Big shoes need to be filled in Flensburg
Despite a year of transition, SG Flensburg-Handewitt again were on the winner’s podium of the German Bundesliga at the end of the 2018/19 season. They defended their title for the first time in the club’s history - but again missed out on the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne.
Now the club hopes to return to the ‘cathedral of handball’ even though two core players, Tobias Karlsson and Rasmus Lauge, are no longer part of the squad.
Three questions before the new season:
- How will the Flensburg defence stand the heat without Tobias Karlsson?
In his last season, Tobias Karlsson again was awarded ‘best defender’ of the Bundesliga, for the fourth time in the last five years. Now Karlsson has finished his career - and the whole defence system of SG Flensburg-Handewitt needs to be readjusted. “The full focus in the preparation for the new season was on the defence,” says coach Maik Machulla. “We are trying to find a new hierarchy.”
Flensburg’s advantage: they could start implementing the new system last season with the trio of Simon Hald, who is expected to become the ‘new’ Karlsson, Anders Zachariassen and Johannes Golla. So the club didn’t need to add a new defence specialist. But the gap Karlsson hahs left is huge, and the trio does not yet have the experience and aura of the Swede.
- Which role will experienced new arrival Michal Jurecki play?
While mastermind Rasmus Lauge has moved to Veszprém, Flensburg have signed Michal Jurecki, a classical shooter. The way both play is completely different, but the decision to sign the experienced Pole was clever. Jurecki is strong in defence, and in combination with young Swede Simon Jeppson he can form an interesting duo in the left back position. With Jim Gottfridsson as the No. 1 playmaker and tall Simon Röd as the right back, the newly formed back court is strong… but definitely not stronger than with Rasmus Lauge, who was named best Bundesliga player last season. Many opponents have a better axis.
- How realistic is the goal to make it to Cologne?
Predictions are tricky but Flensburg will prepare for a tough season. They are under constant pressure as the hunted team in the Bundesliga. In some cases they will have less than 50 hours rest between domestic and European games. Also, many of their players will feature at the EHF EURO 2020 in January and the Olympic qualification tournaments in April. So how much energy will be left in the players’ tanks by the time the VELUX EHF FINAL4 comes around? On paper Flensburg are a candidate for the quarter-finals, or even more. But everything must fit perfectly for their second trip to the VELUX EHF FINAL4 after 2014.
Under the spotlight: Johannes Golla
He went ‘from zero to hero’ in the 2018/19 season. Coming from MT Melsungen, his star rose much quicker than even he himself had expected. A step-by-step integration was planned but Golla ended up playing in nearly all matches, showing his great skills mainly in attack. He even became a German national team player in April. Now Tobias Karlsson has left, the responsibility on Golla’s shoulders will grow but in the first official match of the season - the Super Cup, which they won against THW Kiel - Golla was Flensburg’s best scorer. He seemed to continue where he stopped last season.
They all hope for their second ticket to Cologne, but they know that the way there is steep. “We have a really strong and balanced group with teams with a lot of EHF Champions League experience, like Barça or Celje,” says manager Dierk Schmäschke. “But we want to be on the court in Cologne and we are looking forward to playing the games against the Scandinavian teams.” Team captain Lasse Svan expects two personal highlights in the group phase - against Barça and Aalborg - and he hopes to go all the way, too: “Reaching the VELUX EHF FINAL4 is our major goal.”
Including Rasmus Lauge, who has meanwhile left for Veszprém, SG Flensburg-Handewitt were the club with the biggest number of players represented at the World Championship 2019 Final in Herning, Denmark: four Danes and four Norwegians from their squad were on court when hosts Denmark took their first world title.
What the numbers say
SG Flensburg-Handewitt are the only handball club to have won four different European Cup competitions: VELUX EHF Champions League (2014), Cup Winners’ Cup (2001, 2012), EHF Cup (1997) and City Cup (1999).
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SG Flensburg-Handewitt (GER)
Qualified for VELUX EHF Champions League 2019/20: German champions
Newcomers: Michal Jurecki (Kielce), Niels Versteijnen (own youth)
Left the club: Tobias Karlsson (retired), Rasmus Lauge (Telekom Veszprém)
Coach: Maik Machulla (since 2017)
Team captain: Lasse Svan
VELUX EHF Champions League records:
Participations (including 2019/20 season): 15
Winners (1): 2013/14
Final (2): 2003/04, 2006/07
Semi-final (1): 2005/06
Quarter-final (8): 2004/05, 2008/09, 2010/11, 2012/13, 2015/16, 2016/17, 2017/18, 2018/19
Last 16 (1): 2014/15
Main Round (1): 2007/08
Other EC records:
Cup Winners’ Cup:
Winners: 2000/01, 2011/12; Final: 2001/02
Winners: 1996/97; Final: 1997/98, 1999/2000
3 titles (2004, 2018, 2019)
4 titles (2003, 2004, 2005, 2015)