All eyes on Palmarsson and KielceArticle
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GROUP A/B PREVIEW: The new Icelandic arrival will debut for FC Barcelona, while the Champions League 2015/16 winners prepare to be tested by PSG

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All eyes on Palmarsson and Kielce

The break is over and, as usual, November is a crucial month for group phase rankings in the VELUX EHF Champions League.

The month of truth starts with high hurdles for Rhein-Neckar Löwen, Paris Saint-Germain Handball and THW Kiel, though the headline in Round 6 will be the debut of Barcelona’s new mastermind, Aron Palmarsson, against HC PPD Zagreb.

• In more than 20 years, Zagreb have only won once in Barcelona
• Sergei Gorbok faces his former Löwen teammates
• Brest can end their luckless series against THW Kiel
• Croatian reunion in Kielce

FC Barcelona Lassa (ESP) vs HC Prvo plinarsko drustvo Zagreb (CRO)
Saturday 4 November, 18:00 local time, live on

All eyes on Aron Palmarsson. The Icelandic new arrival did not play in Barca’s league match against Cangas on Wednesday. Instead, the 27-year-old playmaker will have his debut in the Blaugrana jersey on Saturday.

Two-time Champions League winner Palmarsson will be in focus for the Catalans, after his former club Veszprém agreed on the transfer following his suspension from the club.

Looking at the long history of this duel, the clash is a rematch of the 1997, 1998 and 1999 Champions League Finals, all won by Barcelona. Zagreb’s only win against the record winners was in Palau Blaugrana in the 2011/12 group matches.

But it is not only those facts and statistics that place the hosts in the role of favourites.

The Croatian record champions have not won any of their five group matches so far, but drew twice, with Kristianstad and Plock. Barcelona have seven points in their account, though they lost their last match in Skopje.

MOL-Pick Szeged (HUN) vs Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER)
Sunday 5 November, 17:15 local time, live on

Vardar’s hunters meet in the top duel in Group A: current runners-up Rhein-Neckar Löwen (eight points) have some weeks of truth ahead, as the next three rounds will only see them playing away – first in Szeged (seven points), then in Barcelona (seven) and finally in Vardar (nine).

Besides table leaders Vardar, Löwen are only unbeaten team in Group A, including their two draws against Barcelona and Nantes.

Szeged were defeated by Nantes in their opener, but then became the only side so far to snatch a point against defending champions Vardar.

Russian left back Sergei Gorbok will face his former Löwen teammates in what is the ninth duel in history between these clubs. Szeged are ahead in the all-time balance, winning four of the last six encounters, including being responsible for the Lion’s elimination in the 2014/15 Last 16.

Other Group A matches:
IFK Kristianstad (SWE) vs HC Vardar (MKD)
Saturday 4 November, 18:00 local time, live on
Orlen Wisla Plock (POL) vs HBC Nantes (FRA)
Sunday 5 November, 19:00 local time, live on

Match of the Week: HC Meshkov Brest (BLR) vs THW Kiel (GER)
Saturday 4 November, 20:30 local time, live on

Four matches, four wins – this is the all-time balance for THW Kiel against Meshkov Brest. But as the three-time Champions League winners (2007, 2010 and 2012) are extremely shaken at the moment, the chance for Brest is there to end this series.

Before the Match of the Week, Meshkov are two points ahead of Kiel and could increase the gap further. THW have not won a single away point in the current Champions League season, having their weakest start ever.

Brest currently rank second in the SEHA League, while Kiel are only midfield in the Bundesliga and are already eliminated from the German Cup. Alongside long-term injured Domagoj Duvnjak and Raul Santos, line player Patrick Wiencek is in question after dental surgery.

Brest have proven their home strength by beating Champions League 2015/16 winners Kielce in their opener – and as Kiel were demolished at Kielce, another upset is possible. Brest also have the knowledge of how to stand strong against German sides, as they were unlucky to fail against Flensburg in last season’s Last 16 and had previously beaten Rhein-Neckar Löwen.

Left back Petar Djordjic – Brest’s top scorer with 27 goals so far – will be highly motivated, as he lost the 2017 German Cup Final to Kiel while playing for Flensburg, before he went to Belarus.

Paris Saint-Germain Handball (FRA) vs PGE Vive Kielce (POL)
Sunday 5 November, 17:00 local time, live on

In May 2016, the 28:26 semi-final sensation against PSG was the last but one step before Kielce claimed the Champions League title. Now, the two powerhouses of European handball clash for the second time ever.

With just one win from the first five matches, Kielce have had anything but a perfect start, while Paris have only been defeated once, at Flensburg.

The match will reunite Kielce right back Alex Dujshebaev and PSG goalkeeper Rodrigo Corrales after a short break, as both were part of the Spain national team last weekend for two test matches in Germany.

EHF EURO 2018 hosts Croatia will also be represented in this match, by Luka Stepancic (PSG) and Kielce players Manuel Strlek, Filip Ivic and Marko Mamic.

Kielce’s race through the group phase has been something like a rollercoaster so far – defeated in Brest and Celje, then a brilliant performance against Kiel, then twice losing the lead to draw with Veszprém and Flensburg.

Other Group B matches:
Telekom Veszprém HC (HUN) vs Aalborg Handbold (DEN)
Saturday 4 November, 17:30 local time, live on

TEXT: Bjorn Pazen / cg