Henning Berg’s Legia look poised to lose a title which was theirs for the taking
The Ekstraklasa title race is not over yet, but last night’s results leave Lech Poznań three points ahead of second place Legia Warsaw with one game left to play. For Legia to prevail, they need to win at home to Górnik Zabrze on Sunday and hope Lech lose at home to Wisła Kraków. That’s possible but looks unlikely due to the two sides’ prospective form in the last couple of weeks with Lech playing open, expansive, free-flowing football whereas Legia seem one-paced and resigned to their fate. But it could have all been so different for Legia, after consecutive title wins in the last two seasons, a vast budget in comparison to the Poznań club, and a team that was wowing Europe in the autumn. How did it all go wrong? Legia have made several massive mistakes which could go into a handbook entitled ‘How to lose a title’ including:
1) Sell your star player in the middle of the season
The Serbian midfielder/attacker Miroslav Radović had been the heart of everything that has gone well for Legia over the last couple of seasons. Full of passion, on-field intelligence, drive and astonishingly accurate in front of goal ‘Rado’ was the player Legia looked to when things were going wrong during a game. Just before the Warsaw club’s Europa League last 32 tie with Ajax in February they decided to accept an offer for the player from Chinese second tier club Hebei China Fortune. Legia went on to lose to Ajax and have desperately missed Rado in the spring. No-one seems to be driving on the side anymore, and Legia have lost the ‘fear’ factor that Rado brought.
2) Excessively rotate your first eleven
In the autumn Legia were receiving rave reviews from the Polish press, no-one more so than their Norwegian manager Henning Berg. Berg seemed to have discovered a formula that worked, a 4-5-1 with the intelligent interplay of Radović and Slovakian talented youngster Ondrej Duda which bamboozled opposing defences. It worked so well in fact, that Berg seemed to only want to unleash it on the stage he considered most important – European competitions. Berg thus put out a host of weakened sides in the league which led to a number of surprising losses and dropped points for Legia. Everyone expected that Legia would easily dispatch opponents when they eventually fell out of Europe but that hasn’t happened. By playing their strongest side Legia could have been out of sight by the spring, instead they let other clubs have a chance – something which has come back to haunt them.
3) Fall-out with your star striker
If anyone could have picked up the baton dropped by the departure of Miroslav Radovic it could be said to be Legia’s Portuguese striker Orlando Sá. Strong, pacy, dominant and a good finisher, Sá possesses the presence to strike fear into Ekstraklasa defences. Berg has however been very wary of Sá, this season the striker has been quite prolific with 13 goals scored but, of his 25 Ekstraklasa appearances, 11 of them have been as a substitute. Berg doesn’t seem to trust the player and there have been many rumours that the two do not like each other – something which has in the long run hurt Legia’s chances.
On Sunday we will find out whether all these mistakes mean Legia will not win the league this season. I’d argue that even if they do lots of questions will be asked regarding the way the club has reacted to problems over the last six months or so. If they react appropriately in the summer, they should be able to get on the right track, they have everything that’s required to do so. The big question perhaps is whether Henning Berg will be given the chance to make more mistakes or will Legia risk their arm on another coach. We will soon find out.