A new road to the Champions League trophy begins next week, and the end is in June.
The first two tournaments of the 2020/21 Champions League will be played from Monday to Thursday in Ostia near Rome (Italy) and Budapest (Hungary).
This season, LEN decided to change the playing format, because of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The number of participating clubs has been reduced from 16 to 12. The “bubble” tournaments replace the usual home-and-away playing format.
The top four teams from each group will advance to the Final Eight (Hannover, June 3 – 5).
The first three-day tournament of Group A starts in Ostia tomorrow. Pro Recco, Olympiacos, Jug, Spandau 04, Marseille, and Ortigia compete in this group.
Titleholder Ferencvaros, Barceloneta, Hannover, Jadran HN, Dinamo Tbilisi and Brescia are in Group B. These four clubs will play their first matches in Budapest on Tuesday.
Today, we present the six teams that will play in Group A
2020/21 Champions League, Group A
Group A will see encounters between three clubs that have been regular participants of the final tournaments in the last several years.
It is hard to imagine a Final Eight without Pro Recco, Jug, or Olympiacos. Pro Recco and Jug played at each of the final tournaments in the previous five completed seasons (Final Six until 2017, and Final Eight since 2018). Olympiacos didn’t qualify for the Final Six in 2015, although it finished 3rd in Group A (4th-placed Barceloneta advanced to F6 as a host). However, the Greeks reached the final tournament in the next four editions.
These three teams are favorites for the top three places in this group. Pro Recco and Olympiacos cut their budgets this summer. A lot of good players left both clubs.
Pro Recco shortened its roster. Some of the big stars, as Filip Filipovic, Andro Buslje, Joseph Kayes, Vincenzo Renzuto, departed from Pro Recco. Only one big foreign star has come – Australian Aaron Younger (Ferencvaros). The Italians have a new coach Gabriel Hernandez, who replaced retired Ratko Rudic. But, Recco’s ambition is always the same – the Champions League trophy. The 8-time continental champion hasn’t won a European trophy since 2015 and wants to break the row of losses in finals and semifinals.
Olympiacos, which made two finals in the last two completed editions of the CHL (1st place in 2018, and 2nd place in 2019), made dramatic changes on the team. Maro Jokovic, Stefan Mitrovic, Ivan Buljubasic, Stefan Zivojinovic, Alexandros Gounas, Emmanouil Mylonakis left the club. According to unofficial information, Olympiacos was considering withdrawal from the Champions League. Still, the Piraeus-based club, led by captain Konstantinos Mourikis, will enter the battle for the European trophy. Several Greek players and two Americans (Max Irving and Hannes Daube) replaced the players who left. The Greek champion composed a solid team that won’t be a firm favorite, but the Piraeus-based team isn’t an underdog.
As usual, Jug wasn’t very active in the transfer market. The Croatian champion prepares long-term projects and doesn’t make a lot of changes during transfer windows. It has become a tradition. Two national team players Marko Macan and Luka Lozina left the club. American Alex Obert arrived to replace center-forward Lozina. Without any doubt, Jug is among the clubs which can reach the trophy.
After winning the 2019 LEN Euro Cup, and ups and downs in its debut in the Champions League last year, French Marseille set higher goals. By bringing superstar Andrija Prlainovic, Dejan Lazovic, Vladan Spaic, Marseille proves that it wants to make one or a few steps forward comparing to the previous seasons. Marseille isn’t a contender for 1st place in the group, but the French team can beat each of the rivals in the group and reach the Final Eight.
Spandau 04 is one of the most decorated teams in the history of the Champions League (European Cup earlier), but the Germans’ most significant success in the last ten years has been 8th place in the 2018 CHL. Spandau hasn’t played an official match since September (the start of the German League has been postponed), and the lack of games might be a problem for them.
Ortigia will debut in the Champions League after a successful performance in the qualifications. The Sicilians were the hosts of Group A and finished 1st, after a narrow win over Mladost in the final. If they show their best, they can battle for 4th place in the group. The first round and the match against Olympiacos will answer if Ortigia is able to run the race for 4th place.
