The winter break in Poland’s Ekstraklasa gave Vladimir Latunov and his in-form Legia Warszawa players a chance to reflect on their strong start to season two of the Soviet Surge. After 19 games of the 34-game season, Legia were unbeaten and 13 points clear at the top.
The winter layoff also gave Latunov a chance to wrap up his Continental B Licence, which bumped his reputation up to 2.5 stars. While the opening of the transfer window saw a flurry of pathetic bids for exciting young winger Radoslaw Cielemecki from Dortmund, Porto and Inter, which were all flatly rejected.
On the eve of the season resumption, young starting goalkeeper Cezary Miszta got injured, which saw 42-year-old Artur Boruc make a first start of the campaign. That first game was against match-fixers Cracovia and the ridiculous trend of penalties continued. Cracovia got one for no clear reason then Legia responded with one of their own, which Alan Patrick converted. Boruc then gave Cracovia a goal by booting the ball into a defender and it rebounded into his own goal… But young striker Maciej Rosolek came off the bench to nick a late equaliser.
A 1-0 win at Slask followed and Latunov’s first league defeat with Legia looked to be coming at home to Jagiellonia. However, 17-year-old striker Wiktor Kaminski came off the bench to score his first senior goal in just his second sub appearance. And Kaminski looks like one of the most exciting talents at the club.
That earned Kaminski a first career start at bottom of the league Gornik Leczna, and he repaid the manager’s faith by laying on a screamer for Alan Patrick then scoring after 24 minutes. A new hometown hero is born! Legia went on to win 5-0 with Alan Patrick bagging a hat-trick – including Legia’s 14th penalty in 23 games!
The home form was dipping with three successive draws but yet another away win at Gornik saw Alan Patrick score and pick up a devastating “hip injury” that ruled him out for up the not very specific “three to seven months.” That took Latunov into a return to former club Zaglebie Lubin for the first time without his star man and four first-teamers suspended.
It also handed Cielemecki a chance to shine in Alan Patrick’s absence and he took it with his first senior goal inside 12 miniutes. But, surprise surprise, Zaglebie equalised with their first shot eight minutes later. Even less surprisingly, Legia won yet another penalty that Rosolek tucked away to restore the lead after half an hour. Zaglebie were then awarded a penalty for no reason, which Miszta saved from Filip Staryznski to hand Latunov a win on his former turf.
Title in touching distance
The continuation of Latunov’s unbeaten league start put Legia within touching distance of the title, a mighty 16 points clear of Piast with seven games remaining.
Rosolek continued his fine form, having been thrown into the first team after the sale of José Kanté to Cravovia for £475,000. He scored in two consecutive games to seal a 1-0 win at home to then the opener in a dominant 3-0 win at Wisla Krakow.
Second-placed Piast also won, meaning the title would be Legia’s if they avoided defeat at home to Piast. Wszolek smashed a header aga inst the bar on 15 minutes but Rosolek turned home the opener for a third game in a row after the keeper parried a Gvilia free-kick. Piast equalised with – guess what? – their first shot then somehow took the lead 29 seconds after half-time. But Luquinhas equalised five minutes later and that was enough to seal the title.
Legia Warszawa were Champions of the Polish Ekstraklasa!
Latunov and his boys celebrated the title win by putting their unbeaten streak on the line at third-place Lech and retained it with a 2-1 win with goals from Cielemecki, who’s thriving in the attacking advanced playmaker role in midfield, and Luquinhas.
Latunov’s domination of Poland continued with a dire 0-0 home draw then a 1-0 win at Warta Poznan, which was the sixth game of the season in which the opposition didn’t manage a single shot. The penultimate game saw Rakow come to town and yet another penalty was tucked home by centre-back Mateusz Wieteska for his first goal of the season. A late Rosolek one-on-one sealed a 2-0 win in the final home game of the season.
That teed up a final day of the season clash with Widzew, with an unbeaten season on the line. Gvilia hit an 18-yard header against the bar in a quiet first half but Widzew went ahead just after the break and that was enough to seal a first Legia defeat.
It wasn’t an ideal way to finish the season, but Latunov was reportedly delighted to see several young players take to the pitch on the final day and with how the campaign had gone as a whole. Legia finished top on 83 points, 16 points clear of Lech, and has the best attack with 62 scored and best defence with just 18 conceded.
Alan Patrick finished as the top scorer in the league with 15 goals, despite missing the last nine matches through injury! He also won the Polski Ekstraklasa player of the season award, while on-loan right-back Michal Karbownik won the young player of the season.
The title success also saw Legia Warszawa become the most successful team in Polish history with its 15th national title. Elsewhere at the club, the Under 18s won the Polish Central Under 18 League by 10 points, with Kaminsky finishing as the top scorer in the league with 24 goals.
Alan Patrick finished the campaign as Legia’s top scorer and had by far the best average rating of 7.63 from 23 games, along with six assists. Latunov was thoroughly chuffed with the impact that his only cash signing had. He rightly won the fans’ player of the season and siging of the season and Karbownik won young player of the season.
Other key players were left-back Filip Mladenovic, who averaged 7.41 with two goals and four assists, and Wszolek, who scored 14 goals in 32 games. While Gvilia had the most assists at the club with eight and Miszta kept 19 clean sheets. Legia’s 62 goals was less than the xG of 66.7 but amassed 83 points, which was higher than the xPts of 77.9.
A very successful season and a first league title for Russian manager Vladimir Latunov. The success hugely boosted his reputation to 3.5-stars, which puts him in a good position to continue his Soviet Surge.
Join us next time to discover how Latunov continues his attack on the Eastern Bloc. Will he stay in Poland to take Legia into the Champions League qualifiers? Or look elsewhere for new jobs in Eastern Europe?