A few sighs of relief could be heard throughout the Stade de la Mosson on Saturday night, but none would have been louder than that of Montpellier chairman Louis Nicollin.
After four defeats and two draws in their last six home games in all competitions, the champions finally became the last Ligue 1 club to seal victory at home, beating Nice 3-1.
The eccentric and often outspoken Nicollin, who referred to his players as “assholes” after their disappointing start to the campaign, has seen his side slump from their tremendous title winning success of 2011/12 to mustering only three wins from 10 this year.
Montpellier’s problems have been mounting for some time now, with coach Rene Girard severely criticizing his players and dropping first-choice goalkeeper Geoffrey Jourdren for questioning his team selections. Girard has even been suspended by UEFA for directing an obscene hand gesture at the Schalke bench in his side’s recent Champions League match.
Many of the players who surprised and entertained last season look a shadow of their former selves, with star man Younes Belhanda in particular unable to replicate the sparkling form that wrote so many headlines last year.
However, the champion’s main flaw has been their defensive frailties. In their 10 games so far this season Montpellier have conceded 15 goals, almost half the total amount for the whole of last season.
Summer signing from Toulouse, Daniel Congre, has looked unsteady at the back whilst captain Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa’s performances have fallen far short of what is expected from a player considered to be the future of the France national side.
An additional factor to Montpellier’s downfall has been a loss of goals following the sale of top-scorer Olivier Giroud to Arsenal. Giroud’s replacement Emanuel Herrera will need time to settle in France, having made the huge step from Union Espanola in Chile. Another recruitment of whom much was expected is winger Anthony Mounier, but he has struggled to find consistency due to suspension and fitness issues since moving from Nice.
The weekend’s result was a sign of improvement for La Paillade, but despite the high scoreline Montpellier were aided by generous refereeing decisions and calamity defending by the visitors’ back line.
The champions failed to make their first half dominance count, but started the second with similar brightness. Young Nice defender Lloyd Palun’s slip allowed Souleymane Camara a free run in on goal, with the Senegalese forward side footing the ball past goalkeeper Joris Delle to put the hosts 1-0 up just after half time.
Montpellier’s second was scored by John Utaka. Despite being in an offside position, the former Portsmouth striker capitalised on Remy Cabella’s through pass, cut inside the Nice defence and beat Delle with a diagonal shot. The assistant’s flag stayed down and the home side fortuitously found themselves 2-0 up.
The champions were gifted a third goal with three minutes remaining as the luckless Renato Civelli challenged a high ball with his goalkeeper Delle, and headed into his own net.
Montpellier were denied a first clean sheet in five games as right back Garry Bocaly was sent off for a last minute foul in the box. Argentine forward Dario Cvitanich took the penalty and chipped the ball past the returning Jourdren with an impressive Panenka.
However, the goal was sheer consolation for Nice who find themselves without a win since mid-September. Montpellier now sit 13th – 10 points behind leaders Paris Saint-Germain.
Fans will hope that the victory will kick-start their season, but they should not get complacent. A similarly impressive result in Europe against Schalke was followed by three defeats and seven goals conceded. With the month ahead bringing fixtures with PSG, Bordeaux and Lyon, plus a Champions League tie with Arsenal, tough times lie ahead for Montpellier Herault.
Elsewhere in Ligue 1, two fixtures were postponed due to poor weather conditions. Sunday’s much anticipated clash between Marseille and Lyon was called off due to high winds and dangerous conditions at the Stade Velodrome, whilst snow in eastern France forced Sochaux’s tie with Evian to be rearranged. Paris-Saint Germain’s 1-0 victory away to Nancy finds them three points clear at the top of the table, ahead of nearest challengers Toulouse who won 3-1 against Brest.
Week 10 – Results
AS Saint-Etienne 2 – 0 Stade Rennais
LOSC Lille 2 – 1 Valenciennes FC
Stade de Reims 1 – 1 ESTAC Troyes
Toulouse FC 3 – 1 Stade Brestois
Montpellier Herault 3 – 1 OGC Nice
AS Nancy Lorraine 0 – 1 Paris Saint-Germain
FC Lorient 4 – 4 AC Ajaccio
SC Bastia 3 – 1 Girondins Bordeaux
FC Sochaux Montbeliard P –P Evian TG FC
Olympique de Marseille P – P Olympique Lyonnais