Barcelona to touch down in hot Landing ZoneArticle
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BLOG: The opening match against Kolding was a lesson for SG Flensburg-Handewitt in the harsh realities of being the champion. Everyone wants to beat you, ehfTV commentator writes in his blog before the Round 5 classic.

Barcelona to touch down in hot Landing Zone

The LZ for MOTW in EHFCL is Flensie where all the VIPs will be watching SG versus FCB to see who is currently top of the tree.

Needless to say, the eyes of the watching world will be upon this match as it pits the two protaganists in what was one of the greatest and most dramatic games in the VELUX EHF FINAL4 to date. Flensburg came out on the right side of the win and Barcelona were left to lick their wounds.

If I can quote “Titus Andronicus” one of the lesser appreciated Shakespearean plays

“Vengeance is in my heart, death in my hand,
Blood and revenge are hammering in my head”.

You have to feel that Barcelona will want to redress the balance of that nauseating defeat last summer. Ok, a group win is not going to make up for that defeat, but sometimes, a team needs closure on an event and sport has a lovely habit of allowing us, the “voyeurs” to witness it very quickly.

Five months on, the dramatis personae has changed, though not to the extent that you might have imagined. Although the quantity of changes doesn't appear to be much, the quality of the changes is quite startling.

Flensburg has lost two of its highest quality players and has played, thus far in the group phase, without another (Gottfridsson) of their best performers last season. The effect of the loss of Knudsen and Weinhold is really being felt by the German team.

Sometimes you only realise the value of a player when they are gone and for me this is the case with Knudsen. His partnership with Karlsson was invaluable to the team and they haven't really replaced like with like. Time will tell with Zachariassen. However Heinl would have been seen as heir apparent to his position. Always a good squad player, he has managed a paltry four goals for the team this season.

However it is in defence that his difficulties become apparent. He has nine suspensions in games this season, equating to the total of the Barcelona team.  

Weinhold also is a huge loss. Jakobsson hasn't set the world on fire and the team is depending more and more on Glandorf, a situation that needs to be sorted out quickly.

In fairness to Vranjes, he has a great track record for bringing players along and so we must give them time. But the CL is a bitter mistress. The opening match against Kolding was a lesson in the harsh realities of being the champion. Everyone wants to beat you.

At the end of that game as “Sweet Caroline” reverberated around the arena, the good times were as far away as the could possibly be for SG. The players faces were dejected as the reigning champions lacked any kind of poise, precision or purpose and catastrophically collapsed. A fourteen goal loss is not only unacceptable, it is morale crushing.

Since then, they have three wins on the bounce, yet there is no rhyme or reason to the rhythm of their games. Against Plock, they were losing by five after 6 minutes, yet had a thirteen goal turnaround by the 43rd. Against Besiktas, they had a healthy lead only to see it frittered away by half time. The second half saw a completely different dynamic and they won easily in the end.

Barcelona for their part are hampered by a more damning element. All teams play with pressure, of that there is no doubt. Barcelona play with

“Expectancy”. There are few teams that have this burden, yet at the beginning of each season, they are expected to win. Not just challenge, but win!!!!

They have the players, of that there is no doubt, but they are also feeling the after-effects of the loss of Sterbik, A huge loss in any team's book. Add to that, the seeming malaise that is affecting Rutenka plus the lack of any kind of competiton in the Asobal and it doesn't make pleasant reading for FCB. They have to be sure they don't develop the habit of not performing in the last ten minutes of games.

The fact is that playing on the road isn't easy. Forget your toothbrush, miss a flight, delayed luggage, a lumpy bed and things can contrive against you not producing your best performance. When you consider the pre match routines and rituals of some players, then you realise that everything has to be “just so”, to play at your maximum.

Barcelona is not exempt from playing badly or losing their way in a game. The KIF game was testament to this. The continued belief that this team can go all the way, all the time, in spite of the fact that they haven't win the title since 2011, must cause some inner anxiety.

On a positive note, forgiving the seeming asperity of the article, Flensburg has one of the quickest counter attacks in the competiton and Barcelona's defence and attack are of the highest quality.

But this is Flensbug. And in that quiet corner of the world, handball is king. And in that arena, the thousands who lend their voice to the workings of their team, raise the level even higher than might normally be seen. Flensburg will want to show that the victory over FCB was no flash in the pan. Barcelona will want the panacea of a victory to dull the memories of a day best forgotten.

TEXT: Tom O Brannagain, ehfTV commentator