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10.11.2016, 08:00◄ last page     

FEATURE: Mighty Barcelona lead the way, PSG and Löwen trail just behind, and last seasons’ finalists fall down the ranking.

Veszprém fall and Löwen rise in the power ranking

The month of October was loaded with top-drawer clashes of the greatest European sides, which had a big impact on the VELUX EHF Champions League Power Ranking.

Find out who’s hot and who’s not in the beginning of November.

Please note that this Power Ranking is a subjective one based on the opinion of EHF experts and is based on the current form of teams, not their overall strength. Our next ranking may look completely different as form changes.

10. HC Meshkov Brest

No competent handball fan could think of the Belrusian side as an easy opponent at the beginning of the season, but Meshkov still surprised some in October.

The Brest outfit not only managed to beat Rhein-Neckar Löwen but also pulled off some exciting away performances, winning in Zagreb and losing only narrowly in Skopje and Szeged.

Their artillery consisting of unstoppable Latvian giant Dainis Kristopans, Russian playmaker Pavel Atman and Hungarian international Iman Jamali has great potential, while accomplished line player Rastko Stojkovic remains the focal point of the Belarusian team’s attack.

Brest are simply looking very good as they occupy fifth place in Group B at the start of Round 6.

9. MOL-Pick Szeged

The Hungarian runners-up were a dark horse at the beginning of the season. Building a team of 13 newcomers is a tricky task even for the best coaches in the game, but it seems Juan Carlos Pastor really is a wizard.

In the wake of the departure of players like Dean Bombac, Antonio Garcia and Piotr Wyszomirski, Pastor managed to put together a team that has already proven to have great potential.

Szeged beat Veszprém in the Hungarian derby and, having won in Zagreb and snatched a point from Rhein-Neckar Löwen, sit on fourth place in Group B.

8. HC Vardar

The Macedonian powerhouse would have placed higher in the November Power Ranking if it were not for their shock defeat to Zagreb in the fifth round.

However, hickups are only natural as Raul Gonzalez has to build a team comprised of a considerable number of newcomers and promising yet inexperienced youngsters.

Star signing Joan Canellas is still in the process of settling in, as is Alex Dereven, while Gonzalez struggles to replace the departed Alem Toskic in defence.

Bear in mind that Vardar are an extremely young side, where Alex Dujshebaev, Alexander Dereven and Luka Cindric are considered battle-hardened veterans, and young sensations such as Vuko Borozan are making their way to the starting line-up.

7. SG Flensburg-Handewitt

The current Bundesliga leaders are yet to reach their peak form but have already shown signs of what can be expected of Ljubomir Vranjes’s outfit. They fought hard to snatch a point against Veszprém and were unlucky to lose against Barcelona by one goal.

Flensburg’s older stars, Holger Glandorf, Anders Eggert and Thomas Mogensen, can still make the difference (not to mention 38-year-old Mattias Andersson, who has been outstanding all season) but need more help from the bench.

Their position in the Power Ranking is down due to the fact that they had little chance when they played PSG, and allowed Wisla a lead at half-time in Flensburg.

6. Telekom Veszprém

The Hungarian outfit topped the first Power Ranking of the season, yet the troubled start to the Champions League season means they drop to sixth.

Last year’s runners-up have twice dropped points in the last seconds of their games and only put on one oustanding performance so far – holding Kiel to 19 goals, as Veszprém did in Round 4, is something to be proud of.

However, head coach Xavier Sabate has had to make do without some injured key players and his team’s form has been anything but steady. Consecutive defeats against Barcelona (Champions League) and Szeged (Hungarian championship) were hard for fans to swallow, and the fact that their team only scored 23 goals in each of those games made it even worse.

Even with inspirational captain Laszlo Nagy returning from injury Veszprém have a lot of work to do to reach the level their fans demand.

5. KS Vive Tauron Kielce

Talant Dujshebaev’s team did themselves no favours by losing against Löwen by a shocking margin of eight goals, which means the leaders of Group B drop to fifth place in the Power Ranking.

Apart from the heavy home defeat however, Kielce have so far delivered the performances expected from the defending champions.

Before the loss in Round 5, Szeged came the closest to defeating confident Kielce, but the Polish team eventually won by two in Hungary.

Whether their defeat against Löwen was just a hickup or because it was the first top team they came up against is yet to be seen, but there is no doubt the 2015/16 champions still have everything it takes to make it to the final. It is better for such bad days to come in October than in April.

4. Rhein-Neckar Löwen

Some may find it strange that the Mannheim outfit rank as high as fourth in the Power Ranking given the fact that prior to Round 5 they had two one-goal wins, one draw and a defeat in Brest. But this ranking is all about current form and Löwen pulled off the most shocking results of the campaign when they defeated the title holders by a decisive margin in their own arena.

The clear 34:26 win at Kielce was just what the Mannheim team needed as they are now third in their Champions League group and sit fourth on their Bundesliga table. Andre Schmid and Co. have to do something about their defence as they concede 28 goals on average, but the way they played in Poland proves their worth.

Not bad from the team that lost its captain and most important source of important goals, Uwe Gensheimer, at the end of the last season.

3. THW Kiel

It seems as long as Alfred Gislason is there Kiel can let go of any player and still remain a great team. There are eight teams in the VELUX EHF Champions League that have fewer defeats than the Zebras, but losses to Barcelona and Veszprém (both away) by the smallest possible margins are not something for such a young team to be ashamed of.

Kiel were quick to prove they are not to be taken lightly in the first round, when they beat PSG 28:27. The same can be said about Lukas Nilsson, as the 20 year-old talent was the most prolific scorer for the German powerhouse in the famous victory.

With Domagoj Duvnjak and Steffen Weinhold showing the talented youth the way, and the decisive factor known as Niklas Landin, there’s plenty to look out for in Kiel.

2. Paris Saint-Germain Handball

PSG are one of the main contenders this season, but there are also signs that, despite the enormous amount of talent on their roster, there’s still room for improvement.

One can claim however, that PSG recorded their only loss against an elite team, and their first-round defeat in Kiel could be down to the tough pre-season schedule.

Wins against Silkeborg, Schaffhausen and Plock were pieces of cake for this team, and PSG really showed what they are made of when they came up against Flensburg, whom they beat by five goals.

Without a doubt, the French outfit has an enviable back line with Nikola Karabatic, Mikkel Hansen, Daniel Narcisse and one of the hottest talents in handball, Nedim Remili. With Uwe Gensheimer settling in quickly and Thierry Omeyer at the top of his game PSG have certainly strengthened their already excellent team.

1. FC Barcelona Lassa

Five games, five wins, a flawless record and at times demoralising control over their oponents – not many could deny Barca seem to be the team to beat this year.

Barcelona concede less than 25 goals per game and the enormous attacking potential at Xavi Pascual’s disposal combines to create a recipe usually enough to beat any opponent.

The Catalan giants are firing on all cylinders, with the old guard including Raul Entrerrios, Kiril Lazarov and Victor Tomas followed by an excellent set of youngsters: Wael Jallouz, Dika Mem and Gonzalo Perez de Vargas, as they march through the strongest group ever in the history of Champions League.

Barcelona have already beaten Kiel, Flensburg and Veszprém and seem to be fit to take on PSG in Round 6. 

TEXT: Bence Martha / br

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