The month of February started as January ended for AS Monaco, with a big win in the 100th Côte d’Azur debry against their big rival, OGC Nice (2-1). Niko Kovac and his side now hope to earn a seventh straight win on Sunday. For that, it will be necessary to get the best of Ligue 1’s bottom side, Nîmes, at the Stade des Costières (3 PM,behind closed doors). But before thinking about the result, the Croatian manager insisted in his pre-match press conference on first being focused on the match itself.
Nîmes have just replaced their manager — are you worried about “new manager bounce”?
Yes, it is possible, a change of coach can change the mentality of the team in the short term. I was sad to hear this news, all coaches are in the same boat. This is a new opportunity for the players. We need to be focused and focused on this game, working to have optimal preparation. We have to give 100% on Sunday, like every game. Nîmes are a well prepared and mentally very strong team.
Can you give us an update on the injured players?
Gelson Martins should be the only player unavailable. We do not know yet with Benoît, who took a knock against Nice. He did some work yesterday, we will see tomorrow in training if he is available.
Why the change in defensive strategy by moving to three at the back in possession?
When I got there, I said that I needed time to implement some things. Some mentalities and goals had to be changed. Relationships are being created, and we are working day after day, week after week, game after game to achieve this. The team is progressing, andwe need to take another step forward. When I was in Frankfurt, we played like that with three defenders, and that gave us something extra. Djibril is able to play in this three-man defense, he brings us confidence. It’s not easy to play against us right now, we’re in good form. We are less predictable, we’re creating spaces and opportunities. It’s good for us.
This was also partly to take advantage of the attacking play of Caio Henrique ?
We had to strengthen our defense and make use of Caio’s attacking qualities. It allows the players to have a solid base with three at the back when we are in possession, to the defense’s structure. It’s clearer in their minds now. When playing with four defenders, there is always a need to pay attention to covering runs. It’s clearer with three defenders, and Caio can show his offensive talent. It’s easier for the players overall, they understand things better.
What does this change concretely for the two midfielders?
They are very important to our game. It depends on the situation. The midfield is the heart of our team, they make the transitions between our defense and attack. When we have the ball, they are responsible for the organization of play. They are very important to our system. They still have to improve, especially in their use of the ball. We have to be organized, and it’s important to have these two playing. Their defensive role is essential.
This also allows you to make quick transitions…
Our ambition is to move forward as quickly as possible to win the ball back as high up the pitch as possible. If you press directly after losing the ball, you will run less chasing the ball — you save energy. It must be recovered as quickly as possible to transition into attack. This 4-4-2 is very clear to all our players, they know what they have to do. You have to adapt to your opponent; it depends on the system. Our way of playing is easier for players to understand. It is working very well at the moment.
Do you compare your arrival in Monaco with that in Frankfurt, it being a delicate situation at the start?
The situation was not easy in Frankfurt, to be sure. The team were fighting to avoid relegation. It is true that we can compare the two. In the past two seasons, AS Monaco have not been in the place that the Club expect. Now we are trying to create something new. It’s a long process, and it doesn’t happen with the snap of your fingers. We’re all pulling in the same direction with Oleg Petrov and Paul Mitchell, we want to be efficient. It’s something important for me to see that, I’m sure Monaco will come back.
What sort of changes will you make in these next few matches?
Youssouf Fofana is suspended for the Coupe de France match. I’m going to make some changes, since we have five games in two weeks, the games are coming every three days. The players are off today. We need mental and physical freshness. I am very happy with the team, with Aurélien and Youssouf. It’s not easy because their current level is very good, I am satisfied with the performance of my players. We have an exceptional bench; we won’t lose quality when we make changes. I can offer opportunities to other players, I hope they can play to the same level as the current starters. I will make these decisions.
He is a talented player, very young but professional. He hasn’t played a lot but he works hard in training. He is only 18 years old, he is still three years behind Aurélien. We have to give him time, I would like to give him playing time but the last matches have been very close. He needs time to gain experience, but he is one of the first choices to play this role. He is full of quality, but I want to give him a chance in optimal conditions.
What do you think of this arrangement around the league’s TV rights? Do you think we need to go back to 18 clubs?
It’s difficult to speak to the question of TV rights, I always felt like I am used to 20 clubs. It’s been like that for a very long time, it’s not easy to reduce the league to 18 teams. This is a complex situation, I hope those in charge will make the right decisions — we have to help each other. You have to think of things as a whole.
Do you see Cesc Fàbregas as a number 6 or a number 10?
It depends on the situation, whether we need someone to connect defense and attack or not. He is capable of playing as an attacking midfielder. We know his qualities, I don’t need to go over them, I’m happy to have him back, he’s important for us. The team performed well in his absence. He’s a player who can give us a lot, but I’m not saying he can’t start the next game. I don’t see the players on the bench as substitutes but rather as players who can make a difference. They are able to finish a match and make a difference, as Cesc did against Paris.
Tell us about the development of Youssouf Fofana?
He’s a young player, so he can improve in all areas of the game. But we’ve seen huge improvements since his first matches. He is someone who needs to learn a bit more in terms of discipline — as a number six you have to boss the game. He is the one who makes the links between defense and attack, he has to be rigorous. He has played a lot, I’ve given him my trust. I’m trying to change his mentality so that he continues to progress. With the ball he can do a little better, but he’s only 22; without the ball, he’s made made good progress.
You often speak about Axel Disasi, who has started the last several matches on the bench?
I talk to him a lot because he is a very intelligent lad. It’s not easy for him because the team is doing very well and they are scoring a lot. This is football. When his luck changes he will have the chance to be on top. He has made some mistakes, it happens. He is only 23 years old, we know his qualities, and he may have lost some confidence. We need all the players to perform. If Benoît can’t play, I’m going to need him.