The month of Feburary has started perfectly for Niko Kovac and his players, with a sixth straight win coming against rival Nice in the 100th Côte d’Azur derby (2-1). Dominating play throughout, the Rouge et Blanc came alive after an equalizer scored by Les Aiglons, with a double from Wissam Ben Yedder. The Monegasque coach was therefore very happy with the performance from his players and with this latest victory in the team’s post-match press conference.
Good evening Niko. You can know how to win a derby and you showed that again tonight…
Yes I think our ambition was clear, we wanted to win this 100th derby. It’s good for us, for the Club, for the supporters. We deserve this victory, we created four good chances. We scored twice again from set pieces, and Nice had only two shots on target. My team played really well, very organized, and that’s what I expected. I want to congratulate my players this evening.
The end of the match was again a bit of a challenge, we heard you raising your voice to the players.
If you want to win, you have to win this kind of difficult game. The end of the match in Nantes was not easy in the last minutes because we eased off a bit. I was more relaxed tonight because we were very well organized, not much space was left for the opposition. This is a positive result, and a lot of the young players need support. We need to be there to talk to them, and not just me. I’m talking on the sidelines but I feel that my players need to communicate more with each other.
You’ve coached Bayern Munich and Croatia. Is this the best moment of your young career?
I started my career in 2009 as an assistant in Salzburg. It’s been twelve years since I started my coaching career, I’m not very young (smiles). My players want to improve and we are playing well at the moment. Our style of play is developing but we still have to learn to move forward. We are training well and we are winning, so I am logically happy. We know what we have to do, but it takes a little time. I am aware of the expectations around AS Monaco, so this victory is something very positive.
Was the combination play on the free kick something that had been worked on in training?
I see Wissam every day in training, I know he’s a very good scorer, skillful with both feet. When I was a player, it was a typical free kick that you would take to get around a wall. He was a bit lucky with his shot but that doesn’t take away from the fact that he’s a great striker. Wissam has a good level of quality in his strike, I am not surprised by this goal. We work on this sort of shot in training. We must continue like this.
This victory further consolidates fourth place, can we speak now of the podium?
No, I will repeat myself. In the last two seasons, the Club finished in 17th and 9th. We haven’t changed much since then. The teams ahead of us have quality players, and some are better than us. We must work on preserving this lead or even extending over the sixth-placed side. We are building a squad, a team. We have 15 matches left, we are progressing step by step. I don’t want to talk about the podium.
Kevin Volland finished the match very tired, and you are playing four matches in 15 days. Are you going to rotate your squad?
Today I was thinking of making some changes to the starting lineup but we played very well in Nantes. I decided to pick the same team in the end. We still have three matches over the next week. Some players are tired, but others on the bench are able to play. This is good for us, there will surely be rotation.
A word for the play of Sofiane Diop ?
He can still improve in all aspects of the game but he has improved a lot. With and without the ball, he’s very good. I knew his abilities on the ball, but he’s improving on the defensive side. I was not happy with his defensive contribution so he started off on the bench several times earlier in the season. He understood why and he is now doing things very well, he has to continue like this. I am very satisfied with his efforts. It’s not possible to go from being a Ligue 2 player to being a world class player, but he is progressing fast, which is good. He’s met my expectations.
Nice played with a real physical side to their play — are you satisfied with the response from your players?
Yes, I’m happy with the game. We were sixteen points ahead of Nice before the match, but it was a physical match and not easy. We stayed calm and handled it well. We’ve agreed on forgetting about the table, and it’s always special to play a derby. We were prepared for it. There was a great reaction from the team.