Lech Poznań host Legia Warsaw as the Polish Ekstraklasa returns


Two of Poland’s biggest clubs and this season’s highest scoring teams go head to head on Saturday night to mark the return of the Ekstraklasa, as Lech Poznań welcome bitter rivals Legia Warsaw to Stadion Miejski.

Though the ground will be empty, teams tested for the coronavirus and other hygiene protocol put in place, the teams won’t get extra substitutes like in the German Bundesliga, despite three months of shutdown.

Both sides warmed up for their hotly anticipated return to league action with midweek away victories against second tier opponents in the quarter finals of the Polish Cup.

Legia have won the Ekstraklasa in five of the last seven seasons and 13 times overall (third most), whilst Lech have lifted the title on seven occasions – most recently in 2015.

The two sides have enjoyed a rivalry in recent years that has at times been intense even by Polish standards.

It flared up most notably in 2018 when, with Legia needing victory to win the league and 2-0 up at Poznań, the home ultras threw flares onto the pitch and invaded the playing area.

The game was abandoned, but their efforts to deny the visitors the title proved in vein when Warsaw were awarded a 3-0 win.

Where they stand

Legia players celebrate a 2-1 victory in the sides’ last meeting (credit: Legia Warsaw)

After 26 matches so far this season, Warsaw (16-3-7, 54:26) currently sit eight points clear at the top of the table on 51 points; Poznań (11-9-6, 45:25) are fifth on 42 points, but just a single point behind second place.

Once all teams have played 30 games, the 16 team Ekstraklasa splits into ‘Championship’ and ‘Relegation’ groups to conclude the season.

That ensures a tough run of fixtures for the top teams, but it’s hard to see how Legia will throw it away from such a commanding position.

They did lose their last game before lockdown hit Poland, 2-1 at home to second place Piast Gliwice, but had ten men for over 80 minutes.

Warsaw are comfortably the league’s highest scorers (54 goals) and have won six of their 12 away games, so will be confident.

Poznan are unbeaten at home since October though (5-2-0) though and had picked up eight points in their last four games before the pandemic hit.

The home side has also won seven of the last eight meetings between the two sides, including 2-1 comeback win for Legia in the reverse fixture before Christmas  – the abandoned game in 2018 is the only exception.

But without the Lech ultras vociferous support behind them, stopping the runaway league leaders could be a tough ask.

Team news

Christian Gytkjaer (credit: Agencja Gazeta)

Poznan have the Ekstraklasa’s top scorer in their ranks – 30-year-old Danish striker Christian Gytkjaer, who has 15 goals this season (46 in 92 since joining from 1860 Munich in 2017). He missed out in the cup but is ready to play on Saturday.

The hosts’ other star players to watch out for include Portuguese central midfielder Pedro Tiba and exciting 17-year old winger Jakub Kaminski.

Dutch goalkeeper Mickey van der Hart captains the side, whilst Timur Zhamaletdinov is yet to impress since joining from CSKA Moscow.

Lech’s first choice right back, 21-year-old Pole Robert Gumny, is a long-term injury absentee, whilst Thomas Rogne will also miss out against Warsaw.

Legia sold 14-goal Jaroslaw Niezgoda to MLS side Portland Timbers for around £3 million in January and 10-goal Guinean forward Jose Kante is be suspended, after being sent off in Warsaw’s last match before the virus lockdown.

Luquinhas (credit: Legia Warsaw)

They could, therefore, struggle to threaten as much as usual in attack and are likely to be heaving reliant on the creative talents of 23-year-old Brazilian playmaker Luquinhas.

Radosław Cierzniak will miss out, Arvydas Novikovas and Maciej Rosołek are doubts, and Paweł Wszołek is also suspended.

Experienced Czech striker Thomas Pekhart, brought in to replace Niezgoda from Las Palmas in February, could start upfront, having been an unused sub during Warsaw’s cup win on Tuesday.

Elsewhere for the visitors, ex-Portugal international Andre Martins – formerly of Sporting CP and Olympiacos – runs the midfield, Artur Jedrzejczyk captains the side from centre back and talented 20-year-old goalkeeper Radoslaw Majecki (loaned back from Monaco) has already racked up 75 senior appearances.


Aleksandar Vuković (credit: Legia Warsaw)

Legia manager Aleksandar Vuković has urged his side to put in a good performance. He said: “We want to play with intensity, we want to play matches in a good rhythm and we certainly did it [in the cup].

“Virtually all parameters [of the performance]were convincing. We are working to make sure everyone is ready for the match against Lech and it will be so. [But] we should remember that we will also have to make a few changes.”

The visiting manager also bemoaned playing without supporters: “For every participant in a game, there is no doubt that the fans give the sense of playing football.

“That is why this sport is so popular. People want to watch matches live, in a great atmosphere. We can’t wait to get back to the field again with the full stands.

“We know that this will not happen yet, but we will come to this step by step.”

Dariusz Żuraw (credit: Lech Poznań)

Dariusz Żuraw, reflecting on Poznań’s recovery from their midweek cup win, said: “There were moments of very good play, but they [the players]were also a bit weaker.

“There are always shortcomings [after a long break]and unfortunately there is not enough time to correct them, but I hope that we will manage.

The Lech boss, on playing behind closed doors, continued: “Our stadium has always been an asset, but we have to get used to the lack of fans.

“I hope that we will be able to maintain the run of successful matches at our own facility and it will still be a fortress that will be very difficult [for away teams].

Despite the visitors missing key players, Żuraw is still wary of the threat their rivals from the capital pose: “They also had injury problems [in the reverse fixture]and eventually beat us. We aren’t discussing their missing players in the dressing room.

“Legia have several experienced players for every position, so we must be as focused as possible regardless of who will play.”


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