Ajax and Chelsea. I think that’s why Spurs want him so much. He is only 23 and one of the most promising central defenders in Europe.
ER: What style of play are Steaua famous for?
TT: Steaua likes to dominate its opponents. As you saw during the first half in Bucharest, Steaua likes to play a strong pressing game, trying to keep keep the other team as high as possible on the pitch. Steaua mostly attacks on the flanks where the two wingers are very important. Steaua plays a short passing game and tries to play at a pace in order to exhaust the other team physically.
ER: Do you think they will change their style of play in Warsaw?
TT: I don’t think Steaua can and will change its style for the second leg. This team is almost the same as last year’s and it’s used to playing this way. The absence of Mihai Pintilii (suspended) will be a big drawback but he will be replaced by Chiriches or Lucian Filip in the midfield and Steaua will try to play their usual style in order to dictate the pace of the game.
ER: How do you see the second leg going?
TT: I think Legia will try to push Steaua at the beginning of the game with the help of their fans. If Steaua manages to overcome these first 20-25 minutes, Legia might be in a difficult situation, not knowing whether to attack or to defend its away goal advantage. The experience of Steaua’s players as a team should be very useful in this game. Steaua need to be very careful with the counter-attacks and speed of Legia’s players.
ER: What is your prediction for the second leg?
TT: Even though Legia played well in the second half in Bucharest, I still see Steaua as a better team. It will be a tricky game and very tight but I think Steaua can qualify with a 2-1 win in Warsaw. I hope Chiricheswill be fit and able to play in order to light up the game – his last with Steaua.
ER: How important is the game for Steaua and Romanian football?
TT: Steaua’s squad led by Laurențiu Reghecampf is seen as the best team of recent years in Romania and it would be very worrying for the country if it doesn’t qualify for the Champions League group stage. Moreover, the poor results of Romanian clubs in the Europa League puts even more pressure on Steaua which is seen as the only team that can represent Romania well on the European scene.
For the club, not qualifying for the Champions League would be a big disappointment as most of these players hope to play against the best sides in Europe. It might also be the last chance for this group of players to play in the Champions League together as some players may wish to leave for bigger leagues following Chirichesexample.
Thanks for Tristan for taking the time to answer our questions. You can follow him on Twitter HERE. Interview courtesy of Chris Lash and You should follow him on Twitter as well as read his great Blog.