Five takeaways from the EHF Champions League Men group phase

EHF / Kevin Domas

16 teams on the starting line, 14 rounds,106 games played, and here we are now – the EHF Champions League group phase is over.

While Aalborg, Kiel, Kielce and Barça have qualified for the quarter-finals, eight teams will face each other in the play-offs in order to determine who will join the eight best sides in Europe in 2021/22.

But before that, we take a look at what happened during the group phase.

Aalborg: not a one-hit wonder

One might have thought that the Danish side’s presence at the EHF FINAL4 last season was down to luck or one incredible season. Well, some might have to think again, as Aalborg have already made it to the quarter-finals again.

They managed to do it by finishing first in group A, defeating Kiel once and Montpellier twice along the way – two former Champions League winners.

If coach Stefan Madsen and his boys keep going like that, there is a real chance we might see them in Cologne again at the end of the season.

No team undefeated

In the past seasons, we often saw a team finish the group phase without conceding any defeats. In 2021, Barça made it all the way to the title without losing a single game. This will not be the case this season, as Aalborg conceded three defeats already, while Kielce, who finished first in group B, had four.

The competition has been very tight since the outset, and it is hard to pick any favourites. And that is reflected in the results, as almost every team has had the opportunity to beat every other.

20211004 Aalborg 2000Px

Back court = best scorers

Usually the top scorer ranking is the hunting ground of the wings, but this season is different. Among the top 10 scorers of the group phase, only three play on the wing: Ivan Cupic, Aleix Gomez and Timur Dibirov.

So far, Felix Claar, the Aalborg centre back, is leading the pack, with 81 goals scored – three more than Dika Mem (Barça) and Raul Nantes Campos (Dinamo Bucuresti).

While last season’s top scorer, Valero Rivera, is playing the EHF European League this time, Mem and Gomez were also in the top five in 2021. Alex Dujshebaev, who finished as fifth top scorer last season, is now outside the top 20.

Three countries with two teams qualified

France, Hungary and Germany saw both their teams qualify from the group phase, while six other countries have one of their sides in the knockout stage: Denmark, Norway, North Macedonia, Spain, Poland and Portugal.

All 12 knockout stage teams have made it out of the group phase at least once in the past, although 2021/22 represents the first time Elverum have qualified as they automatically progressed in the Covid-19 impacted season in 2020/21. And, apart from HSV Hamburg, all of the Champions League winners since 2009/10 have made it from this season’s group phase.

20211018 Barca Dika Mem

Barça and Kiel keep their habits

Out of the last 13 EHF Champions League seasons, Barça have made it to at least the quarter-finals 12 times, only being eliminated in the last 16 once, in 2018.

THW Kiel have an even more impressive record going, with 21 participations in at least the Champions League quarter-finals. The only time since 1995/96 the ‘Zebras’ did not reach that stage was in 2019, when they won the EHF Cup instead.

The two clubs have already added the 2021/22 quarter-finals to their records by earning direct tickets at the end of the group phase. In comparison, Kielce will participate in the quarter-finals for the fifth time, and this will only be Aalborg’s second appearance, after last year.

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