Fallen off their track or simply a clever move?Article
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FEATURE: Prior to the Match of the Week against Barcelona, THW Kiel seem to be shaken in the VELUX EHF Champions League we look at the possible reasons for this poor patch

Fallen off their track or simply a clever move?

Alfred Gislason is the personalised symbol of THW Kiel currently. After a knee operation, he is only able to walk on crutches. His team is, metaphorically speaking, injured like him mainly in the VELUX EHF Champions League.

In the German Cup, the record winners made it to the semi-finals, where they will face the easiest possible opponent Leipzig; in Bundesliga they are second, three points behind their arch rivals Flensburg.

But on the international stage, the most successful German club ever lag behind. Behind their opponents (eleven points below Barcelona for example), and coming up short in their own expectations. For the first time in years, you could hear boos from the crowd in the Sparkassen-Arena last Saturday.

The 24:21 loss against Bjerringbro-Silkeborg was rock bottom. Never before have Kiel lost three home matches in a Champions League Group Phase. Thus, the question prior to the ehfTV.com Match of the Week against FC Barcelona on Sunday is: Quo, vadis, THW? Is it the coach?Is it the team? Is it the transition? While some fans already shout for a new coach, the club management is fully backing Alfred

Gislason: “All our success in the previous years is connected to his name. I cannot see that he is burnt out. In contrast, Alfred is in the middle of a transition process with young players.

And he truly invests a lot in the development of the team,” manager Thorsten Storm said to the newspaper Kieler Nachrichten - ending all discussions about the Icelander, who is at the helm since 2008.

“Maybe it currently looks like I am lacking my usual passion, but the only reason is that I simply cannot move as I want to after my knee operation,” Gislason added.

But like Storm he apologised for the performance against Bjerringbro: “I am very disappointed with the defeat and with the way we had played,” said Gislason, while Storm added: “I can understand the reaction of our fans after this match, on home ground we have to perform in a completely different way.”

By analysing the results of THW mainly in the VELUX EHF Champions League, it is obvious that team captain Domagoj Duvnjak has to take the biggest burden of responsibility.

The support from those younger players around him - Nykola Bilyk (20), Lukas Nilsson (20) or Christian Dissinger (25) - is not as great, as THW had hoped for. And as Duvnjak had to play the same role for Croatia at the World Championship in France, he seems to be exhausted at the moment.

The long-term injury of right back Steffen Weinhold puts further strain on Duvnjak in the back court. Marko Vujin is far below par at the moment, and thus Christian Zeitz is the only option in this position.

The young guns Bilyk and Nilsson started strong, but due to their age need time to develop and learn how to last in such a long season, in which THW are still part of three competitions.

The biggest coup - adding EURO hero Andreas Wolff to Niklas Landin between the posts - worked well, when both were available. But Landin was ruled out quite often in the last few weeks. And Wolff needs some breaks in order to be at 100 per cent.

Despite already three home defeats and a potential fourth one in the MOTW against Barcelona - the end is not near. “We love those knock-out matches,” has always been the slogan at Kiel. And they are not preoccupied with finishing second or fifth in their group.

Currently the potential Last 16 opponent is either Pick Szeged or Meshkov Brest. Last Champions League season, Kiel finished fourth in their group, eliminated Szeged in the Last 16 and then Barcelona in the quarter-finals to make it to Cologne.

So maybe it was Kiel’s plan not to invest so much into the group phase, knowing that would limit their chances in the domestic competitions. Last season was the first season in 13 years, in which THW Kiel did not win a single trophy.

Everyone at the club know that the fans would not forgive another trophy-less season. In the German Cup (beginning of April) they need two more wins to tick off this task. And a title would boost their confidence in the VELUX EHF Champions League.

Even on crutches, Gislason is clever enough to save energy at one end to have some at the other end. When crunch time of a season starts in March, you can always count on THW. And at the beginning of June you can settle the score, not earlier!

TEXT: Björn Pazen / bc