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02.11.2017, 10:30
Nantes: sprinters or long-distance runners?
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FIRST-HAND INSIGHT: Nantes have had a decent start to the VELUX EHF Champions League season yet they are still in the middle of a learning curve, writes Kevin Domas
 

Nantes: sprinters or long-distance runners?

The first five games of the season for Nantes in the VELUX EHF Champions League have relatively been as successful as their last season.

For a newcomer in one of the top groups of the competition, a draw against Rhein-Neckar Löwen and two wins against Kristianstad and Pick Szeged were a brilliant way to start.

But due to injuries and the heavy schedule, Nantes might see their progression slowed down.

"Last season was like heaven in terms of injuries. Barely no one missed a lot of games and when March arrived, everybody was fit," coach Thierry Anti recalls.

"We needed another solution"

The same thing definitely can't be said about this year. It is only the beginning of November and the infirmary has already been visited frequently.

Kiril Lazarov, Dominik Klein, Rock Feliho, Nicolas Claire and Olivier Nyokas have already been there, and though all but one of them have already returned to the court, it shows that the blessed period can only last for so long.

Out with a knee injury, left back and offensive key player Nyokas won't step on a handball again court before February. As a replacement, Nantes have chosen Guillaume Saurina, the second best scorer ever in the French league.

"With only three players for two positions, it felt like we needed another solution. Especially since the forthcoming games are going to be key ones in each competition," says Thierry Anti, who could only work with five players during the international break last week.

This season Nantes have had to learn how to do without a complete roster, how to lose was something that they have had to remember, too. It happened only six times last season, while the team have now already lost points on four occasions since September.

And their reaction was not exactly want Anti expected, making the coach furious.

"We are pretentious and we are selfish. We are miles away from our real level. And what angers me most is that we lack a collective reaction," he said after a third loss in a row last month.

Reflection and self-analysis

Bouncing back after a defeat needs reflection and self-analysis, things players in Nantes have not needed for a while. And while trust makes you touching the stars, some sand in the gears can very quickly make you fall down again.

Big sides like Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain have learnt over the years to get along with defeats and carry on going forward. They learnt to learn from their defeats, not to commit the mistakes again, without thinking about the result too much.

Nantes, at the moment, are still in this learning curve. Only time and the next bad phase will tell if they have progressed or not.

It was a simple but very effective equation that worked for Nantes for some time. The team's successes at the beginning of the season were based on defence and goalkeeper saves.

As soon as one of those two things disappeared, no one was able to pick up and take responsability.

Eduardo Gurbindo had a fair try and some success at it, Nicolas Tournat was as present as he could have been (10 goals against Kristianstad) but with Claire and Nyokas missing, the other guys shied away from their responsabilities.

Lazarov, for now, is nowhere to be seen, while David Balaguer is far away from what he showed last season. Romain Lagarde and Rudolf Faluvegi are too young to carry all the weight on their shoulders.

"We are learning a lot"

"The answer to our problems can only be a collective one. We have always relied on that and we have no reason to go any other way," Anti says. "We knew that this season we would face situations that we had never faced before due to the intensity of the Champions League. And even if we are struggling at times: first, we are not doing that bad, and second, we are learning a lot."

Anti is aware that the next four games will tell a lot about what his team can achieve this season in the VELUX EHF Champions League: Plock twice, Szeged and Zagreb.

Many hurdles, and while a long-distance runner may jump over them, a sprinter could well stumble.


TEXT: Kevin Domas / ew
 
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