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03.09.2018, 11:50
The top five teams mastering defence
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FIRST-HAND INSIGHT: Coaches know that defensive excellence is required if they want to go deep in the VELUX EHF Champions League season. So which five teams perform the best?

»EHF CL Channel »2018-19 Men's CL
»Group Phase
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The top five teams mastering defence

“Defence wins championships,” is a mantra thoroughly used by coaches and players, up to the point it could become obsolete. But mostly when a team forgets it, they find out that firepower wins them games, but team spirit and hard work in defence brings them trophies.

Montpellier HB proved it last season. Relying on stops from their goalkeepers and strong work by their defence, the French side pulled off one of the most remarkable runs to the title in VELUX EHF Champions League history.

After a busy season on the transfer market, let’s see which teams are doing particularly well on the defensive power ranking. Here is the top five:

5. Rhein-Neckar Löwen

Undergoing many changes usually means that a team will not be able to fulfil its potential until late in the season. But it is easier when the players coming in are experienced and have already played under great defensive minds. The Lions lost Hendrik Pekeler and Kristian Bliznac, but Ilija Abutovic has been excellent in Vardar, while Jesper Nielsen has the strength and the nous to compete instantly as he was outstanding for silver medallists Sweden at EHF EURO 2018 in January. Löwen are counting on their defence to improve a four-season curse that saw them crash out in the Last 16 each time.

4. Montpellier HB

The French side might have encountered weaker opponents until the Last 16, but the way Montpellier navigated the business end of the VELUX EHF Champions League last season was a clear warning to all opponents about their strength. The current title holders limited Flensburg to only 45 goals in two legs of the quarter-final, and earlier, Barça to 55 goals in the Last 16. The plaudits should go to the players, but the mastermind behind the system remains coach Patrice Canayer, who has a 24-year tenure as a coach in Montpellier. Losing only one important part of their system - line player Ludovic Fabregas - could also help the French team to build on last season’s momentum.

3. Telekom Veszprém HC

The Hungarian powerhouse conceded exactly 27 goals per game last season. Ljubomir Vranjes’ free-flowing system still needs time to be perfectly understood and executed by the players. Arpad Sterbik, considered to be the top transfer of this summer by the ehfCL.com journalists, should prove an asset that Veszprém lacked last season. Rene Toft Hansen, now 33, but the best defender of the VELUX EHF Champions League three seasons ago, will add to the defensive depth, as the Hungarian side looks primed to return for the VELUX EHF FINAL 4 in Cologne.

2. Barça Lassa

For many years, Barça have been a staple of defence in the VELUX EHF Champions League. The Catalan side, whose system has been carefully created and improved by coach Xavier Pascual since his appointment in 2009, had an average of 25.2 and 26.9 conceded goals in the past two seasons. While last season ended in disappointment following their Last 16 exit and the departure of Viran Morros will likely hurt, Barça’s system looks fierce enough to handle the challenge.

1. Paris Saint-Germain HB

The summer was busy in Paris after another underwhelming performance at the VELUX EHF FINAL 4 in  May. Tactical mastermind Raul Gonzalez has arrived from Vardar, the team that conceded the least goals (24.3 per game) in the group phase last season, to spearhead a collection of stars. It was Gonzalez who persuaded defensive specialist Viran Morros to leave Barça for PSG after a seven-year stay in Spain, while Henrik Toft Hansen left Flensburg to bolster PSG’s defence. Add Luka and Nikola Karabatic, the French champions are arguably the team in the VELUX EHF Champions League 2018/19 with the best defence, at least on paper.


TEXT: Adrian Costeiu / ew
 
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