Pérez de Vargas: “It is hard to beat us when we are at our high level”
Barça have been the outstanding team in the EHF Champions League this season, and their second consecutive win against Kiel in round 8 extended their winning run to 20 matches, stretching back to September 2019.
These impressive numbers and the level of play they have produced takes on added significance as the VELUX EHF FINAL4 2020 is just a few weeks away.
Their last visit to Cologne and the 2019 semi-final loss to Vardar stills hurts like it were yesterday. But finally, an opportunity for redemption has arrived. Anything can happen in Cologne, but this appears ready to go above and beyond to bring the trophy home to Barcelona.
eurohandball.com speaks about Barça’s season so far and their chances in Cologne with Spanish goalkeeper Gonzalo Pérez de Vargas, one of the team’s leaders.
eurohandball.com: It is almost time for Cologne. How much are you thinking about that?
Perez de Vargas: As it gets closer, every day we think more about it. It is a bit weird to play in December like most of the things happening in 2020, but since the beginning of the season, we have been doing different preparation to arrive at the end of the year in a good shape.
eurohandball.com: Some weeks ago, a Covid-19 outbreak affected your team. Has everybody recovered well?
Perez de Vargas: We are ok. As the EHF FINAL4 approaches, we have even more control and more responsibility, if it is possible to have more. Missing a group match is not the same as missing an EHF FINAL4. Anyone feeling low due to COVID-19 has been sensible and nobody wants to miss it.
eurohandball.com: Form suggests you will arrive in good shape. You are the only team who has not dropped a point in the EHF Champions League and recorded 20 straight wins in the competition. Are you the favourites?
Perez de Vargas: There are no favourites in Cologne, the favourites rarely win. There will be four teams built to win and just one can become the winner. Anything can happen and it will be even more unpredictable without fans. What I can say is we are happy with our season so far. We are playing how we want, with our style, and with a lot of players involved, which means we have a balanced team.
eurohandball.com: Your last time in Cologne was in 2019, the semi-final against Vardar and everybody knows how that ended.
Perez de Vargas: We threw away the work of many months in 20 minutes, we all have it inside. We know that if something happens, we must react quickly and differently. We have to be tougher and more aggressive in defence and more direct in attack.
eurohandball.com: This time you will face PSG in the semi-finals. Are you surprised by the start of the PSG season with three defeats in the EHF Champions League?
Perez de Vargas: Yes, I think the fact they did not win at home on the first day took its toll on their confidence. This year it will be difficult to be in the top positions, but in the EHF FINAL4, with 120 minutes of success and delivery, you can get a very big prize. They have enough quality to match anyone.
eurohandball.com: What influence will Nikola Karabatic’s absence have for the French side?
Perez de Vargas: It is a very important loss, he is one of the best in the world if not one of the best in history. PSG loses without him on the court, so we will see how Luc Steins adapts. We expect a complete PSG, with players capable of making the difference - for example Kristopans, who we already know what he can do by himself.
eurohandball.com: In the other semi-final, Kiel and Veszprém will fight. You were victorious against Kiel twice (32:26 in Kiel and 29:24 in Barcelona) this season. Are these results a reference for Cologne?
Perez de Vargas: It is good for us to know we are on the right track, especially in terms of the game. However, each match is a world of its own and efficiency can make the difference. There are high-quality players in every teams capable of changing a game, that is why is so difficult to win. But if we play at our high level, as we did in most matches, it is hard to beat us. If we play well and do the things we want, we have a good chance of winning.
If we play at our high level, as we did in most matches, it is hard to beat us. If we play well and do the things we want, we have a good chance of winning.
eurohandball.com: What areas could you improve?
Perez de Vargas: We talked about it after the game in Germany, we were very solid in defence but in different phases of the game, where we tend to be more effective, we were not so disciplined in the fast break. And that is one of the factors to improve to be a better team. At a defensive level, the indications are clear and there will not be a lack of intensity in the EHF FINAL4.
eurohandball.com: The goalkeeper position is producing good numbers. Of the last few seasons, is this the best shape and level of confidence Barça have had in goal?
Perez de Vargas: Yes and it is positive we are both doing good numbers and team can count on us regardless of who plays. We want to get this championship and the one in 2021 as well. Kevin Møller knows he will leave the club at the end of the season and is showing more determination - that is a great goalkeeper.
eurohandball.com: Barça have not won the EHF Champions League since 2015, too many years for a club like this. Are you arriving to Cologne with pressure?
Perez de Vargas: Depends on how you look at it: PSG and Veszprém have been looking for their first title for ages, Kiel has not won since 2012. I Think Barça should have some more titles but if you compare with other teams, we are in a similar situation. Since I am in Barcelona, the year that hurts me the most was 2019. I think we were the best team, but we were not able to capture it.
eurohandball.com: Barça will miss Casper Mortensen but this season you have a deep roster. What do you think about the adaptation of newcomers?
Perez de Vargas: I'm happy how they have adapted. Blaz Janc is a young veteran, a physical marvel, a team player. Domen Makuc is very young and comes to play in a difficult position but we are looking at one of the players of the next decade. Haniel Langaro has a lot of shooting in him and can unlock a defence, while Luis Frade is the present and future, physically he can make the difference.
eurohandball.com: We spoke about arrivals, but this season is the first one without great captain Victor Tomas, who retired prematurely.
Perez de Vargas: We miss him. He is a person who has dedicated his whole life to the club. You notice that something is missing, even though he is next to the team and comes to some matches. It cannot be easy for him but we appreciate this support. I hope we can win these title for him as well as Lasse Andersson and Abel Serdio.