A win to move a little closer to a place in the Champions League… This Sunday, AS Monaco will host Lyon at the Stade Louis-II (kick-off 9 p.m.), for the big match of Round 35 in of Ligue 1. This gala match promises to be crucial in the race for Europe for both teams, as it looks to be the first of four “finals” for Niko Kovac and his players, who are starting what looks to be a frantic final run of matches in May between the championship and the Coupe de France. It was to discuss the keys to the end of the season that the Monegasque coach appeared before the media.
Hello Niko. How do are you managing day-to-day life with the number of COVID-19 cases in the squad?
Above all, these are things that happen. Unfortunately we can’t have control of it, we can’t control everything. I don’t want to look for excuses. We have a squad at our disposal, which is able to play this important match against Lyon and to fight for a result. All the players who are available will do their best, and as for the rest, we expect them back as soon as possible.
Can COVID-19 have an impact on your end of the season?
This can have an impact on the end of the season. But it’s an opportunity as a team, when players go missing, to prove that we are a strong and united squad. The feeling, the atmosphere and the spirit in training are great. So I don’t have to worry about what we’ll show in the match on Sunday. Why wouldn’t we be able to beat Lyon in this situation? I don’t see any argument for that being the case.
Will there be tension after the Cup match?
I don’t know if the Coupe de France match will have an impact. It was a Cup game that was a real battle; this will be different. Again, football is a contact sport. The referee who will officiate is one of the best in Europe, so I’m not worried about that.
If there is a draw in the 90th minute, are you going to ask your players to push on or settle for a point?
It depends on the scenario of the match. If we are pressing and pushing to win the match, I will tell my players to continue to do so. If it’s different, we’ll see. Above all, we want to enjoy this game, to have fun, that’s the talk I have had with my players. Everything that happens now is a bonus for us. Obviously we hope to win this game, as we want to win all of our matches. We are also aware that we will face a very good team and a very good coach.
Is there a particular rivalry with Lyon, as we have seen in the Cup?
No, I was pretty calm during the game. As I said before, in Lyon it was a Cup match, a match that you absolutely had to win to qualify. I absolutely do not want to add tension to this game. Again we have a very good referee so I’m not worried at all.
With your absences, you have few options in attack. How are you dealing with this?
We have to look at all that is possible. Currently we are missing five offensive players. So we have to find other solutions. It’s occupied my mind, we’ve talked about it with the staff and we will find the best solution, the best compromise. Not only at kick-off, but possibly also to make changes during the match. I hope we can find the best balance.
Valentin Decarpentrie from the reserves was in training this morning. Was he just there to make up the numbers?
I like it when young players come to play with the first team to show their qualities. We have fewer players now and this is also the opportunity to increase the number of players in training. I’m open and I like to see players take the opportunity to show up.
— AS Monaco 🇲🇨 (@AS_Monaco) April 29, 2021
A victory would all but secure you third place…
Yes of course. We want to fight for third place, which is our new goal. We have already taken steps toward this; the podium is in any case our goal. I don’t want to tell my players to stop pushing because we have hit our original goal of fourth. If we can achieve it so much the better, but if we have to wait until next season, we will be patient. In any case, as a competitor you always want more.
How did you prepare for this match?
First of all, I don’t know how Lyon will play, with 4 or 5 players in defense. So we have to prepare a lot of options, but we will have to adapt. I think we can expect surprises on both sides. We are preparing for the match well, as they are, I think we’ve watched each other a lot. Now we have to step into the arena and see who can win.
Can you speak about the players who are unavailable and who will be in the squad?
Aleksandr Golovin and Gelson Martins will not be available, Sofiane Diop and Stevan Jovetic either. The other four who were affected by the Covid could possibly be available. But as you know we have a whole protocol to respect for the return of our players. Maybe we’ll have two or three available. Cesc Fàbregas is very eager, and I can tell you that he wants to play this game (winks).
Exactly, are you going to do the same with Wissam Ben Yedder, bringing him on during the match?
As a coach you try to find the best solution from the start. At the moment, as I said, we are trying to find the best solution, the best formula, for the starting XI, as well as the changes that we can make during the match. We still have two days to think about this. My thinking may change over the next two nights (smiles).
— AS Monaco 🇲🇨 (@AS_Monaco) April 26, 2021