Ortigia is the only club in this group that hasn’t won a trophy in LEN competitions. Last season, the Sicilians reached the LEN Euro Cup final, but they didn’t get a chance to climb the podium since the season was canceled.
Facts and statistics
Olympiacos Piraeus (Greece)
Last five completed seasons – 2019: runner-up; 2018: winner; 2017: 6th place; 2016: runner-up; 2015: group stage (3rd place in Gr. A).
2020 (after 10 rounds): 3rd in Group A – 22pts (102:89)
Best results: 2x winner (2002, 2018).
Transfers, summer 2020
Arrivals: Marios Kapotsis (Steaua), Thanasis Chrysospathis (Szentes), Achilles Grammatikos (Apollon Smyrnis), Max Irwing (Ydraikos), Stefanos Galanopoulos, Emmanouil Prekas (both Ydriakos), Giannis Syrmas (Glyfada), Hannes Daube (USC Trojans).
Departures: Maro Jokovic, Ivan Buljubasic, Stefan Zivojinovic, Stefan Mitrovic, Emmanouil Mylonakis, Ippokratis Chalyvopoulos, Alexandros Gounas, Stelios Dalmaras.
Stars to watch: Konstantinos Genidounias, Konstantinos Mourikis, Max Irwing, Marios Kapotsis, Tanasis Chrysopathis, Emmanouil Zerdevas (GK), Hannes Daube, etc.
Head coach: Theorodos Vlachos
Pro Recco (Italy)
Last five completed seasons – 2019: 3rd place; 2018: runner-up; 2017: 3rd place; 2016: 4th place; 2015: winner.
2020 (after 9 rounds): 2nd in Group B, 20 pts (133:85)
Best results: 8x winner (1965, 1984, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2015)
Transfers, summer 2020
Arrivals: head coach Gabriel Hernandez, Nicholas Presciutti (Brescia), Nicolo Figari (Brescia), Tomaso Negri (Posillipo), Aaron Younger (Ferencvaros), Ben Hallock (University Stanford)
Departures: head coach Ratko Rudic, Edoardo Di Somma, Francesco Massaro, Andrea Fondelli, FIlip FIlipovic, Vincenczo Renzuto Iodice, Andro Buslje, Joseph Kayes.
Stars to watch: Aleksandar Ivovic, Dusan Mandic, Francesco Di Fulvio, Marko Bijac (GK), Niksa Dobud, Aaron Younger, Pietro Figlioli, Gonzalo Echenique, etc.
Head coach: Gabriel Hernandez.
Jug Adriatic Osiguranje Dubrovnik (Croatia)
Last five completed seasons – 2019: 5th place; 2018: 4th place; 2017: runner-up; 2016: winner; 2015: 4th place.
2020 (after 10 rounds): 2nd in Group A – 24pts (130:97)
Best results: 4x winner (1981, 2001, 2006, 2016), LEN Trophy (2000).
Transfers summer 2020
Arrivals: Alex Obert (Ydriakos)
Departures: Marko Macan, Luka Lozina, Luka Stahor, Djivo Bobic, Antonio Gavranic, Nikola Simunovic, Leo Cukrov.
Stars to watch: Luka Loncar, Paulo Obradovic, Loren Fatovic, Javier Garcia, Toni Popadic (GK), Daniil Merkulov, Hrvoje Benic, Alexandros Papanastasiou, Alex Obert, etc.
Head coach: Vjekoslav Kobescak.
CN Marseille (France)
Last five completed seasons – 2019: played in LEN Euro Cup; 2018: eliminated in Qualification Round 3; 2017: QR 2; 2016: QR 3; 2015: QR 2.
2020 (after 10 rounds): 6th in Group B – 10 pts (108:112)
Best results: Euro Cup winner (2019)
Transfers summer 2020
Arrivals: head coach Milos Scepanovic, Andrija Prlainovic (OSC Budapest), Dejan Lazovic (Budva), Vladan Spaic (Jadran Herceg Novi).
Departures: head coach Marc Ameldrich, Milos Scepanovic, Tom Christiaens, Roman Blary.
