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11.09.2018, 12:00
New coach, same target for PSG
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VELUX EHF Champions League countdown: Paris Saint-Germain HB (FRA). After a change on the coaching bench, the French powerhouse finally wants to lift the trophy
 

New coach, same target for PSG

They made the trip to the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in each of the past three seasons, but star-studded Paris Saint-Germain have yet to lift the trophy. After losing the final to Vardar in 2017, they stumbled over Nantes in the semi-final in 2018.

So, the big question ahead of the 2018/19 season: With a new coach on the bench and several new faces on the court, can Paris finally deliver this time?

Three questions ahead of the new season:

- Will the team play differently with Raul Gonzalez on the bench?


Former THW Kiel coach Noka Serdarusic led Paris for three seasons. After reaching the summit with Vardar in 2017, Raul Gonzalez has now taken over. With so many stars on the team, will this change make any difference on the court? “It’s all about details when you play at this level, it’s not going to be a revolution. The change between Noka and Raul hasn’t been a dramatic one,” line player Luka Karabatic says.

Gonzalez is a young trainer, who was successful at Vardar with a team that contained a lot of well-known players, too. The first competitive matches might give an idea of any changes to PSG’s game.

- Is pressure mounting after three failed attempts in three years to win the trophy?

Patience is not the strongest asset at many European top clubs but PSG have decided to stick to their formula and develop a team around experienced French players. But now is the time to deliver, even though manager Bruno Martini remains cautious: “We want the club to stay on top level, among the best in Europe.”

According to Martini, “our goal is to try to repeat our great performances of the 2017/18 season in the group phase and the quarter-final, where we were the best team with 13 wins in total. And we will compete to participate in our fourth consecutive FINAL4, a huge performance only Veszprém and Kiel were able to achieve.”

- Are Paris the definite favourites in their group?

PSG avoid other European powerhouses, such as Kielce, Veszprém or Barça Lassa, in the group phase. But Group B will not be a walk in the park for PSG, as they will have to travel to Flensburg, a place they’ve only succeeded once. And Nantes are their opponents again.

“A team like Szeged is even stronger this year and I remember the outstanding atmosphere in their arena. With Skjern, who beat Veszprem in the Last 16, Zagreb and Zaporozhye, it is very far from easy in this group,” Martini says.

Under the spotlight : Kim Ekdahl du Rietz

After an eight-month break between June 2017 and March 2018, the Swedish left back rejoined German side Rhein-Neckar Löwen, and he proved he hadn’t lost one bit of his handball skills. Paris picked him as the player who should be able to make a difference on both sides of the court. Powerful and experienced, he will be the X factor for Paris this season.

Self-esteem

With one of the shiniest teams on the starting grid of the VELUX EHF Champions League, Paris are generally regarded as main contenders to make it to the FINAL4 again. For the club, the European top-flight competition is what it is all about. “The VELUX EHF Champions League is the ultimate goal for Paris Saint-Germain in terms of performance,” Martini says. “The French league has improved a lot in the past few years but in the Champions League our club can shine and develop its popularity beyond the French borders.”

Fun fact

Spanish is the second language in the PSG dressing room, with two Spanish coaches and five players with a history in the ASOBAL league. Nikola Karabatic and Viran Morros met each other in Barcelona, while Mikkel Hansen wore the Barça jersey earlier in his career. Also, Luc Abalo and Raul Gonzalez know each other from their Ciudad Real days.

What the numbers say

Three times did PSG travel to Cologne but they are yet to win the VELUX EHF FINAL4. They are closing in on Veszprém’s record of four fruitless trips to Cologne. Obviously nobody in Paris likes the game ‘four in a row’ too much.

Paris Saint-Germain Handball (FRA)

Qualification for VELUX EHF Champions League 2018/19 season: French champions

Newcomers: Henrik Toft Hansen (SG Flensburg-Handewitt), Viran Morros (FC Barcelona), Kim Ekdahl du Rietz (Rhein-Neckar Löwen), Adama Keita and Dylan Nahi (First professional contract), Raul Gonzalez (coach, RK Vardar Skopje), Jesus Gonzalez (coach, Naturhouse La Rioja)

Left the club: Henrik Mollgaard (Aalborg), Jesper Nielsen (Rhein-Neckar Löwen), Jovo Damjanovic (Nis), Daniel Narcisse (Retirement), Zvonimir Serdarusic (Retirement), Staffan Olsson

Coach: Raul Gonzalez (since 2018)

VELUX EHF Champions League records:

Participations (including 2018/19 season): 7
Final (1): 2016/17
Semi-final (2): 2015/16 (third at FINAL4), 2017/18 (third)
Quarter-final (2): 2013/14, 2014/15
Last 16 (1): 2005/06

Other EC records:

EHF Cup:

Quarter-finalist: 2006/07, Last 16 2003/04

French league:
5 titles (2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018)

French cup:
4 titles (2007, 2014, 2015, 2018)

French league cup:
2 titles (2017, 2018)


TEXT: Kevin Domas / ew
 
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