FC Barcelona will try to keep its perfect record intact when it visits Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade in the legendary Aleksandar Nikolic Hall in the Serbian capital. Zvezda is coming off a tough overtime loss in Tel Aviv and goes back to protecting its home floor behind support of what will surely be a packed gym against undefeated Barcelona, which has won its first three games of the season by an average margin of 17.6 points.
Barcelona head coach Svetislav Pesic returns to his native Serbia, and to Belgrade where he previously coached Crvena Zvezda on two occasions, first in the 2008-09 season, and again in the 2011-12 campaign. The Zvezda record holder in appearances, team captain Branko Lazic, played under Pesic during the second stint. A EuroLeague coaching great, Pesic has a legendary status in his native country, having led the Serbian national team to the EuroBasket gold in 2001, and a World Championship crown in 2002.
Last time in Belgrade
Barcelona holds 4-2 edge in head to head games this century, but each of the last four games has been won by the home team. The only previous time this century that Zvezda and Barcelona played at this venue, formerly known as Hala Pionir, Zvezda topped Barcelona 90-82. There are seven players from that game who are still on the rosters of two teams: Branko Lazic, Nikola Jovanovic and Ognjen Dobric took part in Zvezda win, while Pau Ribas, Pierre Oriola, Ante Tomic and Adam Hanga played in a loss.
Two veteran forwards, Stratos Perperoglou and Nikola Mirotic, have been pacing their respective teams so far this season. Perperoglou leads Zvezda in points (14.7) per game and minutes played (25:39) and facing Mirotic will be quite a test for 35-year old Perperoglou, a three-time EuroLeague champion. Mirotic has delivered for Barcelona as a star summer signing, using a hot start to post 19.7 points and 5.7 rebounds, both team highs. A lot of eyes will be looking at these two players on Thursday night.
Keys to victory: Zvezda
It is not a secret that fans give Zvezda a massive boost of energy when the team is playing on the home floor, and it will be of great importance in this game, too. Barcelona is not only unbeaten, but as deep and talented as any team in the competition, and Zvezda will need any edge it can get. Using high energy from the start, and taking care of its defensive glass – Zvezda allows the fewest 8.0 offensive rebounds per game – will be keys for Zvezda to develop its transition game, and increase its chances in this contest.
Keys to victory: Barcelona
With so many great scorers throughout its roster, it will be crucial for Barcelona to set the rhythm and pace of the game to its liking. Barcelona has had very few offensive issues early in the season, ranking third in scoring (88.0 ppg.) and third in assists (21.7 apg.). When the team led by Nikola Mirotic gets that offense going, it is hard to stop. This will be a tough test for Barcelona in the early part of the season, and the one they would love to pass with flying colors.