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18.09.2016, 12:40◄ last page     

FEATURE: The VELUX EHF Champions League’s top contenders have been ranked by ehfCL.com journalists based on transfers and pre-season performance

Veszprem lead first power ranking of the season

The beginning of the VELUX EHF Champions League is merely days away and ehfCL.com’s journalists were tasked with figuring out which teams look like they are going all the way to Cologne and which have plenty to do if they want to be considered serious contenders this year. Here is the pre-season power ranking.

10. THW Kiel

It looked like a good pre-season for THW Kiel, despite half the team being involved in the Olympics. But then came the beginning of the Bundesliga and Alfred's charges have struggled to impress. A narrow win in Stuttgart, followed by a loss in Wetzlar showed everybody how much work there is left to do with young players such as Lukas Nilsson and Nikola Bilyk. However, there is only one week left before PSG come to town.

9. MOL-Pick Szeged

A faultless preparation for Juan Carlos Pastor and his new look team. Six friendly games and as many wins, with already a league win in the basket as well. Sergey Gorbok, Stas Skube and Mario Sostaric proved they have already settled in the Hungarian club, while José Manuel Sierra and Zsolt Balogh are as efficient as last season, proving you will have to count on Szeged to reach the knockout rounds again this season.

8. HC PPD Zagreb

Veselin Vujovic has suffered many departures from his team this summer, but he has already found the alchemy to make it work. In Germany, the Croatians showed good things at the Sparkassen Cup while finishing third at the Marrane Challenge in Paris. No doubt that with the players who represented their country in Rio, including captain Zlatko Horvat, Zagreb will gradually improve as the season progresses.

7. KS Vive Tauron Kielce

It is difficult to read anything into the VELUX EHF Champions League title holders. Mind you, more than half the team and the coach were in Rio with Poland, Germany or Croatia. A third place at the IHF Super Globe after a 25:29 loss to PSG in the semi-final is the only indication that the Polish side still has some work to do. But, as always, they will be 100% ready come the first game against Meshkov Brest.

6. FC Barcelona Lassa

2015 champions Barcelona already earned their first title of the season, after their Spanish super cup win against Helvetia Anaitasuna (38:30). Their new recruits have already fit in nicely to the squad, with Timothey N'Guessan and Dika Mem bringing even more firepower to an impressive backcourt. Will this be enough to top the extremely tough Group A ahead of Veszprem, PSG and Flensburg?

5. SG Flensburg-Handewitt

Two of Ljubo’s boys took home gold from Rio and their teammates appear to have caught the winning bug. Two wins by more than ten goals in the Bundesliga suggest that they are well prepared to hit the ground running in Europe. After missing out by the smallest of margins in 2016, Flensburg want to get back to the VELUX EHF FINAL4 this season and it looks like they are already ready for battle.

4. HC Vardar

Beating fellow EHF Champions League participants Meshkov Brest and Wisla Plock in pre-season meant that Vardar have already enjoyed some stiff competition, giving new recruit Joan Canellas the chance to show the best of his skills. And their hard work looks to have paid off for Raul Gonzalez's men with three wins and a draw in the SEHA league, including a Skopje derby win against Metalurg and convincing victory over Veszprem (29:22).

3. Rhein-Neckar Löwen

A loss against Füchse Berlin in during preparation did not do the Löwen any harm. In fact, it was a wake-up call for a team whose only main change of the summer was the replacement of local star Uwe Gensheimer by Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson. After the loss, everything started to roll. Löwen won the German Super cup in late August, before winning their first three Bundesliga games.

2. Paris Saint-Germain Handball

Paris were very close to winning their first trophy of the season at the IHF Super Globe, but ended up losing in the final against Füchse Berlin. Nevertheless, the impression was one of a team already well prepared, as was shown in the other preparation games against opponents such as Kielce and Créteil. The only negative point for the strengthened squad is the absence of right wings Luc Abalo and Benoit Kounkoud for the beginning of the season.

1. Telekom Veszprem

Just like last season, Veszprem played an ideal pre-season and with wins against Champions League participants Dinamo Bucuresti (34:27) and domestic rivals, Xavi Sabaté’s huge squad proved they were already in good shape. A loss in Skopje against Vardar (22:29) in the SEHA League should prove to be a minor slip up in what is expected to be a memorable season for the club celebrating their 40th anniversary.

TEXT: Kevin Domas / cor

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