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Media 23 April 2021, 16:59

Niko Kovac: "I like the determination that my team is showing"

Niko Kovac: "I like the determination that my team is showing"
Two days before the trip to Angers (Sunday, 5:05 pm), the first of five "finals" to secure a place in the Champions League next season, the Monegasque coach spoke about this goal, one that has become a priority for the Rouge et Blanc.

Thirteen wins from their last 16 Ligue 1 games. That’s the record of the best team in the top flight in 2021, which has accumulated 41 points in the league this year, seven more than any other team. It’s an incredible run, which allowed Niko Kovac’s men to move into third place, ahead of Olympique Lyonnais at the end of the 31st round, thanks to a flawless victory against FC Metz (4-0).

Four wins by at least three goals

AS Monaco have  a fourth straight win by at least three goals after beating Bordeaux last Sunday (0-3). So now that Wissam Ben Yedder’s team-mates are guaranteed to play at least in the Europa League next season, it’s time to reach the goal of playing in the Champions League. This is what the Monaco coach emphasized in a pre-match press conference.

Hello Niko. First of all, how are Stevan Jovetić and Sofiane Diop doing?

It was a tough match in Lyon. Stevan is feeling better, he was able to train today for the first time. We’ll see tomorrow how he feels. For Sofiane, the news is not very good, he continues to suffer with his injury. He will not be available this weekend and probably the next few matches as well.

Do you feel like you have a psychological advantage over Lyon?

It’s hard to say. We changed players compared to the match in the league and against our other opponents as well. The Cup is the Cup. Ligue 1 is a different competition, with Lyon aiming to be champions and qualify for the Champions League. We are also in the same race, and before facing them there is Angers. Let’s stay focused on the next match.

 

Against Lyon, we saw a lot of aggression on the pitch. Do you think the players reacted well?

It was a Cup match, a knockout game and every one of these is like a final. We had to give everything to come away with the result. There was a lot of intensity. My players responded well, stayed focused and kept their cool in the face of adversity. It bodes well for the future to react in this way. You have to keep playing with a lot of heart and stay cool in the moment, and not respond to provocation.

 

It is important to play with one's heart. This can be useful for the end of the season. They play with a lot of passion. Without that, you can't be successful. My team is able to give their all. Of course, we are aware  we can't dominate every match for 90 minutes. But we must keep this desire to win and give everything during this time.
Niko Kovac Manager, AS Monaco

Does this reassure you about your team’s ability to play well even if they struggle at times?

It is important to play with one’s heart. This can be useful for the end of the season. They play with a lot of passion. Without that, you can’t be successful. My team is able to give their all. Of course, we are aware  we can’t dominate every match for 90 minutes. But we must keep this desire to win and give everything during this time. My players never give up. In the first part of the season, we could see this desire to reverse the course of play and come back to win in the last minutes of a match. Physically, tactically, mentally, my team is very good. I’m proud of them.

Your players are more often remaining calm and are no longer conceding silly cards, is this progress helping how you approach matches?

Yes it is, and I am glad to have the opportunity to speak about it. They show a level of coolness along with the spirit of a warrior. The Lyon match was a good test, a good situation to gauge the young players. They showed character. This Cup match was for me a match at a European level. When you see that Lyon team, they have a lot of great players. These are the kinds of games our players need to continue their progress.

 

It's been six years now that I think they've been in Ligue 1 without having had any difficulty with relegation and they've been doing a very good job. They're mid-table, but that doesn't mean they won't try to win this game. If we play as we do now, we will have our chances to win, but if we don't give 100% of ourselves it will be difficult.
Niko KovacManager, AS Monaco

In recent weeks you didn’t want your players to talk about the Champions League. Is it the same now regarding the title?

I said that when we were sure we had clinched fourth place, we could talk about something else. Today we have done so, and we are clearly in the race for the podium. But I don’t think it helps us to talk about this a lot, because the truth is told on the pitch. If we continue as we have been doing over the last four months, things will happen. This will be our third match of the week, so let’s see how well we can pull it off.

What is your take on this Angers team?

It’s been six years now that I think they’ve been in Ligue 1 without having had any difficulty with relegation and they’ve been doing a very good job. They’re mid-table, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try to win this game. If we play as we do now, we will have our chances to win, but if we don’t give 100% of ourselves it will be difficult. But when I see the attitude of my players at the moment, I’m not too worried.

 

Against Lyon, we actually had a little luck in the first half with them having hit the woodwork so often, but then we had a superb second half and we earned qualification for the semifinals of the Coupe de France. We deserved this victory, despite their early success.
Niko Kovac Manager, AS Monaco

Especially since you may have a bit of additional success in this second part of the season…

When you think about the first part of the season, we were less successful, we conceded goals even if we were only conceding one shot in a match. Success eluded us. I think it balances out over an entire season. Against Lyon, we actually had a little luck in the first half with them having hit the woodwork so often, but then we had a superb second half and we earned qualification for the semifinals of the Coupe de France. We deserved this victory, despite their early success.

Did you talk to your brother about set pieces again?

We talked a little bit, yes (smiles). Indeed, our opponents may have been studying us on set pieces, they defending them better and are more aggressive and focused against us now. Which explains why we’ve had less success with at the moment. Maybe we have to do more and put the ball in the right place. We are working on this every day, and I’m sure in the last five to seven games that we have left to play until the end of the season, we will have more success in this phase of the game. But if we score from them, I will also be very happy (smiles).

 

You are one of the few Ligue 1 coaches who regularly makes changes at half-time, how do you explain that?

The first changes we make are sometimes at the break because I think it helps in having five changes, something is really positive in my opinion. You protect the players from possible injuriy and you can maintain a very high level of play and keep everyone under pressure because of it. It’s really a great development in my opinion.

 

What is your opinion on the development of your team, nine months after becoming manager?

I said at the start of the season that we wanted to play attractive and high-intensity football. When you move from one team to another, you have to adapt. We have taken the time to get to know our players, to assess their form, to help them progress in all areas, especially physically. We have gradually reached a good level. We can still improve with more work, not only this season but also with a view to next season. I like the determination my team is showing at the moment.

 

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