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EHF Champions League

Seven takeaways from the first seven rounds

EHF / Adrian Costeiu

The first part of the group phase of the DELO EHF Champions League 2020/21 is over. Seven of the 14 rounds have been played since the competition threw off in a revamped format in mid-September.

What is the resume halfway through the group phase?

An outstanding streak is still alive, some teams exceeded expectations while others underachieved, and there are a bunch of players who have impressed.

Here are seven observations after seven rounds in Europe’s top flight:

Györ’s unbeaten streak lives on

An unprecedented 44-game unbeaten streak is still alive for Györ, a team which have flirted with losses several times this season. The winners of the past three EHF Champions League titles came back from behind in away games against CSKA and Brest to secure draws.

Györ jumped to the first place group B last weekend, though they have played one match more than second-place CSKA after their double-header against Dortmund last weekend (34:24 and 38:25).

Gabor Danyi’s side have the best attack in the competition, the only to pass the 200-goal mark for the season with an average of 33.8 per game. Yet the two late draws have shown the title holders might be more vulnerable this campaign than in the past two seasons, when they had just three draws in total.

Have CSM finally find their peace?

It was an unusually quiet off-season for the Romanian powerhouse, which got used to serious makeovers both in the technical department and in the roster. However, CSM opted to go for continuity and it worked wonders this season, as they recorded their best start in the competition, with five wins and one loss.

And it is not all about their star player: Cristina Neagu missed game following a Covid-19 positive test and the left back was hampered by a mild knee sprain last weekend.

CSM constantly innovated, as their defence carried the load and ultimately found new ways to win, including relying on right back Barbara Lazovic’s powerful shots. While Neagu might be the team’s top scorer with 31 goals, Lazovic is just behind with 28.

The unstoppable rookies

Having a good, experienced and balanced team does not mean success will come knocking at your door, you still must put in the hard work required. And that is exactly what CSKA have been doing in the debut season.

The Russian side conceded losses in the Russian Cup, Russian Super Cup and in the domestic league against rivals Rostov, yet their path in the European top competition has not been blemished by losses. In fact, CSKA are one of the four teams, alongside Rostov, Györ and Vipers, that have been unbeaten up until now.

CSKA have the best defence in the competition – conceding 148 goals in the first six games, an average of 24.6 goals per game.

But they are also a force to be reckoned with in attack, despite not boasting an electric pace. They rather rely on their back line, with rising star Elena Mikhaylichenko and versatile playmaker Ekaterina Ilina combining for 52 goals in the first six games.

More of this and CSKA will surely be vying for a place at the DELO EHF FINAL 4 2021 come next May.

Missing chemistry for Valcea

SCM Ramnicu Valcea are among the teams not performing at the level they envisioned. After SG BBM Bietigheim ended their six-match losing streak in Hungary last weekend (35:24 against FTC), Valcea are left the only team in the competition without a single point.

The Romanian side so far played only four matches due to the pandemic but underperformed in each of them. With a goal difference of -33 - the second worst behind Dortmund (-42), but the German side have played three games more - and the least efficient attack in the competition – 93 goals scored – Valcea must find new ways to win soon if they are to proceed to the next phase.

Their back line has been misfiring, while the chemistry and the team spirit seem to be off. It is Florentin Pera’s job to build back bridges between the players and ensure that the team will be again at 100 per cent in the remaining of the group phase.

Ana Gros scoring at an alarming pace

The Slovenian right back was one of the most consistent scorers in the DELO EHF Champions League in the past seasons, regardless of the team she played for.

Gros has never scored less than 73 goals per season in the past five years, as she is currently the top scorer in the competition. Gros is scoring at an average pace of eight goals per game, recording 48 goals in the first six games this season, including a 14-goal outburst in Brest’s win against Odense, 31:24.

Brest’s 29-year old right back holds a 12-goal cushion ahead of Bietigheim’s Julia Maidhof. The season, and the road to Budapest, is still long but provided Gros keeps it like this, there is hardly anything that could keep her away from this season’s top scorers’ title.

No experience in the EHF Champions League? No problem!

There are always players who transcend and enjoy good games, despite missing previous experience in the DELO EHF Champions League. It is no different this season, with three of the seven best scorers in their season in the European top competition.

Bietigheim’s right back Julia Maidhof has been a breath of fresh air for the German side, which only won their first game last weekend. Yet Maidhof scored 36 goals in seven games, hitting at least five goals in each of the games she played. CSKA back Elena Mikhaylichenko has long been regarded as an outstanding prospect in Russian handball as she did not disappoint, scoring 32 times in her first six games in the DELO EHF Champions League. Also, like Maidhof, another German back, Alina Grijseels, has been in superb form for a team that won just once so far: Grijseels netted 35 for Dortmund.

Goals, goals, goals

Goals have been flowing this season, as attacks have constantly found new ways to exploit defensive weaknesses. A total of 2,484 goals have been scored up until this point in the competition, for an average of 55.2 goals per game - comparable to last season: 4,643 goals in 84 matches for an average of 55.27 goals per game.

Yet the production has been on an uptick in recent seasons. The changing of the rules that boosted substituting goalkeepers with outfield players throughout the game provided more excitement and goals in games, as the average has soared by more than four goals compared to the 2011/12 season.

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