They’re on a run of four wins in Ligue 1. It’s a run of success that has not been achieved by AS Monaco since December 2017. Aware of the potential of his squad, but also of the road that remains to be traveled, with in particular two big matches against Lille and Marseille, Niko Kovac gave an update on the current performance of his team. Two days ahead of the trip to LOSC, the Monegasque coach answered questions from journalists at a pre-match press conference. Extracts.
After a good run of four victories, you now face two big tests in Lille and Marseille.
We’re happy because we are indeed on a very positive run, with four wins in a row. We’ve only conceded three goals and scored twelve, so we’re on the right track. So yes we are going to have two big games, two tests. But I believe that we have shown against Paris that we can respond to the call in this type of match.
How do you approach this kind of big game?
After Lyon, we changed our tactical scheme to adapt to our strengths, playing our last games with two central midfielders. I repeat, the last big game against Paris Saint-Germain was a very good game. Lille are a great team, I watched them yesterday (Thursday) in the Europa League, and it will be really interesting for us to face a team which is very well organized.
I am very satisfied with their performances. We tried to explain to them the way we wanted to play. I think that more generally, we had to change the way of approaching things, of thinking. I think they are enjoying this style of play now, they are able to move between defense and offense. They need to keep this momentum going.
How did you decide to balance your team, to expose it less?
I’m very happy to have found this balance. I think we found a sort of balance between defensive strength and offensive strength. They understand better what we want to see from them now, the way we want to play has become automatic in their minds. When you arrive as a coach, with a new staff, you really have to make people accept your way of thinking, to create new habits. This is the reason why we’ve manage to create so much good collective play, to be dangerous offensively and to create scoring chances. They understand what you want of them.
Did Kevin Volland help you find that balance in the system?
Kevin today is playing as a nine or a ten, it depends, depending on the formation that varies between a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2. It allows us to put a lot of pressure on the opponent to get the ball back with that line of four attackers, plus the midfielders coming into play. In any case, I am very happy with the complementary relationship between Wissam Ben Yedder and Kevin Volland.
To come back to your midfield pairing, what differences do you see between them?
They are not very different in the end. They are very strong, they win a lot of balls, and they are also very young both, with a lot of desre. They have to continue like this, to progress even further. I see that they are developing, they want to learn, because they don’t think they have already succeeded. In any case, I predict a great career for them, if they continue to work hard on a daily basis.
How can you explain the offensive strength of this team?
They understand better and better what we want to do, what we are asking of them. Why you have to run in this way, in this direction. This is a process that we have put in place and that is taking time to bear fruit. As I said before, our goal was to change the way players think when they arrive. Everyone should know what is necessary for them to do when playing. I’m happy, the offensive players are scoring, making assists. But it’s a complete package, everyone knows what to do, what to expect, and that’s what is currently paying off.
Has the competition settled in attack?
Everyone has the opportunity in training to show their best, to have a chance to play on the weekend. The current four attacking players have been very successful and I’m very happy with that, I hope they will continue to have this success. The competition is really important, it’s a very high level of training, and that’s what we need to have the best team on the pitch in the league. It makes us grow as a group too.
Isn’t there still a risk in terms of playing time for some?
When you play every third day, you’re bound to rotate more than when you play only once a week. That will change this month because we will be playing five games in 17 days. Everyone works hard to deliver a good performance and demonstrate their technical and tactical qualities. If you don’t have the pressure from the bench, the eleven players on the pitch can’t be as good. The reason the team is doing so well now is also because the competition drives up the quality in the squad. In any case, I am very happy as a coach to have such a large group, to keep the competition going.
Do you plan to trim the squad again in the winter transfer window?
At the moment we aren’t thinking about that. We have 20 players to put in a matchday squad and since there are 25 of us, I have to choose four-five players to leave out, and it’s not easy. But we need everyone, I insist. Thank goodness we have had very few injuries so far, but when they do happen, we have to be able to count on everyone.
Do you currently have the preferred eleven you imagined at the start of the season?
The way of playing is exactly what I imagined in my head, indeed. We are playing aggressively, we are creating a lot of chances offensively, while respecting a certain defensive balance, so yes that is really what I wanted when I arrived. Maybe Sofiane (Diop) for example, was not in the team I initially imagined. But he is a great example of the kind of player who has come out on top thanks to his performances in training and in games. It’s the same as with Eliot (Matazo). By working hard, again, anything is possible.
When do you think Aleksandr Golovin will return to the pitch?
Aleksandr is on the right track. I spoke recently with the medical staff, and they’ve advised me to take time in bringing him back, as his injury was more serious than initially expected. Anyway, I’m waiting for him, because he’s a really great player. But so far we’re having good results, so maybe it’s fair to wait another week or two, not to take any chances with him.