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Handball: Montpellier with two faces

Master in the Champions League, dropped in the league, the Hérault club has this season a double face, which places the team on a wire before its trip to Toulouse on Sunday as part of the 12th day of the championship.

Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde of French handball. Such is Montpellier this season. The double European champion (2003 and 2018) has just made a seventh consecutive victory in the Champions League on Wednesday ahead of Zagreb (24-23) and occupies only the head of Pool A. Beaten only once, he ahead of Kiel, European monument to four titles, the Danish club Aalborg, last finalist, or Vardar Skopje, double winner. Conversely, the MHB achieves the worst start to the championship for three decades and its accession to the elite in 1992. Weighted down by five defeats, it lags behind an anonymous 8th place and deplores six points behind Nantes and Aix-en -Provence, tied for second place, qualifying for the next Champions League.

Have we ever had such a bad start to the championship after 11 days? No. Our performance is poor», Notes Patrice Canayer. Post-Olympic season, lack of experience, density of the calendar and heightened intensity: the manager and his players are looking for explanations for their inconstancy. “How do you go from 85% shooting success in Elverum (Norway) to 52% against Chambéry? We produce great matches then we do the last 20 minutes in Chambéry which are scary. Are we less motivated in the league than in the Champions League? I do not believe that. But it is mentally difficult to maintain a level of play and concentration every three days. There is weariness. You have your suitcase at home, you empty it, you fill it and you leave», Canayer says. If the young people, led by Kylian Villeminot or Julien Bos, have been a saving spare wheel to take over from disappointing recruits, they are singularly lacking in experience. “Young people learn the high level, namely to be very good every three days», Canayer recalls.

Crazy cadences

Injured in the abdominal belt in the final of the Olympic Games in Tokyo then victim of a broken finger, Valentin Porte, 31 years old and 153 caps on the clock, almost missed the first quarter of the season. Relay from the coach, the captain left a big void. The other international, Hugo Descat, whimsical left winger and successor to Michaël Guigou, for his part marries the ups and downs of his team in the wake of a remarkable Olympic epic. “The more experienced find it difficult to return to a constant level after the Olympics. Injuries, truncated preparation, high expectations … The reasons are various», Analyzes the technician from Hérault. But Montpellier has struggled for several seasons to lead Europe and the championship together. In 2003, the MHB won its first European title at the end of its 12th meeting. Fifteen years later, twenty meetings were necessary to reach the highest step at the Final Four in Cologne.

In Europe, there are leagues where the clubs are ultra-dominant like Hungary or Spain, with little mental pressure on their European future. Conversely, in Germany, Denmark or France, this requires special skills and players resistant to fatigue, stress and emotion. It is a concern for many coaches and the key to our profession», Canayer explains. The manager however accommodates the overload of the calendar and its crazy speeds. “We are pros, we have to adapt. If the players want to complain, they have a union. Indoor sports cannot be played less than twice a week, otherwise there is no saving possible», He recalls. But there is still the risk of running out of steam.


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