The handball Champions League is back and and excitement is building for the biggest club competition on the planet.
Defending champions Barcelona are out to stay on the throne they won in June, but with Nikola Karabatic and Mikkel Hansen joining forces again at PSG after their titanic clash in the Olympic final in Tokyo, the Parisians are set on winning their first ever Champions League title.
Karabatic came out on top in Tokyo winning an unprecedented third Olympic gold medal, but Hansen was sensational, scoring 12 goals in the semi-final and nine in the final to help Denmark to a silver medal.
Having both back together and on top form is a frightening prospect for everyone else, and it's Hansen's final season in Paris, meaning he'll be even keener to say goodbye in style.
But there are plenty of other teams with a legitimate claim too, like rising Danish club Aalborg who lost out in the final to Barça last June, Kiel who beat Barça to win the 19/20 Christmas final in December 2020.
Then there's a hungry chasing pack including Veszprem, Flensburg, Kielce, Szeged, Vardar, Montpellier and more in a competition that always springs a few surprises and sees underdogs rise from nowhere.
Read on for a preview, schedule, stars to watch and more.
When is the 2021/22 handball Champions League?
The 2021/22 handball Champions League runs from 15 September 2021 to 19 June 2022.
Handball Champions League Preview
Plenty of teams are dreaming big this season and are out to make history for their clubs.
Incredibly, PSG have never won the Champions League title despite making the EHF Final4 at five of the last six editions, only making the final once in 2017.
It feels like the end of an era for PSG who are saying goodbye to five players at the end of this season, with Nedim Remili and Benoit Kounkoud off to Kielce and goalkeepers Vincent Gerard and Yann Genty also moving on, while Mikkel Hansen is making a high-profile return home to Aalborg next summer.
How they would love to leave PSG on a historic note.
And PSG aren't the only ones out to break a hex, Veszprem have been to Cologne six times and made the final three times but are still searching for that elusive first trophy.
They share a group with a team that's had no such troubles, ten-time winners Barcelona will have No.11 as a main aim this season, the Catalans have already had their first taste of silverware this season winning the Spanish Supercup.
Those two will meet in Group B which is absolutely stacked: SG Flensburg-Handewitt, Kielce, PSG and Barça, will all be set on claiming the top two qualifying spots.
On the other side of the draw THW Kiel and Aalborg will be zoned on the top two spots.
After making their first final ever last season, Aalborg will be out to take that extra step bolstered by the arrival of Aron Palmarsson from Barça.
Kiel have found some continuity and will name a pretty unchanged team with one huge bonus in the return of influential centre-back Nikola Bilyk.
Kiel are reigning Bundesliga champions after they held off SG Flensburg-Handewitt on the final day of the season and with a line-up packed with some of the biggest names in the game, a second Champions League title in three seasons is top priority.
But Kiel and Aalborg will have a fight on their hands with Hungarian champions Pick Szeged aiming to end their own hoodoo having never made the Final4.
But with a number of exciting new signings – including free-scoring centre-back Miguel Martins who’s arrived from Porto. At 23 Martins has a lot to give.
Contract extensions for star man and now captain Bence Banhidi and for coach Juan Carlos Pastor who’s now in his ninth season give the club a sense of stability and making the top two automatic spots to go straight through to the quarter-finals.
Stars to watch
Handball's constellation of superstars are ready light it up again this season.
Favourites for many to defend their title, Barca boast heavyweights like Olympic gold medallists Dika Mem, Timothey N’Guessan, Melvyn Richardsson, bronze medallists Gonzalo Perez de Vargas and Aleix Gomez.
Add Luka Cindric, Blaz Janc, Haniel Langaro and Thiagus Petrus to the international mix and it’s easy to see why many have them finishing with an 11th title.
PSG have plenty of strength in depth too beyond the big two of Hansen and Karabatic – Luc Steins was immense in the absence of Karabatic last season, Nedim Remili proved in Tokyo why he’s one of the best in the game right now, and Elohim Prandi is one of the fastest rising stars in handball too.
Then there’s Latvian giant Dainis Kristopans, Ferran Sole, Hendrik Toft Hansen... The list goes on.
One player that PSG will have to do without is 21-year-old Dylan Nahi who Kielce picked up in probably the signing of the season.
Nahi is an off-the wall talent, a future Olympic champ in the making and part of France’s frightening next generation, he’ll play under coach Talant Dujshebaev and alongside the Dujshebaev brothers Alex and Dani.
With Andreas Wolf in goal, Szymon Sicko and Nicolas Tournat in the side, Kielce are aiming high.
Handball is one of the fastest growing sports on the planet and over 400 million people tuned in to watch the 2020/21 edition as access has been improved and streaming platforms have made the game widely available.
This season is set to be the biggest yet.
The 2021/22 Champions League will run from Wednesday 15 September 2021 – Sunday 19 June 2022.
Here’s a basic schedule:
15 September 2021 – 10 March 2022
Knockout Stage Playoffs (To decide the quarter-finalists outside top two in each group)
1st leg - 30-31 March 2022
2nd leg - 6-7 April 2022
18/19 June 2022