Stars to watch: Andrija Prlainovic, Ugo Crousillat, Dejan Lazovic (GK), Ante Vukicevic, Vladan Spaic, Uros Cuckovic, Igor Kovacevic, Alexandre Camarasa, etc.
Head coach: Milos Scepanovic.
Spandau 04 Berlin (Germany)
Last five completed seasons: 2019: group stage (8th in Gr.B); 2018: 8th place; 2017: group stage (5th in Gr.A); 2016: group stage (5th in Gr. A); 2015: group stage (5th in Gr. B)
2020 (after 10 rounds): 6th in Group A – 11 pts (96:108)
Best results: 4x winner (1983, 1986, 1987, 1989).
Transfers summer 2020
Arrivals: Marino Cagalj (Jadran HN), Ivan Domagoj Zovic (Jadran S)
Departures: Ben Reibel (ASC Duisburg).
Stars to watch: Dmitri Kholod, Marko Stamm, Nikola Dedovic, Marino Cagalj, Laszlo Baksa (GK), Maurice Jungling, Mateo Cuk, etc.
Head coach: Petar Kovacevic.
CC Ortigia (Italy)
Last five completed seasons: Newcomer in the Champions League
Best results: finalist in Euro Cup (2020, final was canceled), semi‐finalist (2019)
Transfers summer 2020
Arrivals: Cristiano Mirarchi (Sport Management), Niccolo Rocchi (Trieste), Federico Piccionetti (Roma)
Depatrures: Raffaele Rotondo, La Rosa, Enrico Caruso.
Stars to watch: Stefano Tempesti (GK), Massimo Giacoppo, Valentino Gallo, Stefan Vidovic, Christiano Napolitano, Simone Rossi, etc.
Head coach: Stefano Piccardo.
Schedule of “bubble” tournament in Ostia
Day 1(14 Dec)
15.15: Olympiacos – Ortigia (Recent encounters: not met in CHL)
17.45: Spandau – Jug (Recent encounters – 2019/20: Jug – Spandau 12:7)
20.15: Pro Recco – Marseille (Recent encounters – 2019/20: Marseille – Pro Recco 9:13)
Day 2 (15 Dec)
15.15: Jug – Marseille (Recent encounters: not met in CHL)
17.45: Spandau – Olympiacos (Recent encounters: 2019/20: Spandau – Olympiacos 7:11, 8:13; 2018 F8, Quarter-finals: 5:6; 2016/17: 6:11, 8:10)
20.15: Ortigia – Pro Recco (Recent encounters: not met in CHL. 2019/20 Italian league: Ortigia – Recco 12:18)
Day 3 (16 Dec)
15.15: Marseille – Ortigia (Recent encounters: not met in CHL. Euro Cup semi-finals 2019: Marseille – Ortigia 7:4, 10:4)
17.45: Olympiacos – Jug (Recent encounters: 2019/20: Olympiacos – Jug 6:5, 9:13; 2018/19: 6:10, 10:10; 2017/18: 8:6, 8:10; 2017 F8, Quarter-final: 8:11; 2016 F6, Final: 4:6)
20.15: Pro Recco – Spandau 04 Berlin (2017/18: Recco – Spandau 12:4, 10:9)
Round 2, March, 1 – 5, 2021 (host to be determined)
Day 4: Jug – Ortigia, Spandau 04 – Marseille, Olympiacos – Pro Recco.
Day 5: Pro Recco – Jug, Marseille – Olympiacos, Spandau 04 – Ortigia.
Day 6: Jug – Pro Recco, Olympiacos – Marseille, Ortigia – Spandau 04
Day 7: Ortigia – Jug, Marseille – Spandau 04, Pro Recco – Olympiacos.
Round 3, April 19 – 22, 2021 (host TBD)
Day 8: Ortigia – Marseille, Jug – Olympiacos, Spandau 04 – Pro Recco.
Day 9: Marseille – Jug, Pro Recco – Ortigia, Olympiacos – Spandau 04.
Day 10: Jug – Spandau 04, Marseille – Pro Recco, Ortigia – Olympiacos.