Dominant Györ lead the power ranking pack
We are nearly at half-time in the group phase of the DELO EHF Champions League, with six rounds elapsed and while some teams have really impressed, others have not.
It is the moment to rank the top 10 from the 16-team lineup after their performances, taking into account the strength of their schedule, their performances and their rosters, in the latest edition of our power rankings.
10. CSM Bucuresti
It has been another roller-coaster of a season by the Romanian side, who looked strong at times and won games both thanks to their defence and attack. Yet they are still in no man’s land, after dropping three games of their first six of the season. Two of those were one-goal defeats, the former against Team Esbjerg, 22:21, while the latter came one week ago, in the last second, against Brest Bretagne Handball, 30:29.
Injuries to left wings Martine Smeets and Siraba Dembele, as well as to right back Barbara Lazovic, who will be unavailable this season due to a ruptured ACL, were big setbacks. They still rely heavily on left back Cristina Neagu, who went on a spree of 36 goals scored in the last four games.
Progressing to the DELO EHF FINAL4 this season will be even more difficult for the Russian champions, who are still getting to grips with the coaching change this summer. Romanian ace Florentin Pera assumed the position, but he is still to get the best of his team, with CSKA dropping to the fifth place in the standings, after winning three of their five games played until this point. Their losses were painful, 32:22 against Györ, and 28:21 against Odense, which underlines the need for more consistency.
The red herring about their form could be the absence of right back Ana Gros, who played only twice, scoring 16 goals. Her absence hampered CSKA’s back line, which is also missing Daria Dmitrieva, as the Russian stalwart decided to take a sabbatical year from handball this season.
8. Brest Bretagne Handball
An away win was what Brest needed to reestablish their confidence and that came just last week when the French champions secured a 30:29 win against CSM Bucuresti. They needed some time to gel, to improve their chemistry after a busy summer on the transfer market, but coach Pablo Morel is slowly starting to get the best from his side.
They are still fifth, they still won three and lost three games, but have the fourth-best attacking record in the competition, scoring 28.1 goals per game, after a slow start. They are also unbeaten at home and could be a hard nut to crack in the future.
7. Vipers Kristiansand
It was a busy summer for Vipers, as the title holders lost key players, chief of which the reigning DELO EHF FINAL4 MVP, Henny Reistad, and now have a more international flavor, after signing Croatian line player Ana Debelic, Swedish back Isabelle Gullden and Spanish back Nerea Pena.
Attacking-wise, the Norwegian champions still look good, but their form has been hit and miss, especially in away games, where they have won only once in three games, a 27:26 hard-fought win against RK Krim. They definitely need to improve if they are to have a chance to retain their title.
6. Odense Handbold
Can a team be better in away games than on their home court? Odense surely fit the mould, after securing clear wins against CSKA, Kastamonu and Sävehof and dropping their home matches against Metz and Györ. They look a step behind the top teams in the group, but can be troublesome in other matches.
Backs Dione Housheer, Mia Rej and Mie Hojlund are keeping the team afloat, combining for 55 per cent of Odense’s goals this season. When their defence will get better, Odense could challenge for a better placing. But can this happen?
When everything clicks, Rostov-Don are close to a defensive powerhouse, conceding the lowest amount of goals in the DELO EHF Champions League this season, 142. What really is a problem is their attack. The Russian side has an experienced core, with the transfers of defensive specialists Beatrice Edwige and Eduarda Amorim this summer really upping the ante on that part of the ball.
But their attack has been lacking spark, speed and creativity throughout the season. While losses exacerbate the issues, scoring 19 times against FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria and 18 times against Esbjerg is not what Rostov had in mind starting the season. The break could help coach Per Johansson improve the attack, which is a must if Rostov are to contend for the top two places in the group.
4. Metz Handball
A young and hungry French side are looking primed to get back in the DELO EHF FINAL4, after missing a berth last season. Metz dropped only one game, against Györ, in their first five and are second in Group B, despite having a match in hand, with their opener against CSKA being postponed.
Two young backs, in Meline Nocandy and Bruna de Paula, have been superb for Metz in this start of the season, scoring 37 per cent of the team’s goals. If they can sustain this form, Metz can be tough to beat.
3. Team Esbjerg
After finishing fourth last season in the Danish league, not many would have earmarked Team Esbjerg as a team to beat this season in the European premium competition. Lo and behold, Esbjerg are now second in Group A, dropping a single game and establishing themselves as a real contender, able to snatch wins in every way possible.
They are still missing the MVP of the IHF Women’s World Championship 2019, Estavana Polman, but left back Henny Reistad is continuing her development as one of the top backs in the competition, having scored 33 goals in five games. Despite their lack of solutions in a shallow roster, Esbjerg are performing superbly.
2. FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria
Can this really be the first season when FTC qualify for the DELO EHF FINAL4 hosted in Budapest? Well, for starters, this is the best start in the competition for the Hungarian champions since 2006, which can be an indicator of their strength. Despite losing key players this summer like back Noemi Hafra and left wing Nadine Schatzl to rivals Györ, the Hungarian powerhouse are still unbeaten after six games and leading Group A, with ten points.
They took an impressive win against Rostov-Don, drew at home against Esbjerg and have fixed their defence, the main reason why they were dropping points and games in the past seasons. If they keep their form in the next months, they can be a strong opponent come the business end of the competition.
1. Györi Audi ETO KC
Six games have passed since the last installment of the current power rankings, but the leader of the pack, the team to beat this season has not changed. Since the appointment of Spanish coach Ambros Martin last May, Györ have been slowly getting back to peak form, after last season’s erratic performances. With two games against winless Kastamonu next, the Hungarian side are primed to extend their six-game winning run that has been built both on their amazing attacking performance and a strong defence.
Gyor’s top scorer, right back Ryu Eun Hee might be only 24th in the top scorer standings of the competition, but the Hungarian side scored 203 goals, an average of 33.8 goals per game. By comparison, the second-best attack in the competition is Dortmund’s, who scored 29.3 goals per game. If there is a definition of a top contender in the DELO EHF Champions League, you should look no further than Györ this season.