Only three days after a win at Lorient (5-2), AS Monaco welcome Angers SCO this Saturday night (9 PM, behind closed doors) as part of Matchday 19 in Ligue 1. On the eve of the first match of 2021 at the Stade Louis-II, Niko Kovac gave a pre-match press conference. The coach of the Red and Whites has expressed his expectations about this last match of the first half of the seaosn.
Hello Niko. What’s your view on Angers, who have just beaten Marseille and Lille?
Angers are a big surprise for me in this league. They’ve been really good for two or three years, but in the end it makes sense, because they’ve been working really well for many years. Coach Stéphane Moulin has been there for a very long time. It will be a tough game for sure. They’ve won against big teams, against Rennes, Marseille and Lille and they are the third-best team in Ligue 1 on the road. It’s a team of tough characters, so winning it will require total attention and concentration.
There has been more turnover lately. Is your first-choice eleven from the start of the season no longer as stable?
Football is a team sport. We currently have 25 or 26 players in the squad, so the important thing for me is to see who performs during the week in training. For me, that’s the main criterion, performance. They are all able to help the team. It’s good that there is that pressure from the bench, to help the team develop faster. We will see what will happens tomorrow against Angers (smiles).
Were you surprised by the performance of Aleksandr Golovin after more than four months without match action?
No one expected him to score after five seconds, that was exceptional. Honestly he’s a great player, a good person and he’s like a new player for me because he had only played one full match so far. I was disappointed when the medical staff told me I had to wait to get him back to competition. It’s good for him that he feels good, we’ll take our time, going step by step. It would be too dangerous to have him start a match right now. As we did with Wissam, we will gradually give him more playing time. The risk is that he wants to do more than he can do now. Once again he is a very important player for us, and the goal is to protect him.
Is Wissam Ben Yedder frustrated that he hasn’t scored in recent matches?
As I’ve already said, Wissam is a very important player for us. With Kevin they’ve been involved in 15 goals and 7 assists, I believe, since the start of the season. He hasn’t scored in a few games, but I know his character. I’m sure he will regain his confidence and get back to scoring. We are all behind him. Maybe there is some frustration that sets in, but I’m not worried about him, about his state of mind. He would definitely like to score more, but that’s life as a striker. He is an experienced player, he will overcome this frustration, and you will see him tomorrow.
What’s Benjamin Lecomte‘s situation — will he play tomorrow?
It’s a secret (smiles). Benjamin has returned after six weeks of rehabilitation. I’m repeating myself, but the role of goalkeeper is really unique, you need to be in a rhythm to be able to start. We’ll see what happens in training today, and we’ll see tomorrow. What I can say is that he is a great goalie.
How do you explain that you are the best team in the league at set pieces?
You have to work on those phases of the game. It’s easier to score on these kinds of situations, because even if you are not playing well in the game, everyone knows what to do in these moments. The action starts from zero. It’s important to have players who are able to take those kicks, but also to deflect or shoot from them. I have often had teams with these characteristics. I’m glad to know that we have scored 13 goals in this area, although I would prefer it to be even more. We don’t work on this every day. On the other hand, we watch every week to see how our opponent plays at dead balls and indeed we are working on it. This is a huge advantage for the attacking team, when each player knows what to do in these moments.
How do you explain that there have been so many different shooters since the start of the season?
We’ve had Cesc, Sofiane, Youssouf, Ruben or even Djibril take this role. It is true that we have several possibilities. The last game Sofiane was not in the starting eleven, and Djibril played on the left. All of these players are capable of taking set pieces. We adapt to the players we have available. We have seen that Golo had a great shot against Lorient. This quality of being able to both pass and shoot from set pieces is important.
You had conversations with the management over the holidays. Are the goals still the same?
We’re always speaking with Paul Mitchell and Oleg Petrov. We have conversations very regularly. We know that Ligue 1 is difficult, that the top five teams are really strong and that we are also being pushed from behind. If you rely on what you have learned, it comes back to you very quickly, so you have to stay vigilant.
What can you tell us about the transfer window in the departures department, and in particular about the situation of Henry Onyekuru?
He is coming back from Nigeria tomorrow. The situation has not changed, we will see what happens in the next two weeks. Regarding the two other players, we know what their situation is, they have the possibility of finding another club. We will see what is the best solution for them. As I said before, football is not just eleven players, but 20 or 25 players. Everyone has the chance to show their skills in training and prove that they have to play in the next game.
You often talk about reducing the number of errors. What must be done to get there?
You can see it by the color of my beard which is becoming more and more gray (smile), that these mistakes are difficult for me to accept. You need to be able to look at what you did wrong after the fact, and what you could have done to avoid those mistakes. The important thing is that the players understand them, and that they try not to reproduce them on subsequent occasions. It’s our job to show them that. Football is all about mistakes, otherwise all matches would be 0-0. We have to help the players, using all the staff to reduce this number of errors, because it will be easier then to go out and get results.