Contenders for the crown - breaking down the four teams
Barça, Veszprém, PSG and Kiel, who will it be? Before best of the best compete at the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne on 28/29 December, EHF journalists tried to dissect five key aspects of the game, which will be decisive at such a prestigious event.
While Barça and Veszprem look slightly ahead of Kiel and Paris, there is just a thin line between the four sides.
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Dare to compare with a backcourt composed of Aron Palmarsson, Luka Cindric and Dika Mem? It is hard to compete with Barça’s firepower, even though the three other teams also have assets in their pocket.
PSG, in Mikkel Hansen, possess a goal-machine, perfectly backed by left-hander Nédim Rémili while Kiel can also score easy goals on fastbreaks, with “rocketman” Niclas Ekberg on the wing. The absence of Rasmus Lauge will do Veszprém no favours but the Hungarian side features Petar Nenadic, the current top scorer of the EHF Champions League, to make up for that loss.
Veszprém have forged themselves an impressive defensive reputation over the years, and they surely appear to be the strongest in this domain. It is hard to argue with a team which can feature Blaz Blagotisnek, Rogerio Moraes, Vuko Borozan and Jorge Maqueda, all at the same time.
However, Paris appear to have strengthened their backbone, helped with a more aggressive tactic employed this season. Barça and Kiel’s defences have had some up and downs since September, and will certainly need to improve their game if they want to make a difference in Cologne.
Here again, Barça seem to be leading the pack, as Gonzalo Perez de Vargas and Kevin Møller are on a par with each other. Just look how the Dane performed against THW Kiel this season if you need proof.
Vincent Gérard has already proved he can deliver at a FINAL4 in 2018 with Montpellier and will try to repeat his performance, this time with Paris. Niklas Landin, for Kiel, never fails to perform in big occasions, nor does Rodrigo Corrales, but their respective pair looks still a bit short compared to Barça.
Barça basically have two sets of players who can play at any given time and still, the team’s performance would not suffer one bit. Haniel Langaro, Domen Makuc, Raul Entrerrios, Blaz Janc, you name them. The team from Spain looks untouchable in this area.
Even though Kiel and Veszprem are not bad either, the Hungarian side featuring two world-class left wings, three top players on the right side of the backcourt and Kentin Mahé, the perfect substitute on any position. Paris lack a strong rotation on the backcourt to help out Mikkel Hansen and Luc Steins.
Kiel are making their comeback to the LANXESS arena for the first time since 2016, and most of the players in the current roster were not there back then. Although Barcelona are a regular participant, with three participations in the last three seasons, 2015 was the last time they won it all, with a completely different team than it is now.
Same goes for Paris, as their collective experience remains a bit thin. Their number one centre-back, Luc Steins, has not even played a single EHF Champions League game in his career. Can Veszprém take this one? Perhaps, as most of their players already went to Cologne and six of them took the trophy in the last four seasons.
As we have seen in the previous topics, Barça, Veszprém and Kiel are full of known players, whose game their opponents have had all the time to dissect. But Paris have an ace hidden up their sleeve, in the form of Luc Steins. The 25-year-old arrived in the French capital city just one month ago and has proven already that he was part of the team. Playing the first top-flight games of his career in Cologne, the Dutch playmaker could well be the big surprise of this EHF FINAL4.