After two trips, to Lille and Marseille, and a visit from Lens, the Red and Whites keep up a busy schedule with a fourth game in 14 days. AS Monaco head to Dijon this Sunday, December 20 at 3 p.m. at the State Gaston-Gérard (behind closed doors), as part of the 16th Matchday in Ligue 1. It’s a match that will give Niko Kovac and his players the chance to get back to winning ways. The Monegasque coach spoke about the team’s ambitions at a pre-match press conference. Extracts.
Hello Niko. Looking back, how you see the match against Lens?
As I said in the post-game press conference, when you concede a goal after thirty seconds and play with ten men from the 23rd minuteit was the worst start to the game you could imagine. The match was essentially over, although we had opportunities to come back at 1-0. Then the second period was played without much intensity after the sending off. You can’t change the past, so I think we have to forget about this game. Let’s move on to the next match, against Dijon.
What is your explanation for these three losses?
The first two games against Lille and Marseille, we could expect such results because these are very good teams who are currently playing for the title. I say this knowing that we were in the match in each case until the last minutes. As to Lens, the start of the match determined the outcome of the match, as I’ve said. It’s very disappointing for us to lose three games in a row. But the possibility is now here for us to show a whole different and improved side of our play Sunday against Dijon. Moreover, we shouldn’t throw away what happened before, we had four wins on the bounce before that. There is no need to be alarmed, it is not all black and white.
Your players must show a level of character to recover from this bad run…
It is true. They are top players, competitors, and for that reason they will have to show a reaction after these results and show the true face of AS Monaco. Especially since Dijon has raised the bar with a new coach in their last few matches. We have to be absolutely focused from the opening minutes of the match to hope to win these next matches.
Do you tell yourself that in some games that you can afford to drop points?
In life you are sure of one thing, and that is that you will die one day, that’s all (smiles). I don’t think you can choose your games, and the teams against which you will ease off. Today Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich and Liverpool until recently, are not first in their respective leagues. This is what makes football so charming. You can lose against any team, and very often there are surprises in modern football. I told my players that the truth is told on the pitch and that we will have to answer against Dijon.
Do you think Aleksandr Golovin will play against Dijon?
He won’t be in the squad this weekend. I’m delighted to see him back with us in training. I spoke with the doctor. He’s improving, but I think we shouldn’t take any chances. We are awaiting his return in the first game in January.
Will you consider a tactical change to get back to winning ways?
That’s not easy to answer. The first two goals we conceded against Lens are similar to the mistakes we had made at the start of the season. We’ve looked at that with the players, so that we don’t repeat these mistakes. In football you have statistics, and statistics show that we conceded seven goals from the last ten shots conceded. We’ve analyzed what was done wrong and that we need to improve. We need to learn from these situations, so that they do not repeat themselves. But again, if we lost without creating chances, without shooting on goal and without troubling our opponent, I would be worried. But that’s not the case, honestly.
Is a move to five at the back, as against Lyon and Lens (during the match) possible?
Against Lyon we had gone to five at the back because we were already trailing by a lot (4-0), as it was against Lens where we changed at 3-0. We will continue to work, hoping that the details turn in our favor this time. We need to be focused on ourselves, and I’m sure that will work out. For me, again, it’s not about the tactical system.
Do you have to change keepers?
You can make a lot of changes, but I think the role of the goalkeeper is a special one. The goals Vito conceded did not come from mistakes on his part, but because we offered clear chances for the opponent to score. If we protect him better I think it will be easier for him to make saves.
Are you concerned about the performance of Wissam Ben Yedder ?
I think he obviously needs time to come back after being affected by COVID-19. He played 30 minutes against Nîmes, 60 minutes, then 90 minutes. There are chances being created, that’s what I’m taking from his play, against Marseille especially at the start of the game, so I’m not worried. He is an important player for us. I remind you that he has also hit the post twice since the start of the season I believe. I might be worried if he didn’t create chances, but that’s not the case. I believe in him, he’s our goalscorer.
We have three very high quality strikers in Wissam, Kevin and Pietro. Everyone wants to score, playing in all positions, whether in matches or in training, and that’s what matters. They are forwards, and if they don’t score in practice, they don’t have a good day. Even this morning, Wissam was celebrating his goals in a small-sided game. I’ve also had COVID-19 and I know you need time to get back to your health. Once again I would worry if he weren’t creating scoring chances, but that’s not the case.
Don’t you think that you need to offer a challenge to your players?
I remind you that we are a team, and therefore we win together and we lose together. After a victory I tell them what we did well and what we need to work on. The same after a defeat. You learn a lot from defeats in my opinion. We have a young team, and I think it’s important for their progress to learn and go through these difficult times. Obviously they saw that I was very disappointed with these results, but we must be able to recover from such a result. I have to lead by example.