Vardar start title defence against 2018 winners

Groups A and B of the VELUX EHF Champions League 2019/20 start with a bang. The first Match of The Week welcomes THW Kiel back to the premium European competition, as the ‘Zebras’ host last season’s VELUX EHF FINAL4 participants PGE Vive Kielce on Sunday.

In Group A, EHF FINAL4 contenders Paris Saint-Germain HB and Barça will face tough away trips to Zagreb and Szeged.

In Group B, Montpellier HB meet HC Vardar in the battle between the two most recent winners of the competition, while Veszprem hope to return to their winning ways against HC Motor Zaporozhye. 

GROUP A
MOL-Pick Szeged (HUN) vs Barça (ESP)
Saturday 14 September, 17:30 local time, live on ehfTV.com

  • The teams did not meet last season, but played against each other in the previous two. In total, Barça won 14 of the encounters and lost four

  • Barcelona won their first five games of the season, and claimed the IHF Super Globe title in August

  • Szeged have also been undefeated since the beginning of the 2019/20, having won their three first games in the Hungarian league

  • Both teams made significant transfers this season. Barça signed Croatian centre back Luka Cindric while another Croatia national team player, Luka Stepancic, joined Szeged

HC PPD Zagreb (CRO) vs Paris Saint-Germain HB (FRA)
Saturday 14 September, 20:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com

  • Zagreb and Paris have met eight times since 2014. Zagreb won only once, at home in 2014

  • Zagreb reached the Last 16 of the Champions League in 2018/19, while Paris qualified for the quarter-finals 

  • This will be the first Champions League game for PSG’s new captain Luka Karabatic

  • Zagreb lost important players over the summer, including goalkeeper Urh Kastelic and line player Senjamin Buric

  • In the off season, Paris replaced Thierry Omeyer with Vincent Gerard and Uwe Gensheimer with former Champions League winner Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson

RK Celje Pivovarna Lasko (SLO) vs SG Flensburg-Handewitt (GER)
Sunday 15 September, 17:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com

  • This confrontation has become a trademark in the Champions League, as the teams have played against each other in every one of the last five seasons

  • Flensburg lead the overall statistics, with 10 wins, while Celje won five of the last 16 games. The German side have only returned victorious from their trip to Slovenia twice, in 2016 and 2017

  • Flensburg lost two important players this season: Tobias Karlsson retired while Rasmus Lauge Schmidt joined Veszprém

  • Celje won their first games of the season in the Slovenian league

Elverum Handball (NOR) vs Aalborg Handbold (DEN)
Sunday 15 September, 19:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com

  • This is the first time Elverum have been seeded in Groups A and B

  • Elverum and Aalborg have never met in European cup competitions

  • This is only Aalborg’s fourth campaign in the Champions League. The Danish side reached the Last 16 twice, in 2014 and 2015

GROUP B
Montpellier HB (FRA) vs HC Vardar (MKD)
Saturday 14 September, 17:15 local time, live on ehfTV.com

  • The first round of the new VELUX EHF Champions League season pits the two most recent winners of the competition against each other

  • The two sides have met seven times in the past, with Vardar winning five games against Montpellier’s sole win. Vardar were victorious in both mutual games in the previous season

  • The Macedonian side lost nine players from last year’s line-up, including Dejan Milosavljev and Igor Karacic. They also changed their coach, as Roberto Garcia Parrondo was succeeded by fellow Spanish mastermind David Pisonero

  • Montpellier failed to progress from the group stage last season. In 2019/20, coach Patrice Canayer’s sole focus is on improving on that disappointment

FC Porto Sofarma (POR) vs HC Meshkov Brest (BLR)
Saturday 14 September, 18:30 local time, live on ehfTV.com

  • Porto are back in the premium European competition after four years and are brimming with confidence on the back of their first domestic double and participation in the AKQUINET EHF Cup Finals last season

  • The Portuguese side have kept their core intact, losing only one player and bringing in just one new arrival in the off season

  • Brest underwent a coaching change this summer, as Manolo Cadenas left and was replaced by his former assistant Raul Alonso

  • The two sides met four times in the premium European competition, with Brest winning three matches, while Porto only managed one victory

Telekom Veszprém HC (HUN) vs HC Motor Zaporozhye (UKR)
Sunday 15 September, 17:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com

  • Veszprém have their eyes set on the elusive VELUX EHF Champions League trophy once again, after losing the final last season

  • The Hungarian champions had a stellar summer on the transfer market, bringing in the likes of back Rasmus Lauge Schmidt, goalkeeper Vladimir Cupara and left back Vuko Borozan

  • Veszprém have won their past seven home games in the top European competition

  • Motor only won twice in their past 12 away games in the VELUX EHF Champions League and have vowed to improve their play in this situation

  • The teams have met four times in the premium European competition, with Veszprém winning three times

MOTW: THW Kiel (GER) vs PGE Vive Kielce (POL)
Sunday 15 September, 19:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com

  • Kiel are back in the Champions League after a one-year hiatus, with new coach Filip Jicha ready to make his European debut on Sunday

  • The ‘Zebras’ have already lost two games this season – the final of the IHF Super Globe against Barça and a Bundesliga game against SC Magdeburg

  • Goalkeeper Andreas Wolff, a Kiel player from 2016 to 2019, will be back in Sparkassen Arena for the first time since leaving for Kielce this summer

  • Kielce are on a six-game unbeaten run against Kiel, dating back to 2011. They have won six of the 10 mutual games against the German 

TEXT: Kevin Domas / cg