Soviet Surge Part 4 | Legia #1: Moving to Warsaw

After winning the Polish FA Cup for the first time in Zaglebie Lubin’s history and a terrible conclusion to the league campaign, Russian manager Valdimir Lutunov swiftly jumped ship when rivals Legia Warszawa came calling.

Legia are 13-time Polish champions, including winning the title in 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2020. However, last season (2020/21) the reigning champions slumped to seventh in Ekstraklasa. The club has exceptional youth recruitment, a 31,000-capacity stadium, and superb training and youth facilities. This was most definitely a step up for the Russian!

Indeed, the media made Legia the favourites to win the league in the 2021/22 campaign. However, given their poor efforts in the season just gone, they clearly needed a major shake-up.

Latunov set about doing just that by flogging Legia’s useless old players. He sold no fewer than 10 players over the age of 30 for a profit of around £1 million, which brought the wage spend below £100,000-per-week and under half of the allocated budget.

Meet the Legia squad

The best players at Legia are Polish international winger Pawel Wszolek and midfielder/full-back Michal Karbownik, who’s only 20 and on loan from Brighton. Other players to look out for are 22-year-old holding midfileder Bartosz Slisz and Brazilian left-winger Luquinhas.

Latunov was less impressed by having 41-year-old Artur Boruc at the club, but decided to keep him around for morale’s sake. At the other end of the spectrum are a couple of exciting youngsters in winger Radoslaw Cielemecki, who’s wanted by Inter, Dortmund and Porto, and goalkeeper Cezary Miszta, who Porto are also after.

Vlatunov decided to add a bit more Brazilian flair by making his first-ever cash signing, splurging £550,000 on Shakhtar midfielder Alan Patrick – who actually played at Shakhtar for so long that he made his Ukraine debut in September 2020! He also strengthened a threadbare squad with a few young loanees in another Brazilian Marco Antonio and Czech midfielder Filip Soucek.

Life with Legia begins

Latunov’s first game in charge of his second club on the Soviet Surge was, weirdly, in the same location as his last game with Zaglebie – at Wisla Plock. It was a pretty tepid affair in which nothing happened until the 67th minute, when Wszolek nodded home at the back post from left-back Filip Mladenovic’s cross to seal a 1-0 win. Holding midfielder Slisz got player of the match for having a 97% pass completion, which says a lot. Still, Latunov noted that Legia didn’t win any of their first five games last season, so a positive start!

The first home game with Legia was more dominant, as newly promoted Bruk-Bet Termalica didn’t even have a shot! Legia scored twice from 21 shots with Alan Patrick pulling the strings in midfield. The next game also saw the opponents not have a single shot but did manage to get two players sent off as Legia breezed to a 3-0 win, which included Alan Patrick’s first goal for the club.

Champions Lechia, who were loitering down in ninth, followed and their poor form showed as Legia dominated. They made it count with an excellent Alan Patrick free-kick then striker José Kanté coverted two penalties either side of half-time. But immediately after the second one the referee awarded Lechia a penalty that was upheld by VAR despite comments that it was “surprising.” Lechia converted it then somehow got a second goal out of nowhere. But, in the fifth minute of injury, Legia won yet another penalty that Kanté coolly smashed home for a hat-trick of penalties!

Loving life in Legia

That took Vladimir Latunov to the top of the Polish Ekstraklasa for the first time. It also earned him his first manager of the month award.

An eighth game unbeaten with a 1-0 win over Gornik set up a first meeting with former club Zaglebie Lubin. Unsurprisingly, given the quality that Latunov outspokenly claimed to know his former side had, Legia dominated and goals either side of half-time by Wszolek and Alan Patrick were enough for a simple 2-0 win.

Having won the Polish Cup last year with Zaglebie, Latunov crashed out in the first round with a better team! Legia drew fellow Ekstraklasa side Cracovia away and, with first-choice players wel and truly knackered, Latunov decided to use it as an opportunity to look at backups and youngsters. And it didn’t work…

The unbeaten league start continued as Legia racked up 31 shots but only won 2-1 at Stal Mielec, with Alan Patrick scoring and creating the other. That teed up two consecutive first vs. second clashes.

First, Legia went to Piast and both teams received red cards but that man Alan Patrick created the opener then tucked away a penalty to seal a solid 2-1 win. Lech jumped up to second in Piast’s place, and Legia hosted them next. Legia won yet another penalty (an eighth in 13 league games!) that Alan Patrick tucked away on 19 minutes. It was a pretty tight affair but a lovely curling strike by midfielder Valeriane Gvilia on 68 minutes decided it. That took Legia to eight straight league wins and 10 points clear of Lech after 13 games.

The unbeaten start continued all the way through to the end of 2022, as Wszolek scored five goals during 3-1 wins over Widzew and Wisla Plock. The year concluded with a trip to bottom of the league Bruk-Bet Termalica. Soucek, in for the injured Alan Patrick, scored his first goal for the club from the rebound of yet another penalty then Luquinhas doubled the lead inside seven minutes. Soucek bagged his second in injury time but the hosts didn’t even have a shot until the 90th minute!

Latunov was loving life with his second club, heading into the winter break – which lasts from 15 December to 5 February – with a mighty lead at the top of Ekstraklasa and still unbeaten. Hr wrapped up a fifth consecutive manager of the month award and, with just 15 games remaining, Legia have a 13 point lead over Piast.

Wszolek and Alan Patrick are the joint-top goalscorers in the league with 10 each, while Alan Patrick has the second-most assists (6), most player of the match (6) and the best average rating in the league (7.73). Latunov was thoroughly delighted with his first cash signing!

Join us next time as Vladimir Latunov continues his assault on the Polish Ekstraklasa in his first season with Legia Warszawa!

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