MVP Mikkel Hansen sends PSG top of the Power Ranking
Coaches of clubs throughout the VELUX EHF Champions League must have been waiting impatiently for their star players to return from the World Championship and into the warm embrace of their club team.
With over 100 players from Europe’s elite club competition on national team duty in in Germany and Denmark, there was bound to be a number of players returning injured, with a loss of confidence, or having hit the form of their life.
Despite not playing a match in Europe’s top flight since early December, the past few weeks have had a genuine impact on these clubs, which makes it the perfect time for an updated Power Ranking, just before we head into the final four rounds of the group phase.
10. HBC Nantes
Three draws and a defeat in their last four matches have seen Nantes become engulfed in a royal rumble of sorts in Group B, with four points separating six teams.
There has been plenty of time to get over their underwhelming end to 2018, but a fresh concern cropped up on the final day of the World Championship as goalkeeper Cyril Dumoulin suffered a season-ending ACL injury playing for France in the bronze medal match.
9. PGE Vive Kielce
Kielce’s blistering start to the season slowed significantly with four losses to Barcelona and Vardar. Reaching the Last 16 is not in doubt, but the upcoming games will have a big impact on their route to the VELUX EHF FINAL4.
Top scorer Alex Dujshebaev did not have the best of tournaments with Spain last month, while his brother Daniel suffered a serious knee injury. Luka Cindric struggled with injury throughout the tournament with Croatia and it remains to be seen what kind of impact he will have in the coming weeks.
8. HC PPD Zagreb
Just a single loss in their final four matches before the winter break saw Zagreb put themselves in the mix for progression to the Last 16 and gave them plenty of confidence.
However, it remains to be seen what impact new coach Branko Tamse and the departure of Belgian centre back Arber Qerimi will have. Former Celje coach Tamse is an expert at unearthing young talent and Zagreb may be a perfect fit.
7. SG Flensburg-Handewitt
Flensburg had eight players featuring in the World Championship final and it is no surprise some of them returned to the north German club with varying degrees of injury.
Jim Gottfridsson’s muscle tear appears to be the most worrying, but the confidence boosting results and the emergence of Magnus Rød as a right back capable of delivering at the highest level is a huge plus for a Flensburg team which has had an unspectacular European season so far.
6. Telekom Veszprém HC
Veszprém bounced back from a loss to Kristianstad to win their final three matches of 2018, leaving them in a four-way battle for second spot in Group A.
Injuries to Iman Jamali, René Toft Hansen and Kent Robin Tönnesen will have an impact, but excellent World Championship performances from Kentin Mahé and Mate Lekai will be a big positive for coach David Davis, who himself had a positive experience in leading Egypt to eighth place.
5. HC Vardar
Vardar ended 2018 with their noses just in front of the chasing pack for second place in Group A, but they will need to be on top form right away to stay there.
An injury to line player Rogerio Moraes is the only absence for the Skopje club, who will hope to rediscover the brilliant early season form which put them in their current strong position.
4. Rhein-Neckar Löwen
Coach Nikolaj Jacobsen has just masterminded the most dominant World Championship victory in years and now he sets his sights on leaving Rhein-Neckar Löwen on a high.
It has been a mixed campaign so far for Löwen, but with many of the players enjoying a strong World Championship and Andy Schmid enjoying a month off, they are in position to break past the Last 16 for the first time since 2014.
3. MOL-Pick Szeged
Szeged were predicted by many to make a big impact this season and they have not disappointed so far. Safe in second place in Group B, the Hungarian champions have already beaten PSG and shown they are capable of going all the way to Cologne for the first time.
The big question mark ahead of their trip to Celje for Match of the Week on Sunday 10 February is the fitness of Zsolt Balogh and Richard Bodo, both of whom suffered minor ankle injuries playing for Hungary in Denmark.
2. Barça Lassa
Barcelona ended 2018 in flying form, clear at the top of Group A, on a nine-match winning streak and scoring an average of over 35 goals per match.
The World Championship has provided a few setbacks, however, with EHF Player of Month in December, Casper Mortensen, undergoing surgery on his knee after winning with Denmark, while Cedric Sorhaindo and Aron Palmarsson had their tournaments cut short with injuries.
1. Paris Saint-Germain
Similar to Barça Lassa, PSG are safe at the top of their group, having suffered just one defeat in 10 matches. However, the World Championship has been very kind to Raul Gonzalez.
Mikkel Hansen showed he was a class above the rest with phenomenal attacking performance for world champions Denmark, while Sander Sagosen and Uwe Gensheimer led their teams to the final weekend.
An added bonus is Nikola Karabatic’s remarkable comeback for France and now he will focus on hitting top form for his club as they hunt their first VELUX EHF Champions League title.Author: Chris O'Reilly / ew