Five main takeaways from round 1
The DELO EHF Champions League 2020/21 season has thrown off in style.
Returning in a new, exciting format with two groups of eight teams, Europe’s premium women’s club handball competition had some surprises on its opening weekend, as some favourites confirmed their status while others had off-days.
There is always a lot to talk about when the best 16 teams of Europe clash, even more when they do so for the first time in over six months.
Here are five talking points after round 1.
1. Mikhaylichenko shines in debut
It takes guts and grit to shine during your maiden game in the DELO EHF Champions League and Russian left back Elena Mikhaylichenko did just that for CSKA. The 18-year old left back was a star for Handball Club Lada in last season’s Women’s EHF Cup, scoring 75 times, but the European premium competition is another beast.
It could not have been a tougher environment for the Russian left back to break her duck in the competition, but Mikhaylichenko shined throughout the game against Györi Audi ETO KC, scoring seven times against the Hungarian title holders, with its tough defence and experienced players.
Despite failing to score with shots from long range, Mikhaylichenko had seven goals from 11 shots, for a 63 per cent scoring efficiency, most of which were set up perfectly by her teammates. CSKA held Györ to a 27:27 draw, challenging the Hungarian side’s record 37-game unbeaten streak in the competition.
Already a silver medallist from IHF World Championship 2019 with Russia, Mikhaylichenko looks set to star in the next years, as CSKA really look to have made the coup of the summer with her signing.
2. A Klujber masterpiece
Really, can it get harder to score a goal than this? FTC’s 21-year old right back, Katrin Klujber, has already been a serious impact player in the past two seasons, but she really upped her game by scoring this gem against Rostov.
Despite FTC’s loss, Klujber invented a superb goal, so we can only hope for more of this in the next games.
3. Too many changes prove fatal for Metz
Change is important in every team. But too many changes, and a side becomes unbalanced and lacks in chemistry. This is exactly what seemed to have happened this summer to Metz Handball.
The French powerhouse looked to have made a step back, after clearly losing the first game of the season 31:26 against CSM Bucuresti.
Despite their skilled and experienced coach Emmanuel Mayonnade, Metz lost key players this off-season, including the likes of backs Grace Zaadi and Xenia Smits, goalkeeper Laura Glauser and wings Laura Flippes and Martine Smeets, while eight players were ushered in.
The result was that Metz, in their second official game of the season, were still searching for their stride in attack and conceded too many goals in defence, including failing to stop Cristina Neagu, who scored 12 times.
Their attack had a meagre 47 per cent efficiency, while their goalkeepers combined for nine saves from 49 shots, or 18.3 per cent. Key clashes against SG BBM Bietigheim and FTC-Rail Cargo Hungary loom for Metz on their aspired way back to the top this season.
4. In-form Danish teams
Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Romania and Russia are the six countries who have two teams in the DELO EHF Champions League, but only one of them managed to finish the first round with two wins: Denmark.
Team Esbjerg swept Bietigheim 33:26, while Odense Håndbold clinched a 32:27 win against another German side, BV Borussia 09 Dortmund.
No Danish side has made the DELO EHF FINAL4 since FC Midtjylland progressed to Budapest in the 2013/14 season, but both Esbjerg and Odense look to be tough nuts to crack this season. Esbjerg especially, as the Danish champions looked solid despite star Estavana Polman out for the season with injury and right back Line Jørgensen being pregnant.
On the other side, Odense overcame the absence of World Championship 2019 top scorer Lois Abbingh against debutants Dortmund last Saturday. Their mettle will be tested in the next games, with away games against Valcea and Györ coming up and a home game against Buducnost in-between.
While the German teams lost both their games, the Russian ones enjoyed a great weekend as Rostov-Don won against FTC (26:25) and CSKA held Györ to a 27:27 draw.
5. Dance, dance, dance
Before the start of the new season, Team Esbjerg featured in a shooting for a Danish TV station and they just let it go with the flow and danced in front of the cameras. The feel-good energy was also there on display in the first game of the season, with the Danish side taking a 33:26 win against Bietigheim and leading group A after the first round.