Who can take Györ’s throne?

Women’s Champions League handball returns from its summer break this weekend as Europe’s top teams take the courts again for what promises to be another exciting season.

While Györi Audi ETO KC won the title in the past three seasons, the question is which teams pose a serious threat to the defending champions winning streak when the DELO WOMEN’S EHF Champions League starts this weekend.

Here are the top-10 contenders in our power ranking:

10. SCM Ramnicu Valcea (ROU)

Talking about Champions League handball and Romanian teams, the first club that sprang to mind in recent years was always CSM Bucuresti. But another Romanian powerhouse is back in contention after winning the domestic league: SCM Ramnicu Valcea. During the summer seven new players arrived to help them in their lack of experience in Europe’s top flight. Florentin Pera a puzzle to solve but time is limited before facing the three B’s in group C: Buducnost, Bietigheim and Brest.

9. RK Krim Mercator (SLO)

Three key players, including Tjasa Stanko, have left or retired the team that reached the main round last season. Tamara Mavsar and Polona Baric will carry all the pressure, however they might need some extra help from the youngsters and the 13 newcomers, who will have the minutes to prove in the DELO WOMEN’S EHF Champions League.

8. Team Esbjerg (DEN)

The current Danish champions are back to Europe’s top championship after a three-year hiatus. Led by Estavana Polman and Sanna Solberg, last season’s EHF Cup runners-up are ready for bigger challenges. Esbjerg had a strong start in their domestic league, which might boost their confidence going into the group matches.

7. ZRK Buducnost (MNE)

With a rebuilt team, the club consisting of mostly Montegrin players is attempting to get back to the top of Europe with some extra experience provided by two players that returned: Jovanka Radicevic and Majda Mehmedovic. Buducnost are a team no one wants to face: their mentality and their fans make them strong – especially at home in Podgorica. However, they need to step up in away games in order to stand a realistic chance of making it all the way to Budapest in May 2020.

6. CSM Bucuresti (ROM)

New season, new players, new coach, but same hopes of winning the trophy: CSM Bucuresti are used to tumultuous times and the build-up to the new season has not been different. With coach Tomas Ryde quitting the job just a few days before the team’s first match at Esbjerg on Sunday, CSM have decided to give a chance to Adrian Vasile, the Romanian assistant coach who has been plying his trade at CSM since 2014. As an expert of the club, Vasile will be aware of the pressure that this new role means. While Cristina Neagu is on her way back from the knee injury that has kept her out for the last 10 months, Vasile will now have to do without another star goal getter in his squad, after Nora Mørk severely injured her knee again.

5. FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria (HUN)

No other team has come close to the EHF FINAL4 so many times without actually making it to the finals tournament as FTC. The club put their trust mainly on young Hungarian players with additional experience from abroad. The philosophy will not change just like their goal: playing in Papp László Budapest Sportaréna in front of their own fans. However, FTC have had a moderate start to the domestic season in Hungary and already dropped several points in their race to keep up with defending champions Györ.

4. Vipers Kristianstad (NOR)

The surprise pack of last season, when they made it to their maiden DELO WOMEN’S EHF FINAL and finished the season in third place, have further strengthened the squad by bringing in Heidi Løke. The Olympic and multiple world and European champion is expected to make Vipers an even more dangerous contender than they surprisingly turned out to be last season. However, Løke will be out injured for the first few months but could return to help the team in the crunch time of the competition.

3. Metz Handball (FRA)

Never underestimate the team of last year’s best coach, Emmanuel Mayonnade. Although some key players have left – Béatrice Edwige to Győr and Gnonsiane Niombla to Siófok – the squad is strong enough with several newcomers to aim for the EHF FINAL4 again. While they are dominating in their domestic league in France, Metz are eager to confirm their status as one of the four top teams in Europe’s women’s club handball.

2. Rostov-Don (RUS)

In their second year with Ambros Martin, the former Györ success coach, on the bench Rostov will have further perfected their defensive system, which was already among the very best last year. If, contrary to last season, the key players and mainly Anna Vyakhireva remains healthy, Rostov will be able to go all the way this season.

1. Györi Audi ETO KC (HUN)

The title-holders start from pole position once again. Yes, some leading players have left but the replacements look promising and will for into head coach Danyi Gábor’s game style. There is no reason why Györ could not stretch their unbeaten streak for another full season and end up showing the trophy to their Hungarian home crowd in May.

TEXT: Béla Müller / ew