Legia Warsaw vs Aston Villa - Match preview
Matty Cash’s popularity in Poland has previously seen him star in Christmas TV commercials but the Villa ace knows to expect no gifts from Legia Warsaw tonight.
The Stadion Wojska Polskiego, where Unai Emery’s men begin their Europa Conference League Group E campaign, will require no introduction for Cash, who has played there with Poland and trains regularly over the road at the national team’s base.
Neither will the noise created by the home club’s passionate fanbase come as any surprise, with Cash knowing he and his Villa team-mates can count on a hostile welcome.
“I know what to expect,” says the 26-year-old, dubbed the Polish Cafu by Villa fans. “The fans there are crazy, to be fair to them they are brilliant and they deserve our respect. I know a few things about Legia who are obviously one of the biggest teams in Poland. It will be a difficult game, for sure.”
Having Polish supporters against him will be a new experience for Cash, who has been capped 13 times and played at a World Cup since switching allegiance to the country of his mother’s birth two years ago.
Though the move was initially greeted with scepticism in some quarters, the right-back’s enthusiasm and willingness to embrace the culture quickly endeared him.
His unusual route to the national team has also helped make him one of Poland’s most marketable players behind Robert Lewandowski, leading to appearances in several TV adverts, including one last Christmas for a mobile phone company which saw him gatecrash a family lunch via the chimney.
Yet tonight, in Warsaw at least, the love affair between player and fanbase will be placed on hold.
“The Polish fans are amazing but this time I obviously want them to be on the losing side and I’m sure they will wish the same for me,” he admits.
“Ever since I’ve been with Poland they’ve been fantastic towards me, they are truly amazing and they’ve welcomed me really well.
“But obviously this is different, it’s club football not international football. I’ve never faced it (the atmosphere) before but I’m guessing it can be quite intimidating.
“We’ve just got to focus on ourselves, we’ve got a great team and a great manager with loads of experience in these types of ties. He always keeps us grounded, keeps us calm.”
That latter point is why many are tipping Villa to emulate West Ham’s achievement of winning the whole tournament. This is Emery’s 16th consecutive season managing in European competition and his record of seven semi-finals, five finals and four Europa League titles is seriously impressive.
For players like Cash, experiencing Europe for the first time at club level, it provides an added layer of reassurance. “The manager has great experience in European football which helps massively,” he says.
“We have a few boys who haven’t played in Europe before, like myself. Then we have other boys who have played in European competitions and have loads of experience.
“But most of all we have a lot of players who desperately want to do well. I don’t think it matters what cup competition we play in or the Premier League, every game we play we want to win.
“Not just in Europe this season but in the other cup competitions too.
“We want to go as far as we can and that’s the chat we’ve had between ourselves and with the manager. Every game we go out there wanting to win, no matter who we are playing.
“Europe gives us a great opportunity to do that as well.”
It is not only Europe where Villa want success. Challenging again in the top half of the Premier League remains the primary aim while the domestic cup competitions will also be taken seriously.
Villa host Everton in the Carabao Cup next Wednesday but a hectic schedule which will mean precious little rest for international players does not faze Cash.
“That is what you want,” he explained. “I was saying to the boys there is no rest, no time to think really. You just prepare and then play and do the best you can.
“The games come up really quick but, as a player, you want to play as many games as possible – every cup competition and every international. That’s our job, even though it is tiring at times.
“We are a group who stick together and fight until the end as we showed against Crystal Palace. We have a good enough squad for sure and once a few of the injured lads come back we’ll be even stronger. We’ll just keep going and going.”