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27.09.2018, 07:10
Rough start or something more serious for last year’s finalists?
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FIRST-HAND INSIGHT: Both Nantes and Montpellier are struggling to recapture last year's form, but what lies behind the worst start for any finalist since the VELUX EHF FINAL4 was implemented
 

Rough start or something more serious for last year's finalists?

After reaching the VELUX EHF Champions League final last season, both Nantes and Montpellier are struggling to recapture that form, collecting no points after two games. This is the worst start for any finalist since the VELUX EHF FINAL4 was implemented in 2010.

Can we view this as a surprise? Of course, we can. After surprising everybody last season, winning the competition, despite being seeded in Groups C/D, Montpellier are now having a hard time getting past tougher opponents on a weekly basis.

If first place and direct qualification for the quarter-finals was never a goal for coach Patrice Canayer, he certainly hoped for a better outcome than two losses against a new-look Vardar and in Brest.

During last Saturday’s Match of the Week, it seemed like nothing was working for the French side. “You have to take in consideration that our opponents are playing at 120% because they want to beat the title holder. And we’re not even 100%, we are 80% at the moment, in everything we do,” said the coach, visibly disturbed by the way his players behaved on court.

Once again, he seems to be right. In the French league, over the first three games, Montpellier barely seemed dominant. Against teams which will probably play bottom of the table, they made too many mistakes, missing shots and turning the ball over. And while you can make up for such mistakes against lesser teams, you pay the price immediately in Europe’s top flight.

“It seems like we forgot the intensity of the Champions League. The guys in front of us are waiting for us and they don’t take their foot off the pedal. We have to question ourselves quickly or we will not go much further in the competition,” said Vincent Gérard after first loss against Vardar at home.

It seems that the lesson has yet to be learnt and if you take in consideration the fact that the French national goalkeeper and his teammates will face Kielce, Barcelona and Veszprém in the next three rounds, they better hurry or their chances of progressing to the Last 16 may begin to vanish.

For Nantes, the problem seems to be in the process of being solved. Last year’s finalists claimed in pre-season that the Champions League would not be their top priority and last season, however incredible it had been, would be difficult to repeat.

It just seems like the players have taken their coach’s words a bit too literally. If Flensburg really were too strong for last year’s finalists, in Szeged, they might have hoped for more than the two-goal defeat.

“We’re a little bit frustrated because we did everything right until the final ten minutes of the game,” said Nantes coach Thierry Anti.

Facing Skjern this weekend at home might is a chance to grab their first points of the season, even though the defence will have to be stronger than it was in the last two games.

Arnaud Siffert is having an impressive time between the posts at the moment, while usual number one Cyril Dumoulin is under-performing.

The element of surprise is well and truly gone now for these two established squads and opponents have analysed the way Thierry Anti wants his guys to play, as Nicolas Tournat is much harder to find on the line than he was last season. The turnovers we saw against Flensburg in the first round will undoubtedly be punished by likes of Skjern’s Anders Eggert this weekend.

If Nantes and Montpellier win this weekend, we can say it was just a bad phase, but a third loss in a row could force people to wonder whether they are more than the flavour of last season.


TEXT: Kevin Domas / cor
 
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