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29.10.2015, 13:30
Veszprem excite the experts
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FEATURE: Five EHF journalists composed the top 10 in-form VELUX EHF Champions League clubs after six rounds of play

»EHF CL Channel »2015-16 Men's CL
»Group Phase
»
 

Veszprem excite the experts

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all? Like in the fairy tale Snow White, five EHF journalists and Champions League experts have turned the mirror upon the 28 teams participating in the VELUX EHF Champions League Group Phase.

Tom O’Brannagain (Ireland), Peter Bruun (Denmark), Nemanja Savic (Serbia), Kevin Domas (France) and Björn Pazen (Germany) have composed their individual power rankings - and the overall top 10 sees one team keeping their pre-season power ranking top position: MVM Veszprem. This despite the Hungarian side undergoing an early change in coach and not sitting top of Group A following their defeat at Paris.

Second ranked is the leading light in Group B, Vardar Skopje, ahead of PSG, followed by the biggest surprise team of all: Kristianstad. Defending champions Barcelona barely made it among the best 10 teams due to a string of shaky performances so far.

84 group matches have been played to date and not one of the 28 teams either have the maximum 12 points nor zero points their account - another proof of the balance of the new playing system.

Paris, Vardar and La Rioja lead the way in terms of points with five wins and one defeat each - and all three belong to the top ten.

10 - FC Barcelona Lassa

An opening defeat at Löwen, a fortunate draw at Kielce, but the defending champions still lie second in Group B with the chance to reach the top in their upcoming matches against Vardar.

Barcelona have had a shaky start, but like Kiel they have to replace their mastermind, in this case Nikola Karabatic. New arrival Filip Jicha needs some time to adapt - but just take a look upon the previous season: From the Last 16 onwards, Barcelona won every single match and Xavi Pascual has the experience to prepare his squad for the season’s climax.

9 – Rhein-Neckar Löwen

What is the true face of the Lions? The team of coach Nikolaj Jacobsen shocked defending champions Barcelona in a brilliant defensive battle and were close to leaving Kielce behind on home court as well, but then lost at Kristianstad.

With the focus of the side on the Bundesliga at the moment, this lack of constancy is understandable. But when it counts, in the knockout stages, Löwen will show their true face in the final season of Uwe Gensheimer. Having a playmaker like Andy Schmid in the squad, you always belong to the contenders and should at least make it to the quarter-finals.

8 - Naturhouse La Rioja

You don’t have to play in the top groups to be part of this power ranking - all EHF experts had the Spanish runners-up on their lists. “We want to show the world that we belong to the groups A and B,” the Logrono based team stated prior to the start of the season, and topping the ranking of strong Group C is certainly backing up that statement.

Only the evitable opening defeat at Chekhov was a setback, from then on, La Rioja took the maximum ten points, even taking the win at Meshkov Brest. In a form like at the moment, La Rioja should make it past the group phase.

7 - SG Flensburg-Handewitt

Three perfect signings, a stronghold on home court and one of the most impressive wins so far (39:32 against PSG) make the 2014 champions one of the top sides of this season. They could have won at Veszprem and Kiel - but they will face both contenders in the second half at home to turn it around. Kentin Mahe, Henrik Toft Hansen and Rasmus Lauge fit perfectly in the team of Ljubomir Vranjes, which even coped with the situation that both line players are out for months. Besides PSG, they have the best scoring record in Groups A and B.

6 - HC PPD Zagreb

No stars, only young guns, and a mastermind as a coach - those are the ingredients of the successful story of the Croatian side. The only stain on their jacket is the defeat at Istanbul, which caused a small rebellion from Veselin Vujovic, who for one day had resigned to wake up his players.

Vujo knows how to prepare his talents for big matches, but still it is their problem that their away performances are sometimes below par. But with the return of some injured players they are a definite candidate for the Last 16.

5 - THW Kiel

21-year-old Rune Dahmke has been the standout performer for Kiel this season and is making the most of his opportunity on the left wing. Two defeats after six matches (at Veszprem and Zagreb) is normally not the standard of expectations at the three-time winners, but bearing in mind that they have to replace top stars such as Aron Palmarsson, Rasmus Lauge and Filip Jicha and to cope with injuries of Klein, Jansen and Wiencek, the team is on their way up, and Sparkassenarena is still a fortress. The upcoming doubleheader with PSG will reveal a lot about their chances this season.

4 - IFK Kristianstad

“We are just here to learn and gain experience,” said Ola Lindgren before the start of Kristianstad’s maiden voyage in the competition. However, his young guns learnt quickly and have earned four points, putting them ahead of much more experienced teams such as Montpellier and Kolding Kobenhavn. Beating the Danes in a clear way was a perfect start, and after four straight defeats they turned the tide with another sensational home win against Rhein-Neckar Löwen.

The Swedish champions have no fear for the big names in their group and are using this stage to promote the team’s young stars such as excellent Norwegian Kristian Björnsen, one of this season’s top rookies.

3 - Paris Saint Germain Handball

A new and hungry coach, a huge budget and breath-taking new arrivals for a squad, which could already be considered start-studded before means that it is no surprise PSG are among the top 10. Nevertheless, their first round loss at Flensburg was a shock for Noka Serdarusic and a wake-up call for his team.

Since then, PSG took five wins, including being the first team to tame Veszprem. The only way is up for the French side as Nikola Karabatic fits in better with each passing week, but the true star so far is Mikkel Hansen, who sits on top of the overall top scorer list with 54 goals. Having the by far highest number of conceded goals among the FINAL4 contenders shows what Serdarusic must work on, but from an attacking point of view, they are the clear number 1.

2 – HC Vardar

Surprisingly it is not the defending champions Barcelona, FINAL4 participant Kielce or Löwen who lead the way in Group B, but Macedonian champions Vardar. After the hiccup against at Kolding, the empire struck back against Kielce, winning by ten goals in a dominant fashion. Vardar showed impressive matches and are well-rehearsed and balanced now, an imprint of coach Raul Gonzales and the clever transfers such as Jorge Maqueda annd Alexander Dereven. The dream of making it to Cologne can come true if the Macedonian side maintains this form.

1 - MVM Veszprem

They tied in their opening match, surprisingly parted ways with their successful coach Carlos Antonio Ortega and then took four straight wins, which sees them hold on to their position at the top of the power ranking MVM Veszprem have conserved their great pre-season form. Xavier Sabate - officially still only interim coach - has continued where Ortega left off.

The Hungarian side were the only team to take the fortress of Arena Zagreb and besides beat Flensburg and Kiel. The defeat at PSG was partly a result of the big injury problems on the right attack side (Nagy, Zeitz, Gulyas) - but still Veszprem are still looking fantastic thanks to their wide variety in attack (Palmarsson, Sliskovic) and their fierce defence.

For those who wish to compare the pre-season power ranking with the current one, here is the list:

1. Veszprem, 2. Barcelona, 3. Paris, 4. Vardar, 5. Kielce, 6. Flensburg, 7. Löwen, 8. Kiel, 9. Plock, 10. Szeged/Zagreb


TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor
 
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