2022.03.03 Veszprem Kielce 10 Alex Dujshebaev (2)
EHF Champions League

Stats say: No clear favourite in Cologne

After the outstanding EHF FINAL4 Women in Budapest earlier this month, it is soon the men's turn to take centre stage at Cologne’s LANXESS arena. But in contrast to the women's final weekend, no clear favourite can be deduced from the men’s statistics.

Veszprém vs Kielce: On equal footing

The main statistics of Lomza Vive Kielce and Telekom Veszprém HC do not differ greatly. On defence, Veszprém is slightly better with 27.0 goals conceded per 50 possessions compared to Kielce's 27.6. The Hungarians have the second-best numbers in both the opponent's shooting percentage (60.4%) and turnovers (9.1 per 50 possessions). While Kielce ranks sixth (61.8%) and fifth (8.7).

On the other side of the field, Kielce are slightly ahead. They score 30.3 goals per 50 possessions, while Momir Ilić's team scores 29.0. Both have a practically equal shooting percentage with 66.1% for Kielce (rank 3) and 65.6% for Veszprém (rank 4).

In terms of turnovers, however, the difference is much greater. While the Poles have the third-best value here (6.9 per 50 possessions), Veszprém loses the ball 8.4 times per 50 possessions, which is only the tenth best value in the entire EHF Champions League this season. Turnovers were also the decisive factor in their group phase matchups. Both times the team with the worse shooting percentage but fewer lost balls won.

In addition, the data of the Spanish professor Óscar Gutiérrez is also very interesting. The former analyst of the Spanish national teams has analysed the various line-ups in positional attack of the FINAL4 participants and published the statistics on Twitter.

Noticeable in these numbers is that Kielce is the team that clearly uses the fewest different line-ups in the positional attack with just 9.8 per match. At the same time, they are also the team with the most players who were on the field for at least 22% of the team's positional attacks (13). In contrast, Veszprém have only 10, the lowest number, but use more line-ups (11.3 per game).

So, while Talant Dujshebaev likes to have different players in different line-ups on the field, Momir Ilić has fewer players he relies on more and rather changes the role players around them. What they both have in common, however, is that they each have two line-ups on which they trust the most and play more than the rest.

The player who is clearly the most ball-dominant when he is on the field plays for the Hungarian side as well. The ‘usage rate’ shows the share of positional attacks that end at the hands of a player while he is on the field. Amongst all players that played at least 40% of their teams' positional attacks, 26% of his teams’ possessions ended with Petar Nenadic shooting or turning the ball over.

Barça vs Kiel: The best defence face the best attack

In the other semi-final, the prerequisites are completely different. Defending champions Barça are the favourites, Kiel are the underdogs, especially due to injury problems.

But the Catalan club are not the same team they were last year. The new coach Carlos Ortega came in at the beginning of the season and changed things. This led to problems in their attack. Overall, their offence is ranked eighth amongst all EHF Champions League participants with 28.5 goals per 50 possessions. Even Dika Mem, the EHF Champions League's top scorer with 6 goals per game, could not lift the attack to a better level.

Defensively, they are still great, having conceded just 25.5 goals per 50 possessions this season, clearly the best value. They are the team that forces the highest number of turnovers (9.7 per 50 possessions) and allows the lowest shooting percentage (58.0%).

Gonzalo Perez de Vargas, of course, has a very large part to play in this. Barça’s number one is second among all goalkeepers who have had at least 150 shots on goal, with 31.9% saved. Looking only at the shots from open play, he even leads the ranking with 33.3%.

In contrast, THW Kiel has the best offence of the FINAL4 participants scoring 30.5 goals per 50 possessions (third overall). They are especially great at not turning the ball over, where they clearly lead all teams with just 5.8 per 50 possessions.

But Kiel are missing their best goal scorer from open play (4.7 goals per game) and most important offensive player in Sander Sagosen. According to Óscar Gutiérrez’ numbers when he was on the field 23.0% of positional attacks ended with the ball in his hands (4th most amongst EHF FINAL4 participants that played at least 40% of their team’s positional attacks) and he stood on the field for 82.6% Kiel’s positional attacks. Of course, he was excellent in setting his teammates up as well. Thus, it will be almost impossible for the Germans to maintain this level against this outstanding defence.

If the Zebras want to have a chance, they must step it up defensively. Because over the whole season they conceded 29.1 goals per 50 possessions. This is only enough for 12th place, while the other three EHF FINAL4 participants top the ranking.

But without defensive leader Pekeler (whose 3.4 goals per game could be missed in attack as well), that will be anything but easy to improve. A lot of hope lies in goalkeeper Niklas Landin. With 28.0% of shots saved (13th place among all goalkeepers with at least 150 shots faced), the Dane has as well remained below his actual level this season. But it would not be the first time that he has decided big games practically on his own.

Julian Rux is a data analyst and data journalist. More of his work can be found on his website and blog Handballytics.de as well as on social media: Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

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