For those of you new to these 2018 Men’s Nations League previews, this will give you a better idea of the teams that you’re unfamiliar with and will allow you to follow the tournament more easily. The format consists of 5 weekends of round-robin play starting tomorrow taking place in different locations around the world followed by a final round in Lille, France on July 4-8th.
I’ll be doing the previews in reverse order of my own personal, unofficial power rankings. Feel free to let me know why your team is too low.
The 2016 World League champions come into the Nations League with one of the most stacked lineups we’ve seen in years. Only about 7 million people live in Serbia, but their ability to produce dominant middles, opposites, and outsides is incredible. Most of the starters for Serbia are stars for some of the best club teams in the world such as Perugia, Funvic/Tabaute, Trentino, and Belchatow. Can this all-star team pull it together in the 2018 Nations League after a stumble in 2017?
Every team’s middles will have Serbia circled in their calendar. Even without former Serbian captain Dragan Stankovic, who has retired from international volleyball, they have the most dominant front line in the entire tournament. Srecko Lisinac was the best middle in the Plusliga this season, acting as one of the primary attacking options for a Belchatow team that won the league. He is a versatile and powerful attacker, even getting sets in the back row, a rare feat for a middle. Marko Podrascanin played for a Perugia team that won the Italian league and picked up a best middle award at the Champions League Final 4 in Kazan. He is a dominant blocker who has many years of international experience to fall back on when the pressure of the games increases. These two will start, but Serbia will also have Aleksander Okolic, who started for Bundesliga-winning Berlin Recycling volleys this year, to sub in and give them a breather.
A tough task for coach Nikola Grbic will be deciding which player he wants to start at opposite. There are two extremely worthy candidates: Aleksander Atansijevic and Drazen Luburic. Atanasijevic is the better offensive option. In the Italian league this season, he averaged over 4 kills per set on 36% hitting efficiency, good for second highest in the league for an opposite. Luburic is his foil, a better blocker, and defender. Grbic has given the nod to Luburic and his steadiness in the past despite Atanasijevic’s superior talent.
Serbia can win this tournament. In fact, they should win this tournament given the phenomenal talent on the roster. They do get rattled easily, as we saw in 2017, and they might have the worst libero rotation the entire tournament, but when this team gets momentum they are impossible to beat.
Likely starters (players to watch in italics):
OH: Marko Ivovic (Funvic/Taubate)
OH: Uros Kovacevic (Trentino)
OP: Aleksander Atanasijevic (Perugia)
MB: Marko Podrascanin (Perugia)
MB: Srecko Lisinac (Belchatow)
S: Nikola Jovovic (Arkas Izmir)
L: Nevan Majstorovic (Arcada Galati)