58 days since the last meaningful ball was kicked in the Polish domestic game, the Ekstraklasa’s return on Valentine’s evening reignites the battle for the country’s biggest footballing prize. With ten games left to battle out before both the league, and the teams’ points totals split in half; there is plenty left to play for as the title, European spots, relegation, and even the pride of playing the final seven games in the “Championship group”, are all up for grabs.
With both the league leaders, and the two favourites for relegation kicking things off in 2014; the Ekstraklasa looks set to come back with a bang.
Podbeskidzie Bielsko-Biała – Widzew Łódź (Friday 14th, 18:00 CET)
The Ekstraklasa finally makes its long-awaited return in the Silesian town of Bielsko-Biała, in a battle between the league’s bottom two, and the two favourites for the drop. Former Pogoń Szczecin boss Artur Skowronek makes his bow on the Widzew bench with his first trip to Ulica Rychlińskiego, after being sacked before his Pogoń side made the trip south last term.
New signings Mateusz Cetnarski, Marcin Kikut and Marek Wasiluk all look set to make their Widzew debut as Skowronek aims to do what both Radosław Mroczkowski and Rafał Pawlak failed to do in autumn – win a game in the road. With ten losses from their ten away games so far, a trip to their closest challengers Podbeskidzie represents their best chance of breaking that duck. They’ll be heavily reliant on Latvian striker Aleksejs Visnakovs though, who has netted eight of their nineteen league goals so far.
With just three points of their own away from home, it is the three victories and five draws at home which keep Leszek Ojrzyński’s Podbeskidzie three points ahead of Friday’s visitors. It is these two facts which understandably make the home side favourites for tomorrow’s opener.
However former Korona boss Ojrzyński has also made strong moves in the transfer window; notably bringing in Nigerian Charles Nwaogu from Flota Świnoujście and BK Hacken’s Mikołaj Lebedyński to strengthen an attack which has managed just seventeen goals so far. Also able to count on the return of former Legia and Zagłębie midfielder Maciej Iwanski after his ban for corruption, Podbeskidzie have a lot more about them than in Autumn.
Legia Warszawa – Korona Kielce (Friday 14th, 20:30 CET)
The second of the two new Ekstraklasa bosses to make their league debut, Norwegian Henning Berg leads his Legia side into a spring round as firm favourites for the title. Five points clear of Górnik, the signings of Portuguese pair Guilherme and Orlando Sa (the latter unavailable for Friday’s clash) will go a long way to replacing Dominik Furman, who left for Toulouse.
But with such a commanding lead bringing pressure to Łazienkowska, Berg has already tried to deflect some of it off of his players by declaring that finishing in second “wouldn’t be a disaster”. Whether the fans would agree with that though, is a different matter entirely. Out of the Puchar Polski for the first time since the 2009/10 season, capitulation in the league would mean a failure to bring silverware to the capital for the first time in four years. For Poland’s biggest club, it is hard to believe that anything other than a second successive Ekstraklasa trophy is acceptable.
2014’s first visitors to Łazienkowska are a Korona Kielce side aiming to kick off the year in the same way they did so in 2013 – with a victory against Legia. Whilst the venue has changed, not much differs about their league positions; with Korona’s 12th-place standing just one above the 13th position in which they sat last February.
Whilst business in Kielce has been relatively quiet over the winter, coach Pacheta will likely look toward Kazakh striker Siergiej Chiznichenko, signed from Shaktor Karagandy; to lead the line alongside Maciej Korzym. But even with his new recruit, a repeat of last season’s shock 3-2 victory looks unlikely.