Niko Kovac: "A good opportunity to react"
After two trips, to Lille and Marseille, it’s a return to the Principality for the Rouge et Blanc. AS Monaco will host Racing Club de Lens on Wednesday, December 16, at 9:00 PM at Stade Louis-II (closed doors), as part of Matchday 15 in Ligue 1. It’s a match which will allow Niko Kovac and his players to get back to business. The AS Monaco coach spoke to the press the day before the match.
Hello Niko. What do you need to change to get back to a good level, especially in defense, after these two losses?
We’ve conceded too many easy goals lately. This is something we have to work on, and for that, I repeat that we have to reduce the number of errors. If we do that, we will get positive results, for sure. Because we have also scored a lot of goals, we are among the teams that have scored the most in the league. Again, we need to do better to protect our goal, to get better results.
Does this require changes to certain positions?
As I said at the last press conference, we are playing a lot of games before the Christmas holidays and we can’t put out the same team every time. It’s okay to make some changes, it’s a possibility, but I don’t want to say too much so as not to give anything away to our future opponents.
Is the battle for the top of Ligue 1 a good thing for the league?
When I arrived, I said that Ligue 1 was one of the best leagues in my opinion, and I think so even more today. I think the matches are very close right now and the spectacle it creates is really interesting for the fans. It’s a good thing that the teams are very close to each other in the table. For the moment, AS Monaco isn’t far from the European places. We may not be able to compete for the title because we are in the process of progressing, but we will do everything to stay in the race. Some teams have had coaches in place for several years, so we have to give ourselves time to get to the top level.
For you, who are the contenders for the title?
Lyon is obviously a team that will cause problems for Paris Saint-Germain for the title. They have very good players, a very experienced coach, and the club have just reached the semifinals of the last Champions League. Lille are also a very well organzied team with a good coach, so they will be in the mix. And Marseille, of course — Marseille is a big club, which has a lot of European experience. I think these three teams will compete for the title with PSG.
Your defense has been showing signs of fatigue lately. How do you see it?
Axel and Benoît are two talented players. When I talk about the defense I don’t like to talk about specific players, but about the performance of the whole team. If we take the statistics, our last two opponents have created five clear chances and scored four. We had as many as them, but only scored twice. When I say that we have to reduce the number of errors on the pitch to avoid conceding too many goals, I include everyone, including me, even if I’m not playing anymore (smiles). It’s a process that we’re all learning, we look at the mistakes we make, work on them in training and work to not repeat them. Aurélien is indeed a bit tired also because he has been a regular starter since the beginning of the season, but I have medical staff who work well and monitor the physical condition of the players. What is certain is that he and the others will not play ninety minutes in all four of these matches at the end of the year.
When can we hope for a return from Aleksandr Golovin?
Aleksandr is missed. We would really like to have another player of that quality in our squad. I repeat, I hope he comes back as soon as possible. It’s difficult to set a precise date. I’m talking with the medical staff and I am told that it is still a little too early to bring him back, so we’re not taking any risks, we want him to be 100%. We believe that 99% is not enough, and if it takes one, two or three weeks, we will wait. We don’t need him just for these three games, but for the rest of the season.
Have you suffered due to a lack of form on the part of your experienced players, like Wissam Ben Yedder, who had COVID-19, and Cesc Fàbregas, who is currently injured?
We had four straight wins in November, and Cesc was available at the time. Wissam missed a few games but he also took part in this run of matches. Wissam is very important to us, he’s our captain, so we need him in good shape. Now we have some very good youngsters as well, and although our experienced players are not in peak form, this is an opportunity for the youngsters to play. We strongly believe in them. There are players like Djibril too, who have a lot of experience and who when we need him, can help us.
Exactly, will he be available to start against Lens?
He won’t be ready to start against Lens even though he will be in the squad. He’s an important part of the squad, he’s been here for four years, he was a league champion in 2017, he has been a World Champion and he has also played in the Premier League. So his experience is important for our young squad. He can play on both flanks. If he stays in shape, I think he will have the opportunity to play a lot of matches by the end of the season. It is important that there are players like him, who can work with the young players in the squad.
What do you think of RC Lens?
I have a very good opinion of RC Lens, who have been promoted and playing very well. They are a very good opponent who are quite close to us in the table. We will have to be at 100% to perform well against them. It will be necessary to be mentally ready for a big battle and especially not to take this match lightly.
Before Marseille, you were talking about getting four wins at the end of the year. You don’t really have the right to make mistakes anymore…
If we want to stay in touch with the leading teams, we have to win our last three matches before the break. If we lose another game, a little gap between them and us will be created. But we have only played 14 matches, so there is still a long way to go and we have time to rectify the situation. We have scored a lot so far, but we cannot be satisfied with our current record. Tomorrow’s game is a good opportunity to show that we can react.
Finally, are you in favor of the rule which allows five changes?
I am for these five changes. The teams’ schedules, with European and international matches is very dense, so we need to be able to protect our players. We also have a fairly large squad, and if we want to give everyone playing time, it’s good to be able to make five changes. We must also think about protecting the players. I don’t know what will happen in the future, but I’m quite happy with the current situation, and if we want to keep the level of play and performance high, it’s good to have so many possibilities.