After two unexpected defeats to open the season against two newly promoted clubs (Coburg and Erlangen), MT Melsungen will play host on the DKB Handball Bundesliga's third matchday to reigning German champions the Rhein-Neckar Löwen. There are still tickets available for this highly anticipated match on Wednesday, 7 pm at Rothenbach Hall Messe Kassel, either from authorised sales agents or at the stadium box office from 5:30 pm.
The MT opened the new season with a disastrous 20-25 home loss to newly promoted Coburg. The team was criticised for a lack of concentration and responsibility; the players felt themselves ready to make amends and headed to Erlangen, another new Bundesliga side, with fire in their eyes. But failed to turn things around. Here too the underdog dominated the favourite, this time 29-25. A horrific start to the year.
"Right after that match, while the players were still in the dressing room, I let the players know in no uncertain terms about some of the things I'd seen and that had to get cleaned up. But everything was kept objective and without screaming", Axel Geerken revealed. "It was a mix between personal appeal and overarching corrective suggestions", the MT president says. One of the points: "We have to re-locate our team-mindedness. Because that's what made us so strong. If things aren't running well as a whole, then the players on the one hand try to do too much alone, and on the other hand start harping about how their mates are playing. Sure, you have to bring some emotion to the court. That's part of this sport. But you also need to be able to get along with your teammates and find a common path".
Coach Michael Roth (Hartung photo) expects that same thing from his players: "Things had really been moving straight up in recent years, so this poor start is a real shock to the system, and one nobody had counted on. But that happens in sports. Many people will remember the absolutely inexplicably bad start by Borussia Dortmund two years ago. We now need to get back to work based on where we are right now, namely at the very bottom", the MT coach stated bluntly. At the same time, he pointed out his own culpability in the matter; he along with all the other participants bears mutual blame, and only together will they find their way back out of the crisis. "We've taken hold of the reins quite tightly at practice. I'll now have to watch very closely to see who I can count on for fighting spirit and dedication. That will mean much more to me on Wednesday against the Rhein-Neckar Löwen than the final result".
Michael Allendorf back on board
One positive: Roth should have Michael Allendorf back from injury. The left wing took part in the warm-ups in Erlangen but didn't play. Somewhat less clear is the situation for Johan Sjöstrand and Marino Maric. Both were key players last season and the team misses them dearly. Johan as a keeper who works well with the defence and has a knack for robbing even the most wide open shots; Marino as a rock next to Felix Danner on defence. It's also unclear when lefty Gabor Langhans will return to competition. The new acquisition from TuS N-Lübbecke was forced out of pre-season preparations by a knee problem and is currently undergoing rehab. He was brought in to provide relief for Michael Müller in the backcourt.
Match against the Löwen kicks off a multi-match week
For the MT, the match this coming Wednesday represents the start of a tough multi-match week (known as an "Englisch Week" in German). Just three days later they'll play host to VfL Gummersbach, which hasn't missed a single point on the table yet, and then a week heading to last year's runner-up and current table leader SG Flensburg-Handewitt. The Rhein-Neckar Löwen arrive in Kassel as the holding German champions, with a bit of extra bling from their newly won Supercup title. The team from the Kaichgau couldn't have picked a better start to the season. A win over Cup champion Magdeburg started things off. Then came two points against the Bördeland squad, and finally a dominant victory against newly promoted Coburg. As coach Nikolaj Jacobsen revealed in an interview with the club's internal media team, this wasn't necessary expected due because they too had been missing personnel for some of the pre-season.
The title holders have an excellent roster, as well as respect for the MT
The departure of national player Uwe Gensheimer hasn't weakened the Löwen's overall high-carat roster. Veteran Valur Sigurdsson, who played in the yellow kit from 2008 to 2011, has returned, joined by Macedonian Dejan Manaskov. The pair represent two potent successors. Ex-Melsungen keeper Mikael Appelgren has shown excellent form in goal, with Andreas Palicka acquired as his number 2. The Swede previously won the Champions League with Kiel and has continued to develop since his most recent station, Aalborg. Otherwise the title winning squad has remained intact. Andy Schmid remains one of the top playmakers up front, serving as judge, jury and executioner for opposing keepers. Where needed, newly minted Danish Olympic champion Mads Mensah Larsen can step in. On the left and right side are Kim Ekdahl du Rietz and Alexander Petersson, both hard throwing backs. The wings are generally manned by sharpshooting Patrick Groetzki (right) and Manaskov and Sigurdsson on the left. At the pivot, coach Jacobson can choose between German national player Henrik Pekeler and two Spanish national players, Gedeon Guardiola and 130-kilo monster Baena Gonzales.
The Löwen coach is calling the encounters on Wednesday against the MT in Kassel and then at home against Flensburg as the "Week of Truth". Oliver Roggisch, Athletic Director, gives voice to the club's respect for their North Hesse opponents: "Melsungen is one of the league's top teams, and they are capable of laying any team low, especially at home. We'll need to find our rhythm fast and put up a strong defence if we hope to earn some points there", Roggisch says.
The rivals matched up four times against each other last year, twice in regular Bundesliga play and twice in the DHB Cup, although in the latter case a replay was ordered due to a rules violation. The game during the first half of the Bundesliga season (21/11/2015 in Kassel) went to Roth and his boys 25-23. While both competitors were at that point closely ensconced in the upper portion of the table, the signs are pointing clearly in favour of the guests this time around. Which on the flip side means that the MT are not the ones under pressure. "We're the clear underdogs this time around, and that might well benefit us in the current situation", Michael Roth admits.
Referees in Kassel: Christoph Immel (Tönnisvorst, NRW) / Ronald Klein (Ratingen, NRW); DHB Observer: Berndt Dugall.
Previous Bundesliga encounters: 22 matches, with 18 wins for RNL, 3 for MT, 1 tie
Tickets: At all standard ticket partners and on matchday from 5:30 pm at the Rothenbach Hall arena box office.