Castling of stars completed, two towers recruitedArticle
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VELUX EHF Champions League club countdown: 28 days to go - FC Barcelona Lassa, defending champions

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Castling of stars completed, two towers recruited

For four years since 2011, they were the hunters, now FC Barcelona Lassa switched to a different role and are the hunted once again.

After winning the EHF Champions League for the eighth time to extend their record winning series in 2015 (by beating Veszprem in the final), the Catalan giants have concluded a perfect season, winning each and every competition they took.

Prior to the new challenge of defending the title again, the team of coach Xavi Pascual lost one of their masterminds, Nikola Karabatic.

The current IHF World Player of the Year and MVP of the 2015 VELUX EHF FINAL4 returned to his home country France, joining uprising Paris Saint-Germain Handball. In addition, young wing player Joan Saubich transferred to France too, signing for Aix.

However, borrowing a chess vocabulary it can be said that the castling of stars in Barcelona has been successfully completed and two tall towers have been added on their playing field.

As recently as Tuesday, Barcelona filled the gap by a former World Player of the year as Filip Jicha (33) arrives from THW Kiel. The two-time VELUX EHF Champions League winner (2010 and 2012) and top scorer (2008/09 and 2009/10) signed a four-year contract with Barca, valid until 2019 to replace Karabatic.

Besides the Karabatic/Jicha mega transfers the Barcelona squad remained nearly the same as Pascual additionally added in total 4.16 metres with two other new arrivals: right back Marko Kopljar (2.10 from Paris) and line player Kamil Syprzak (2.06) from Plock.

Again Barcelona have the strategy to win all the competitions - and as the 22-time Spanish champions are without any major competition in the Asobal league and domestic cup they again can focus on the European top flight.

In the group phase, Barcelona avoided Paris and 2015 finalists Veszprem, but will have to play against Kielce, Vardar, Kolding, Szeged, Löwen, Montpellier and Kristianstad.

“All opponents are on a great level. Anything can happen,” says team captain and three-time Champions League winner Victor Tomas, adding: “Due to the new format it is important to finish first in the group to avoid the Last 16 and have two fewer matches.”

His coach Xavi Pascual is mainly aware of the tough away games for his team. “To win those matches will be very difficult, but I am sure that all teams will lose some away matches. In general, both groups are hard to play, there will be no easy games this season,” Pascual said.

Tomas has the same opinion: “The new competition system produces more and harder games, but it is always FC Barcelona’s objective to win.”

One week prior to the start of the VELUX EHF Champions League, the Catalans aim to defend their first international title, at the IHF Super Globe in Qatar. But for Pascual this tournament is only a prelude. “The VELUX EHF Champions League is the most important competition for all clubs in the world,” he underlined.

FC Barcelona Lassa (ESP)
Qualification for the VELUX EHF Champions League 2015/16 season: Spanish champions
Newcomers: Filip Jicha (THW Kiel), Marko Kopljar (PSG) and Kamil Syprzak (Orlen Wisla Plock)
Left the club: Nikola Karabatic (Paris Saint-Germain Handball) and Joan Saubich (Aix-en-Provence)
Coach: Xavi Pascual (since February 2009)
Opponents in the group phase: Kielce, Vardar, Kolding, Szeged, Löwen, Kristianstad, Montpellier in Group B

VELUX EHF Champions League records:
Participations (including 2015/2016 season): 19
Winner (8): 1995/96, 1996/97, 1997/98, 1998/99, 1999/00, 2004/05, 2010/11, 2014/15
Final (3): 2000/01, 2009/10, 2012/13
Semi-final (2): 2007/08, 2013/14
Quarter-final (3): 2005/06, 2006/07, 2011/12
Last 16 (1): 2003/04
Main Round (1): 2008/09

Other achievements:

EHF Cup: Winner 2002/2003, Finalist 2001/2002
Cup Winners' Cup: Winner 1993/1994, 1994/1995

Spanish league: 22 titles (1968/69, 1972/73, 1979/80, 1981/82, 1985/86, 1987/88, 1988/89, 1989/90, 1990/91, 1991/92, 1995/96, 1996/97, 1997/98, 1998/99, 1999/2000, 2002/03, 2005/06, 2010/11, 2011/12, 2012/13, 2013/14, 2014/15)
Spanish Cup: 19 titles (1968/69, 1971/72, 1972/73, 1982/83, 1983/84, 1984/85, 1987/88, 1989/90, 1992/93, 1993/94, 1996/97, 1997/98, 1999/2000, 2003/04, 2006/07, 2008/09, 2009/10, 2013/14, 2014/15)
Asobal Cup: 10 titles (1994/95, 1995/96, 1999/2000, 2000/01, 2001/02, 2009/10, 2011/12, 2012/13, 2013/14, 2014/15)

TEXT: Björn Pazen / br