EURO impact shows as PSG top power ranking
EHF EURO 2018, with its various surprises, is history and the VELUX EHF Champions league retakes centre stage until May and before we jump into the action on 7 February, it is time to take a look at the top contenders with a power ranking.
EHF journalist across Europe have analysed the 16 clubs with four rounds of the group phase still to play, while Montpellier, Leon, Skjern and Zaporopzhye are into the Group C/D play-offs, taking into account both the good and bad effects of the EHF EURO.
10. Meshkov Brest
Though they had a series of five matches without victory, before ending 2017 with a win over Celje, Meshkov return stronger in the new year. The solid performance of the Belarusian side with attractive, fast handball in Croatia can be a role model for Brest.
None of their players returned home from the EHF EURO with a severe injury and the winter programme of coach Sergey Bebeshko already had a positive impact, as Meshkov were the first team to grab a point against Vardar in the SEHA Liga. Brest seem to be ready for the Last16 ticket.
9. MOL-Pick Szeged
Despite the high hurdles of matches at Löwen, at Vardar and Barcelona ahead, the EHF journalists expect a lot from Szeged. Perhaps it is the general influence of Spanish coaches, who just steered their teams to three continental championships - Europe (Spain/Jordi Ribera), Asia (Qatar/Valero Rivera) and Africa (Tunisia/Toni Gerona).
Juan Carlos Pastor had plenty of time to prepare his side, as all Hungarians had returned home earlier than expected after missing the EHF EURO 2018 Main Round. Despite the tough programme, Szeged’s form so far this season should see them through to the Last 16.
8. PGE Vive Kielce
Two All-Star team players, Alex Dujshebaev and Manuel Strlek, two European champions, Dujshebaev and Julen Aguinagalde, but some truly disappointed Polish internationals, who missed the World Championship 2019 play-offs after already missing the championship in Croatia. This is spectrum of emotions Kielce’s coach Talant Dujshebaev is currently working with for the remaining four group matches.
After some surprising defeats in the first ten rounds, Kielce have two trips to Germany and two home matches against direct contenders for the Last 16 tickets ahead. The confidence boost brought by medals and awards for key players will see a rejuvenated Kielce side this spring.
7. FC Barcelona Lassa
Their stars should shine the brightest after five players of FC Barcelona are newly crowned European champions, but it was not all good news for the record champions.
After Jure Doloenec missed the event due to injury, Gonzalo Perez de Vargas and Timothy N’Guessan suffered injuries during the championship.
Meanwhile, Victor Tomas and Lasse Andersson also missed the first Liga Asobal match of 2018, which makes their Round 11 clash against the unbeaten defending champions Vardar appear a daunting task.
Barcelona after the tough start, their remaining tasks seem manageable and with all their stars expected back for the Last 16, reaching Cologne is still possible.
6. Rhein-Neckar Löwen
If there were two players who made the biggest impact on Sweden’s run to the final in Croatia, besides MVP Jim Gottfridsson, it was the goalkeeper duo of Mikael Appelgren and Andreas Palicka. Any club would be delighted to have either of them in the squad, but Löwen have both.
Appelgren and Palicka could play a major part in the German champions’ quest to reach the VELUX EHF FINAL4 participation for the first time in seven years, alongside the concrete mixer of the Spanish defensive wall, Gedeon Guardiola. Although top spot in Group A looks beyond them, with Vardar six points ahead, hopes remain high for a big second half of the season.
5. HBC Nantes
In only their second VELUX EHF Champions League season and first appearance in Groups A/B, HBC Nantes are the positive surprise of the competition. The French side look like the last remaining hunter of Vardar for top spot in Group A.
Cyril Dumoulin and Nicolas Tournat played a big role in the French side which took bronze after only one defeat in eight EHF EURO matches at Croatia, David Balaguer is a European champion, while Macedonian Kiril Lazarov is the only returnee without a smile on his face after an injury and three main round defeats. Match of the Week in Round 11 away to Zagreb, followed by matches against Löwen and Vardar will give us a good indication of where Nantes are located at European handball’s top table.
4. SG Flensburg-Handewitt
Flensburg were well-represented in Croatia with three Swedish silver medallists, including the tournament’s MVP, a French bronze medallist as well as five Danes and a Norwegian without medals.
Knowing that they play at their best against the stronger opponents, the three upcoming matches against Kielce, Paris and Veszprem should inspire the German club in the first season under coach Maik Machulla.
3. Telekom Veszprém HC
With their top winter transfer Petar Nenadic, who is eligible to play in the current VELUX EHF Champions League season, arriving from Füchse Berlin, Veszprém are set for a big second half of the season.
The two away matches at Flensburg and Kiel will be the biggest challenges for the side of Ljubomir Vranjes, who had an early exit from the EURO with the Hungarian national team. A five-point gap to PSG at the top of Group B means they will have to take the long route towards a fifth straight VELUX EHF FINAL4 appearance.
2. HC Vardar
They all know the major changes ahead, they all want to prove that Vardar are not a one-hit-wonder, they are the only unbeaten team in the current VELUX EHF Champions League and they can count on the star of the EHF EURO 2018 final weekend - Spanish goalkeeper and hero Arpad Sterbik. These reasons were enough to lift the defending champions to second position in this power ranking. The remaining programme looks as if the team of outgoing head coach Raul Gonzalez (to PSG next season) have best chances to plan two match-free weekends in March - as the group winners skip the Last 16. An added boost is that top scorer Vuko Borozan is back on track after he was ruled out for the EHF EURO due to a car accident.
1. Paris Saint-Germain Handball
With a full set of EURO medals, three all-star awards and a plethora of stars to choose from, Paris Saint-Germain have a firm grasp of top spot in the power ranking.
With nine victories and only one defeat (at Flensburg) so far this season, a return to Cologne seems all but certain, but the dream of coach Noka Serdarusic is to leave Paris with the coveted trophy, before he hands over the team to Raul Gonzalez.
In terms of EHF EURO memories, the French players had hoped for more than bronze, but they fared better than Danish teammates Mikkel Hansen and Henrik Möllgaard, who they beat in the bronze medal match, while Norway’s Sander Sagosen, missed out on the semi-finals. However, goalkeeper Rodrigo Corrales (gold) and all-star line player Jesper Nielsen (silver) will be full of confidence on their return to club action.
After making it to Cologne for the first time in 2016 and to their first final in 2017, the next step is an obvious one. PSG’s only question mark is their top scorer Uwe Gensheimer, who played below par with Germany in Croatia.Author: Björn Pazen / cor