Like his players, he’s moving forward. Two days after having expressed his satisfaction with the team’s 19th victory of the season in the league against Metz (4-0), Niko Kovac was again in front of the media on Monday, to discuss the round of 16 match in the Coupe de France against… Metz. Such a sequence is not easy to manage in such a short time between two different competitions, but the objective remains the same: to win. Here is the Monegasque coach’s press conference ahead of Tuesday’s match.
Hello Niko. You are finally on the podium now, does that change anything as you approach the end of the season?
We know the results of the weekend and it’s good to be on the podium. I’m good at math, and we still need three wins before we can definitively clinch fourth place. So I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. As I have already said, we want to secure fourth place, and a place in Europe for next season first. We are only one point ahead of fourth and we know that things can move very fast in football. Let’s focus on the first step and then we’ll see what happens next. We have a very exciting game match against FC Metz in the Cup.
How do you manage to keep this young group motivated?
There are a lot of young players, it’s true. If they are to achieve their goals and be ambitious individually and collectively, they must work to make further progress. I love it when they listen to the experienced players and work hard every day to keep learning. Sometimes they’re disappointed with the playing time they can get, but the most important thing is to stay focused on the job. A year in a career is nothing, to say nothing of what they can learn for the future, to keep performing, even up to the age of 35-36 years old.
Will Aurélien Tchouameni be available for this Cup match?
He started an individual training regimen yesterday to come back. We will see how he is today in the 5pm session. We’re not taking any chances for tomorrow’s game anyway, as we have done so far this season with all the players returning from injury. If the medical staff tell me it’s okay, he’ll play, otherwise we’ll just wait for the next match against Dijon.
Tell us about Eliot Matazo’s performance against Metz on Saturday…
As I said before, he delivered a great performance on Saturday. He’s a player who has done a great job in training every day, to get to this level. It’s not easy for him to have a chance to feature much, because ahead of him there are Youssouf Fofana and Aurélien Tchouameni, who are having a great season in midfield, so it’s not easy to give him the playing time he deserves. He has great qualities, and he is really progressing. He had to take the opportunity to show what he could do, and he did. I am sure he will continue working to improve day by day.
— AS Monaco 🇲🇨 (@AS_Monaco) April 5, 2021
How is the staff organized in the management of young players?
As far as the youngsters are concerned, we share this work with all the staff. We have sessions on the pitch, post-practice sessions, video sessions, and we have the international breaks as well to continue to aid their development. It is important to work physically but also on the tactical level to make them progress. They know how important it is for them to learn so that they can become better. When you have talent, you need to work on a daily basis to develop yourself even further. Talent is only 20-30%, as to the rest it’s hard work that gets you to the top.
Apart from the defeat in Strasbourg, you remain in exceptional form…
We want to win every match, whether in Ligue 1 or in the Coupe de France. You need this to keep that certain feeling, even if it’s strange to play the same team three days later. Everyone expects an easy win, but it’s not that easy. It was not easy to get the win on Saturday, and it will not be easy to win on Tuesday either. We have training again today to prepare for it. Winning is the best feeling you can have in football.
It has been 30 years since AS Monaco won the Coupe de France. Is there any particular pressure for you to go and collect this trophy?
That’s a good number (smile)! When I won the German Cup with Eintracht Frankfurt, it had also been 30 years since the club had won it. The Coupe de France is not easy, because even if it’s only six matches to win a title, at the same time there are a lot of random parameters. I like Cup games, as I said before, and my stats are pretty good in this format in Germany. So I hope that will not change this season with AS Monaco.
How do you approach the Cup matches, is it different from the league?
In three years in Germany, I only lost the first final against Dortmund with Frankfurt. If I remember correctly, I won 19 out of 20 matches in the German Cup, so I hope I can continue in this way. I’ll let you check. It’s not easy, because it’s a knockout game, so you also have to be prepared for the possibility of a penalty shootout. We won three shootouts with Frankfurt in the first year. It is important to prepare for them.
Do you think Metz will change the way they play for this second match in four days?
I don’t know how FC Metz will change things, if they will change something tactically. It’s true that they’re a team that has shown great things this season, with a five-man defense. We won 4-0 in the league but it will not be easy, we will have to be as focused as possible to win this “second round” against them and continue our journey in the Coupe de France.
You have 6 clean sheets over the last seven matches. Is that also a symbol of the form of AS Monaco today?
You certainly remember our discussions at the start of the season when we conceded too many goals. It wasn’t ideal. Now our players have taken our advice well, and understand that it’s easier to win games when you don’t concede goals. It’s important to keep clean sheets, for the confidence of the defense and the goalkeeper. We were the 14th defense in Ligue 1 a few weeks ago I believe, we have had to move up the rankings since (6th-best defense in the top flight, level with Reims, -ed). A match is 90 minutes and I want to keep playing hard all the time, so as to concede as few goals as possible.
🎦 𝐋𝐚 𝐦𝐚𝐠𝐧𝐢𝐟𝐢𝐪𝐮𝐞 𝐩𝐚𝐫𝐚𝐝𝐞 𝐝𝐞 @Benj_Lecomte 🧤
— AS Monaco 🇲🇨 (@AS_Monaco) April 5, 2021