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21.11.2018, 14:30
Five reasons why Montpellier can still qualify
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FIRST-HAND INSIGHT: Starting your season with one point from seven matches - and still advancing to the Last 16? Why not! After their first win, in Round 8, the defending champions have every chance to make it
 

Five reasons why Montpellier can still qualify

Montpellier Handball finally got their first win of the VELUX EHF Champions League 2018/19 last week, when they beat Rhein-Neckar Löwen 31:26 at home.

Looking at the French players’ faces, there was a huge sense of relief after finally getting a win on the record. Understandably, as for the first time ever, reigning champions had failed to win any of their first seven games of the following season.

With the crucial clash against IFK Kristianstad looming this weekend (Sunday at 17:00 hrs CET, live on ehfTV.com), it is time to analyse why Montpellier could still make the Last 16, despite their bad start to the season.

1. They are back on the right track

Momentum is important in handball. A win can be the start of a series, bringing self-confidence and pushing a team to do impressive things while they were barely able to walk straight two weeks earlier.

The tough 10-goal defeat away against Rhein-Neckar Löwen in Round 7 was the turning point for Montpellier. “What we saw on the video was, to say the least, very unpleasant,” said captain Valentin Porte.

Hurt in their pride, they decided to turn things around at home. And they did so in fashion. “We saw the real Montpellier tonight,” said two-time Champions League winner Michaël Guigou after that match.

2. Michaël Guigou brings serenity

Speaking of Guigou, it seems obvious that his comeback from knee surgery has been key in the process for Montpellier.

Guigou didn’t play the first five games of the season, and his team was left without points. Since his return, they have gathered three from as many matches.

Despite Mathieu Grébille doing very well on the left wing, coach Patrice Canayer was quick to put Guigou back on his position as soon as he returned. And the effect was obvious. Playing in the back court, Guigou’s speed and game vision were crucial in the win against Rhein-Neckar Löwen, with the 36-year-old scoring seven times.

3. The experienced always stand up again

There might have been harsh words in the changing rooms. Some might have shouted in the media. But Montpellier never really panicked.

“If we’re not strong enough, we won’t qualify for the next round of the Champions League. That’s the law in sports,” Canayer said over and over again.

Maybe he meant it at the time, maybe it was his tactic to allow the team to drive back to the road. And it worked.

The experience of bad times in the past has served Montpellier well, and they were right not to shout ‘Fire!’ when the first flames appeared.

4. Melvyn Richardson is unstoppable

With Jackson’s son, Montpellier might have the best right back in the VELUX EHF Champions League at the moment.

Over the first eight games he scored 43 goals, but his efficiency has been particularly remarkable in Montpellier’s last four games, where he scored seven goals on three occasions and 10 goals once. And he has been swimming in similar water in the French league.

For now, this is clearly a strong point for Montpellier. But they have to be careful that the opposing defences do not focus too much on their left-hander.

“Clearly, our game is leaning to the right at the moment. I expect the left side to do better,” said Canayer.

5. They still got the cards in their hands

They might be back to better spirits, but Montpellier still have the room for improvement. While the left back position lags behind, a lot will get better with Diego Simonet’s return after recovering from a fractured right foot.

The Argentinian centre back, the MVP of the last VELUX EHF FINAL4, left a void that has been hard to fill in his team’s system. With Simonet back and in form, expect the reigning champion to become even better in the forthcoming months.


TEXT: Kevin Domas / ew
 
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