|01.12.2016, 11:00||◄ last page|
FEATURE: Having played for Barcelona the past two seasons, Paris SG star player Nikola Karabatic returns to the Palau Blaugrana when both teams meet Saturday in the ehfTV.com Match of the Week.
MOTW brings Karabatic back to Barcelona
The VELUX EHF Champions League is like a hurdles race for Paris Saint-Germain these days. After facing Barcelona and Veszprém twice in the last three rounds, the French team will travel to Catalonia to play the ‘Blaugranas’ again in the ehftv.com Match of the Week on Saturday.
When the teams met last month, Paris left the court as clear winners (33:26). This time both sides come off impressive performances in the previous round.
While Barcelona did not joke around with Bjerringbro-Silkeborg, Paris confirmed their top form by defeating Veszprém for a second time in a row.
With all these big events enlaced by French league games, there is little time to enjoy the successes.
"The schedule is crazy. We don't really have time to enjoy any of our wins," Nikola Karabatic said after Paris' second win in as many weeks over Veszprém.
"Here we are, Sunday evening and tomorrow morning we have to go back to training. For sure, it's tough, but when you get the results you're hoping for, it makes everything easier."
Having beaten Veszprém, Barcelona and Flensburg-Handewitt since the beginning of the season, training might have become a walk in the park for the Paris players.
Speaking of hurdles, playing Barcelona at their Palau Blaugrana might just be one of the highest hurdles Karabatic has to jump over this season.
The teams share first place in Group A so another win would give PSG a clear advantage in the run for first place. But Barcelona captain Victor Tomás and his teammates will be extra motivated.
"They lost the first leg, so they will want to take revenge, that is for sure," says Karabatic, who compares Saturday's game to football. "The game will be just after the 'Clasico' (FC Barcelona vs Real Madrid) so the Palau will surely be full to the rafters. It is going to be a big game but, most of all, 60 minutes of pleasure."
Karabatic does not see his team as favourites "but we showed this season that we have the ability to play well away."
After witnessing Lionel Messi competing with Cristiano Ronaldo, many Barcelona football fans will walk the few meters that separate Camp Nou from Palau Blaugrana to see their former star player again.
Only good memories
Karabatic played for two seasons in Catalonia, winning the Champions League with the Spanish side in 2015, and took only good memories with him.
"I have got friends there, they are almost all close friends," he said befote the first leg last month. "Playing against Barcelona is special, especially since we did not play against each other last season."
But, as he rightly puts it, "when the game is on, there's no such thing as a friend in the opponing team."
With Cédric Sorhaindo back on track after missing the first leg due to injury, Barcelona look like a team that could make Paris stumble. Hoewever, PSG's collective looks particulary impressive these days.
"The kind of wins we had against Veszprém allows us to grow. It is amazing but we also know that the month of November doesn't mean much," says Karabatic as he avoids euphoria. "Last season we finished first of the group and we did not win the Champions League. Same thing for Barcelona, they even were not in Cologne. So yes, we are happy, but we know that the road is still a very long one."
His words might sound too cautious but the French side have learnt from desillusions in the past few years. And Karabatic, having won the Champions League three times already, knows what it takes to go all the way.
And that includes showing no mercy to old friends.
TEXT: Kevin Domas / ew