Men´s Champions League
stregspiller.com – MATCH OF THE WEEK PREVIEW – Last season, Montpellier HB sent Barca Lassa out of the Champions League already in the Round Last 16, moving on to win the tournament.
This year, another French team may turn into Barca´s “Waterloo”, as HBC Nantes are the opponents of the mighty Catalans in the VELUX EHF Champions League quarter-final.
By Peter Bruun
Men´s Champions League Quarter-Final – 1st Leg
HBC Nantes vs Barca Lassa, Wednesday, April 24th – 20:45 hrs. CET
Last season, a French club marked the end of Barca´s Champions League dreams, as Montpellier HB – the team emerged from the lower ranked groups C/D – eliminated the Spanish handball powerhouse already in the Round of Last 16.
The very same club that defeated HBC Nantes in last year´s edition of Europe’s premier club competition, but not until the final game.
After winning Group A, Barca were able skip the Last 16 in 2019, and Nantes eliminated Rhein-Neckar Löwen by one goal on aggregate results.
Nantes will be without Espen Lie Hansen and Nicolas Claire (Nantes) is still doubtful, while left wing Casper U. Mortensen (Barcelona) is out for the rest of the season. Barca will also be missing French left back,Timothey N´guessan.
As the most recent Champions League appearances for both teams date a while back, their respective national league achievements provide a better proxy for both club’s current form.
On Easter Saturday, Nantes reaffirmed second place in the French league, winning 32:25 on the road against Kevin Bonnefoi´s former club, Fénix Toulouse.
Barca have secured first place in Liga Asobal long ago and on Thursday, Victor Tomas & Co., succeeded 35:26 at home, against Anaitasuna.
Kevin Bonnefoi/Arnaud Siffert vs Gonzalo Perez de Vargas/Kevin Møller
Bonnefoi, who was signed in the middle of the 2018/19 season as replacement for injured Cyril Dumoulin has somewhat eclipsed the performance of Anaud Siffert in the goal of Nantes. Ever since Bonnefoi arrived from Toulouse, Dumoulin is not as severely missed as many had feared in Nantes.
Perez de Vargas hardly needs any introduction. The experienced Spanish international virtually guarantees a consistent performance on a high level. He is backed-up by the often underestimated Kevin Møller.
David Belaguer/Lucien Auffret vs Victor Tomas/Aleix Gomez, Alex Pascual
A Spaniard may become one of Barca´s biggest problems in this tie. David Belaguer has been on a tear since joining Nantes.
However, Nantes are somewhat handicapped in this position as Belaguer’s substitute, Auffret, is still far away from the absolute top.
Barca´s two top right wings, Tomas and Gomez form a superior duo compared to Nantes’s options, giving the edge to the visitors.
Kiril Lazarov/Eduardo Gurbindo/Florian Delecroix vs Dika Mem/Jure Dolenec
Very few teams have the luxury of having three extremely qualified left-handers in their backcourt line. Nantes is a notable exception to this “rule”.
But, as experienced as Lazarov and Gurbindo may be and no matter how talented Delecroix is, Dika Mem represents world class on his very best day. Slovenian Jure Dolenec, is a very reliable partner and from the outset it’s hard to see who will make the difference.
Edson Imare (Eduardo Gurbindo) vs Aron Palmarsson/Lasse Andersson
The playmaker position is Nantes´Achilles tendon, especially in the absence of Nicolas Claire. If he does not play, the French club will encounter meaningful problems.
Imare can step up and so can Gurbindo as well as Romain Lagarde and even Olivier Nyokas. But not one of them will reach the level of Claire.
After a troublesome start following his transfer from Veszprém, Palmarsson is blooming again and with Andersson back in form after his long injury break, Barca showcase a very powerful playmaker duo.
Romain Lagarde/Olivier Nyokas/Rock Feliho vs Raul Entrerrios/Gilberto Duarte/Thiagus Petrus
It was no coincidence that Romain Lagarde was awarded the “Player of the Month” by the European Handball Federation, in the month of March.
The career of the 22-year-old French international has taken a steep upward turn over the course of the past twelve months. Nantes should consider themselves fortunate to have another year to find his replacement before he leaves and joins Rhein-Neckar Löwen.
Lagarde and the experienced Nyokas complement each other well, while Barca will inevitably be suffering from missing N´guessan. Still, watch out for Brazilian Duarte and veteran Entrerrios.
Valero Rivera/Julian Emonet vs Aitor Arino/Nemanja Ilic
Yet another position, where a Spaniard and former Barca player may cause trouble for the Catalans.
Valero Rivera, son of Qatar’s national coach, has it all to inflict maximum pain and his stand-in, Emonet, gets better all the time.
For Barca the absence of Mortensen is a handicap – no doubt about it even though Nemanja Ilic has done better than most of the pundits expected and Aitor Arino is a wing player of high class.
Nicolas Tournat/Dragan Pechmalbec/Romaric Guillo vs Ludovic Fabregas/Kamil Syprzak
While Romaric Guillo is likely to fight his battles on the defensive end, French international, Nicolas Tournat, is a very talented line player who pursues his opportunities on the other end of the court.
Yet, another Frenchman may spell trouble for Nantes. Ludovic Fabregas has turned into a golden signing, when he joined Barca from Montpellier over the summer.
When talking about Barca´s pivots, we should certainly not forget about Polish, Kamil Syprzak and the two times Champions League winner, Cedric Sorhaindo.
Thierry Anti vs Xavi Pascual
After his achievements with Nantes over the past decade, Anti should not have any troubles finding a new job, when he leaves “The H” after next season.
The same holds true for Pascual, should he ever need to look for new employment.
Both coaches have brilliant squads at their disposal and both men are among the very best coaches in the world.