Already facing the ominous task of taking on the European champions and a recently reinvigorated Cristiano Ronaldo, Legia Warsaw will be denied even the support of its own fans in the Polish capital on Tuesday. The Champions League group match against Real Madrid has been ordered to be played behind closed doors after a section of fans tried to attack visiting supporters in Legia’s defeat to Borussia Dortmund in its first home match in this season’s competition.
Off the pitch, it was an ignominious way to begin a Polish team’s first appearance in the group stage of Europe’s premier competition for 20 years. And things have gone no better on the field. A demoralizing 6-0 loss to German outfit Dortmund was followed by a 2-0 reversal at Sporting Lisbon. And last time out, the Polish champion visited the Bernabeu and was handed a 5-1 thumping.
At the midway point of the group, Legia Warsaw’s record reads three games, three defeats and a goal difference of minus 12. And manager Jacek Magiera has conceded that the absence of supporters from its Polish Army Stadium only adds to his side’s task.
“UEFA’s decision is very hard for us,” he said at his pre-match press conference. “We must accept it as a club. This game will be especially hard, we feel embarrassed, this should not have happened. We are doing everything so that this will be the last time Legia Warsaw plays in an empty stadium.
“Without a crowd, it’s like playing in a foreign stadium. The walls of the stadium are one thing, but the spirit of the stadium is another.”
Legia’s hopes are also not helped by Real Madrid’s recent form, and particularly that of the team’s star man. While results had been largely good, there has been a feeling that the 10-time European Cup winner was stuttering through the early weeks of the season. As well as the continued absence of key link-man Luka Modric through injury, much of that has been down to the less-than-prolific form of the club’s famed forward trio.
But all that may be changing. Ronaldo, who had been enduring his worst scoring start to a season since his move to Real Madrid in 2009, fired a hat-trick on Saturday as the Spanish giants surged past Deportivo La Coruña, 4-1.
And fellow “BBC” member Gareth Bale should also be entering Wednesday’s match in high spirits. On Sunday, the Welsh forward signed a new six-year contract that will make him the best-paid player in the world.
Another man hoping to remain at Real Madrid for some time to come is Zinedine Zidane. Appointed head coach at the start of 2016, Zidane already has a Champions League winners’ medal to his name. And on Wednesday he will take charge of a Real Madrid team for the 100th time, which includes 57 games as coach of the club’s Castilla (B) team.
"It will be my 100th game as a coach and I am really happy with what I am doing,” he said in Warsaw on Tuesday. “I feel great here and I would like to work at Real Madrid for a long time yet. What can I still improve? Everything!"
Zidane will continue to be without Sergio Ramos, Casemiro and Pepe, while James Rodriguez and Marcelo have also been left back in Madrid due to injury and illness, respectively.
Prediction: As well as conceding goals aplenty in the Champions League, Legia Warsaw has been far from watertight in its own domestic league. In winning just five of its first 14 matches, sitting down in sixth in the Polish Ekstraklasa, Legia has conceded 18 goals. Real Madrid, meanwhile, has been among the goals again in recent outings and it is hard to see anything other than another emphatic win for Zidane’s men.
Predicted Score: Legia Warsaw 1-4 Real Madrid