New power shifts looming in the European club rankings
While all the European club competitions are deep in the winter sleep, it is a good time to look back at the first part of the season. The autumn matches and winter standings indicate several interesting trends when it comes to future seeding and rankings.
The ranking system defines the number of teams for each national federation in the different club competitions, while the seeding system defines the position of each team in the respective competitions. In both cases in each season only the best placed teams from each country and each competition receive points for their national federation.
VELUX EHF Champions League and EHF Cup
Only 20 teams remain in the race for the most coveted trophy in the VELUX EHF Champions League following the close in Groups C and D and most of the participants are already more than halfway through their European journey this season.
The only two exceptions are both currently ranked second in each group - HBC Nantes in Group A and SG Flensburg-Handewitt in Group B.
On the other hand, Rhein-Neckar Löwen, who were drawn only from the third pot after Germany slipped from the second to the sixth position in the seeding list following last season, spend the winter on the fourth place in Group A, while Kielce from the second pot are even lower at the fifth position in Group B.
From the perspective of the club’s ranking, the current season has a potential for a little earthquake on the top of the ladder. For ten straight years Germany was leading the ranking, but after this season no fewer than four countries have a chance to climb to the top depending on their results in the VELUX EHF Champions League and the EHF Cup.
The abysmal gap of 62 points Germany had four years ago ahead of the second team has now shrunk to mere 13.5 points and Spain, France and Hungary as a pack of contenders can all theoretically overtake the current leader in the new edition of the ranking.
In addition, Germany’s leading position in the past three seasons was not fuelled mainly by the Champions League performances, but by their dominance in the EHF Cup. No bundesliga team has reached the Champions League final game already for three straight years and there was even no German participant at the last VELUX EHF FINAL4, while in the EHF Cup only Pick Szeged in 2014 managed to dent the absolute German dominance in the last decade.
From the current points total Germany has in the ranking, more than a half comes from the European second-tier.
From the chasing pack France is currently in the best position to ascend to the top of the chart as Paris Saint-Germain Handball are leading Group B, Nantes are sitting on the second position in Group A and Montpellier reached the C/D knockout round. Furthermore, Chambery or Saint Raphael can contribute in the EHF Cup Group Phase.
Women’s EHF Champions League and EHF Cup
While everything is more or less still wide open in the men’s competitions, the women’s club handball scene has more take-aways already after the completion of the EHF Champions League Group Matches and the EHF Cup qualifiers.
After the 2016/17 season Hungary, powered mainly by the third Champions League title of Györ, took over the top position from Denmark in the new ranking.
But already after the group matches in the continental top-tier and the qualification rounds of the EHF Cup it is clear that there will be a neck and neck race between these two countries as both have two teams in the main round. What could again prove itself as a tiebreaker for the 2019/20 ranking, is the EHF Cup, where surprisingly no Hungarian team reached the group phase, while Denmark has two teams.
Given that Rostov-Don reach the Women’s EHF FINAL4 and their two domestic rivals (Lada and Kuban) will make it from the EHF Cup Group Phase to the knock-out rounds in the spring, Russia can also have a shot at the top position in the 2019/20 ranking.
With both Norwegian teams eliminated already in the Champions League group matches, the leading force on the national team level is bound to plummet to new lows unless both Larvik and Kristiansand redeem themselves in EHF Cup Group Phase. Meanwhile, Germany with two teams in the main round and France too can eye the Norway’s fifth position.