BLOG: Never assumeArticle
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ehfTV commentator Tom Ó Brannagáin goes to Madrid this weekend to follow an all-Spanish clash Atlético vs FC Barcelona.

BLOG: Never assume

I was once given a very good piece of advice, from a good friend and producer, in my media career. He said: “Never ass-u-me, it makes an ass out of u and me.” I have never forgotten that and it has been very helpful in terms of preparation, making sure that I can overcome any difficulties that may arise on the day of any broadcast.

The same piece of advice might just be what Barcelona need in the run up to their game against Atlético Madrid. MOTW takes us to the “Vistalegre” again, where we began this season of the VELUX EHF Champions League.

The history between these two teams is incredible. Barcelona holds the balance of power now, but it was not so long ago that it was Atlético Madrid that was winning everything. The term “swings and roundabouts” come to mind, but at present the swing is definitely in Barca’s favour.

The team that Talant Dujshebaev assembled since 2005, that won so much, is disintegrating before his eyes. It’s like a country and western song, but instead of the wife running off with his best friend and taking the dog and all his money, his team is being systematically torn apart.

At the start of the season, his first choice goalkeeper, Sterbik, transferred to bitter rivals Barcelona, and if you add to that Viran, and of course Rutenka from a few seasons ago, (also to Barcelona) the picture is not a pretty one for Madrid. Dinart and Abalo went to Paris.

The recent transfer of Markussen to Qatar only heaps the misery on a team that, this year, has not reached the heights of three final fours and three EHF Champions League victories in 4 years before the advent of the VELUX EHF FINAL4.

But they are here. Had it not been for Madrid, all the quarter finals would have been between former group combatants and they have performed way above their early season form to get to where they are now. Balić in particular seems to love knockout handball and the Catalans, Cañellas, Davis and Masachs will want to prove a point, of that there is no doubt.

Barcelona currently leads the Spanish league by a wide margin and with only Madrid able to give them a run for their money; a massive five points difference, says that they are the dominant force in Spain.

They have also beaten Madrid in the final of the Asobal cup, so on current form you would assume that Madrid has no chance.

Never assume! No one gave them a hope in Berlin and they did the business.

But Barcelona is not Berlin, albeit they lost to the aforementioned in a tight game in the group stages. They boast one of the best back court partnerships in the world in Entrerrios and Rutenka. They have the two best goalkeepers in Sterbik and Šarić. They have, in fact, 14 top players that can interchange at any given time in a game.

Normally, you would look at the form book and the squads and even the superb coaching of Pascual and say that there is no chance that Madrid can win. Hombrados’ returning will be a massive fillip. But if you match all the players, man for man, in their position then Barcelona comes out on top in all areas except perhaps in right back where Lazarov plays. Added to that Barcelona’s quicker tempo and more fluid team play they look like a sure bet.

But I never assume anything. There is a seed of doubt in my mind and no doubt, given the professionals they are, Barcelona will expect the unexpected. This Madrid team has a core of warriors, which given exceptional circumstances, will perform way above their level.

No one gave Liverpool a chance against Chelsea in the CL semi-final of 2005; No one gave Ali a chance against Foreman in the “Rumble in the Jungle”; No one gave USA ice hockey team a chance in the 1980 Olympic final against USSR.

Sport is littered with the “shoulda, coulda, woulda’s” of teams that thought all they had to do was turn up. I doubt Barcelona will approach the game in this way, but if the psychology of the players is not right, then who knows.

All I know for sure is that at least one Spanish team will be at the final weekend. Your guess is as good as mine as to which one it will be.

Further information
Follow the Match of the Week live and free of charge on on Saturday 20 April, 19:00 hrs local time.

TEXT: Tom Ó Brannagáin, ehfTV commentator