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16.02.2016, 12:01
Ten reasons for Flensburg's incredible upswing
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FIRST HAND INSIGHT: Why have SG Flensburg-Handewitt become so strong and why their path to Cologne could be easier than others
 

Ten reasons for Flensburg's incredible upswing

37:27 - a result cast in stone for eternity at Flensburg.

Thanks to this 10-goal win on Sunday (14 February) - their clearest-ever victory against rivals THW Kiel in 87 attempts – German side SG Flensburg-Handewitt have not only retaken their lead in Group A of the VELUX EHF Champions League, but they can also celebrate their longest-ever sequence of wins in the competition with eight straight victories dating back to 11 October.

The run started with a 30:20 victory over RK Celje Pivovarna Laska and was then followed by wins against Besiktas Jimnastik Kulubu, Orlen Wisla Plock, HC PPD Zagreb twice in a row, Plock again, Besiktas again and then that comprehensive win against rivals Kiel.

With just three matches left for Flensburg in the group phase, away at Celje, home against Veszprem HC and in France against Paris Saint-Germain on 6 March - in what could be a straight shoot-out for top position, ehfCL.com analyses the current strength of the 2014 VELUX EHF Champions League winners, naming 10 reasons for their upswing in form after losing early matches against Veszprem and Kiel – despite winning their opening match against Paris 39:32 back in September.

FLENSBURG IN FORM – 10 REASONS WHY

1. Depth of Squad
Flensburg learnt the hard way in the previous two seasons. After a series of injuries to key players, assistant coach Maik Machulla and even coach Ljubomir Vranjes found their names onto the team lists.

Whilst Machulla was named on the squad list prior to the current season, both him and Vranjes worked hard to ensure they would not be needed on court again as they increased the depth and quality of their squad.

Now they have options and alternatives all over the court allowing players more recovery time after matches and minimising more severe and long-term injuries this season as those with injuries have more healing time – much needed when you are playing in the German Bundesliga and VELUX EHF Champions League.

2. Perfectly Fitting Newcomers
Flensburg signed Kentin Mahe, Petar Djordjic, Henrik Toft Hansen (both from HSV Hamburg) and Rasmus Lauge Schmidt (from Kiel) before the season.

All three knew the endurance of playing Bundesliga and VELUX EHF Champions League in parallel and all three are quite young but already experienced, meaning they all fitted easily and quickly into the team.

Rasmus Lauge for example was injured quite long during his stay in Kiel, where he had arrived as one of the biggest Danish talents but since his move to Flensburg, he has been 100% fit and is bubbling over from the joy of just simply stepping on to court and playing, marked by his nine goals against his former team.

When Anders Zachariassen was injured in September - and Jacob Heinl was out for months too - Flensburg needed to react and to find an additional line player.

Vranjes made another perfect catch, signing Kresimir Kozina. He arrived from Hard in Austria with a long-term dream to play Bundesliga handball and to eventually become Croatian national team player. In October, Kosina had his first Champions League appearance, in November his first international match and in January, he became an EHF EURO bronze medallist - a more than perfect development.

3. The Coach
At Flensburg, the coach is the star; Ljubomir Vranjes is the most prominent character. Since 2010, he has been coach and since 2006 the Swedish World and EHF EURO champion has been part of the club, first as a player, then as a manager.

Vranjes stands for continuity, for creativity, for having a magic touch in terms of newcomers and tactical variations and keeping the team spirit high. After he denied other well-paid job offers and extended his contract with Flensburg until 2020, even more continuity has settled in at the club - Flensburg - continuity without complacency.

4. The Flensburg Family
‘We are more than a team, we are a family’ say Flensburg -Germany’s northernmost handball club.

The general attitude of the players towards their team mates, the coaching and the club staff and towards the fans is special. When Jacob Heinl played his comeback match against Kiel, the wives and girlfriends of all the players wore his shirt.

When a player moves to another house, the rest of the team are there as helping hands. Or as playmaker Thomas Mogensen said: “We would tear ourselves apart on court for our team mates.”

5. Less Injuries
“Kiel were in the same situation as we have gone through in the previous years,” said Vranjes correctly after beating THW. In March 2015 Flensburg had little chance against their rivals with only eight or nine court players available for the VELUX EHF Champions League Last 16 matches against Kiel.

Except for those long-term injuries of Heinl, Jim Gottfridsson and Zachariassen, Flensburg have been spared from major injuries and for the Last 16 stage this season they hope for 18 fit players - more than they have had before.

6. Tactical Variety
Flensburg make use of all 16 players on the team sheet. Having more and more differently-skilled players in their squad, it is hard for all opponents to prepare for them. Usually, Vranjes has a strict tactical concept, but all players are allowed to inspire their team with their creativity.

Kentin Mahe is a great example of this who uses all the open space to play his style – a completely different style to the Scandinavian-orientated way which Flensburg usually plays.

All of a sudden, when all of their line players were injured Flensburg surprised their opponents with four back court players - the subject of the thesis from EHF Master Coach and Flensburg assistant coach Machulla.

7. Heart. Will. Passion.
This the written claim of Vranjes about what he expects from his players and all of them obey. Already in the composition of the squad, players are tested for those character traits. Vranjes loves to have emotional players in his squad, players who interact with the fans to increase the positive emotions on both sides. This attitude corresponds with the team spirit to increase their overall confidence.

8. Key Players
Who is the star of the team? Goalkeeper Mattias Andersson? Defensive chief Tobias Karlsson? Winger Lasse Svan and Anders Eggert? Right back Holger Glandorf?

Or all of them?

Flensburg have several key players, but the hierarchy in the team is quite flat. Without the defensive cooperation (Karlsson/Toft Hansen), Andersson could not shine as he does. Without the support of Mogensen for example, Glandorf could not score so much. Without the general tactics of high-speed handball, the wings would not have so many fast-break options. All of this combines to ensure that the team is the star, not a single player.

9. Less Pressure
For Veszprem, PSG and FC Barcelona Lassa it is a must to make it to the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne at the end of this Champions League season. Due to their budgets, stars or the lack of national league competition, the major goal for those teams is that final weekend.

Flensburg are still in the race of three competitions: German league, German cup and Champions League and the pressure on the players’ shoulders is coming only from those domestic competitions.

SG would love to go all the way to Cologne again, but it is no must for the club - in contrast to making it to the German cup final tournament - a must for their fans.

10. Different Hunger for Cologne
Due to the mixture of age and experience in the squad, Flensburg have a different hunger for the VELUX EHF FINAL4. The older players, who were part of the ‘Flensational’ 2014 VELUX EHF FINAL4 winners, say that they want to relive those “incredible emotions” of the event, while the young players are eager to make their debut on the biggest possible stage in club handball.


TEXT: Bjorn Pazen / amc
 
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