A brand new EHF Handball Champions League is about to get underway, and fans are in for a treat.
Barçelona became the first ever team to successfully defend the EHF Champions League title in 2021/22 and are now on the trail of a historic threepeat.
The Catalans claimed the title after it all came down to a nail-biting penalty shootout against Poland's Kielce in Cologne with one single save from captain Gonzalo de Perez Vargas the difference between victory and defeat.
Expect more riveting action in the 22/23 - with three-time IHF World Player of the Year Mikkel Hansen at rising Danish power Aalborg, big things happening at traditional German stalwart SC Magdeburg, and the usual suspects Kielce, Veszprem, PSG, THW Kiel, Pick Szeged and Nantes all aiming at the title.
Read on for a preview, schedule, and who to watch in this season's Champions League.
EHF Men's Handball Champions League preview 22/23
While a Barça threepeat will be incredibly difficult, that's exactly what Carlos Ortega's team is hoping to do, and having retained their big stars and settled into a new style of play, they're the team to beat this term.
An added bonus for them is the arrival of the supremely talented Swede Hampus Wanne at left back.
With that penalty shootout loss still fresh in their minds, Kielce will be all the more motivated to get back to the Final Four. The loss hurt even more when you consider they beat Barcelona twice earlier in the group stage last time around.
There's no doubt that the irrepressible Talant Dujshebaev (Voted All-Star team coach in June) and his sons Dani and Alex will be among the favourites again this season.
Veszprem and Kiel were the two beaten semi-finalists in June with the German side winning the third-place match.
But they've been particularly busy this summer with Tomas Mrkva (Bergischer HC), Petter Øverby (HC Erlangen), Eric Johansson (Elverum Handball), Ben Connar Battermann, Henri Pabst (youth), Karl Wallinius (Montpellier HB) all on the transfer arrivals list.
With Sagosen potentially out until December, the team will have to do without him in a group that contains both Barça and Kielce, but with the new kids and experienced campaigners like Patrick Wiencek, Kiel could be right up there at the business end of the season again.
Conspicuous by their absence in the Final Four last June, PSG once again set out on a quest to capture their first ever Champions League title.
The departure of Mikkel Hansen leaves a big hole on the teamsheet, and the Parisian giants are putting their faith in the experienced Mathieu Grebille and 22-year-old rising star Yoann Gibelin at left-back.
The arrival of Andreas Palicka in goal is a huge plus for them, and at 38, Olympic champion Nikola Karabatic still has a lot to contribute.
While they haven't made a big banner signing to replace Hansen, it would be foolish to count PSG out.
Elsewhere Vezsprem have held on to three players who were among the ten top scorers in last season's competition: Petar Nenadic, Gasper Marguc, and Egyptian sensation Yahia Omar.
We'll see that potent attack in action again this time around, putting Veszprem firmly in that swelling group of serious contenders.
Handball's best players and biggest stars to watch
The biggest names in the game play in the sport's most prestigious club competition, and while there are far too many to mention them all, here are a few players you should definitely keep an eye on this season.
Barça's reset under Carlos Ortega worked like a dream when it mattered last season and with the two tournament top scorers Dika Mem and Aleix Gomez proving what superstars they are, expect them to come out with all guns blazing once more.
And with Melvyn Richardson, Luka Cindric, Ludo Fabregas all shining and Gonzalo de Perez Vargas sliding effortlessly in the captain's role, there's a lot to watch with Barcelona.
Meanwhile Kielce have strengthened their hand with the arrival of Nedim Remili and Benoit Kounkoud from PSG, they'll join forces with final MVP Artsem Karalek and the brilliant Dylan Nahi.
Over in Denmark Mikkel Hansen isn't the only star attraction at Aalborg, far from it: Aron Palmarsson, Jesper Nielsen, and Felix Claar are all ready to light up the Champions League stage.
The classy Domagoj Duvnjak at Kiel, Szeged 'keeper Roland Mikler, Magdeburg's Dutch flier Kay Smits, Kiel's Olympic champion goalkeeper Niklas Landin in his final season at Kiel, there are stars and gripping storylines everywhere you look.
Handball Champions League Schedule 2022/23
The Champions League swings into action on 14 September 2022 with the group stages getting underway.
A basic schedule looks like this:
Group Stage: September 14 - Wednesday 1 March
Group stage playoffs: Wednesday 22 and 29 March
Quarter- finals: Wednesday 10 and 17 May
Final Four weekend: Saturday 17 June and Sunday 18 June
Round 1 fixtures
Wednesday 14 September 2022
THW Kiel (GER) vs Elverum Handball (NOR) — 18:45 CEST
Pick Szeged (HUN) vs Barça (ESP) — 18:45 CEST
HC PPD Zagreb (CRO) vs GOG (DEN) — 20:45 CEST
Lomza Industria Kielce (POL) vs HBC Nantes (FRA) — 20:45 CEST
Thursday 15 September 2022
CS Dinamo Bucuresti (ROU) vs SC Magdeburg (GER) — 18:45 CEST
Telekom Veszprém HC vs Paris Saint-Germain HB (FRA) — 18:45 CEST
Aalborg Handbold (DEN) vs RK Celje Pivovarna Lasko (SLO) — 18:45 CEST
Orlen Wisla Plock (POL) vs FC Porto (POR) — 20:45 CEST
For a full schedule on EHF.com click here.
Handball Champions League Groups
Paris Saint-Germain Handball
C.S. Dinamo Bucuresti
Telekom Veszprém HC
Orlen Wisla Plock
HC PPD Zagreb
RK Celje Pivovarna Laško
Lomza Industria Kielce
Format: Teams play each other in a round-robin home-and-away format with the top two teams automatically qualify for the quarter-finals, and the teams ranked 3rd to 6th entering the playoff round.