Niko Kovac: "We are here to take up the challenge against Sparta"
Here we go again! After a long month of preseason, including two training camps in Austria and five friendlies, AS Monaco will (finally) kick off their season on Tuesday. The Rouge et Blanc are preparing to play the first official match of the season against Sparta Prague in the third preliminary round of the Champions League (kick-off at 7 p.m.). This first match will be of paramount importance for the men of Niko Kovac, who spoke about the match at a pre-match press conference.
Hello Niko. Wissam Ben Yedder and Kevin Volland played a half against Real Sociedad. Will they be ready tomorrow?
First of all, welcome to all. I’m glad to see the same faces as last season. Indeed Wissam and Kevin arrived late with us due to the Euros, they only resumed training ten days ago. So we’ve adapted their workload. We have to find the right balance to optimize their return to competition, and adapt things.
I don’t think they’ll have 90 minutes in them, but they’ll be available for the game against Sparta. We will adapt, as we have with the return of Golo. We are very well prepared I think. We have ambitions that are very clear, to do as well as last season and try to qualify for the Champions League. Tomorrow is the first step, against Sparta Prague.
On our way, @ChampionsLeague ✨#UCL pic.twitter.com/FZhOK3coOt
— AS Monaco 🇲🇨 (@AS_Monaco) May 23, 2021
Is having a certain stability in the squad an advantage for you?
Jove’s not here anymore, but for the rest we have indeed kept a stable squad, so it is true that it is more comfortable for the staff to work with them. As you know, in football you always have to repeat things. There are reflexes that have to come back to the players, when you restart a season. The start of the season is always difficult, because you don’t really know where you are and where your opponent is. We are glad to be back. Let’s wait and see what will happen tomorrow. Sparta are a good opponent, and if we want to play in the Champions League, we will have to beat them.
How do you see things for the number one role in the goal between Alexander Nübel and Benjamin Lecomte?
You forgot to mention Radeck (Majecki) and Vito (Mannone). Benjamin is coming back from injury. For the number one spot, we put Benjamin, Radeck and Alexander on the same level. We will see who will start tomorrow against Sparta.
How do you see these qualifying rounds for the Champions League?
It’s not easy to pass through them. Only one in five French clubs have qualified under these conditions, going though two qualifying rounds. It seems more doable for us, as seen from France, but I can tell you that everyone wants to play in the Champions League. We know we will face Genk or Shakhtar Donetsk if we pass through this first round. We will need a bit of luck to qualify for the group stage under these conditions, but that’s okay. At the moment we do not yet have a direct qualification place for third place in Ligue 1. We are here to meet this challenge. We know it won’t be easy, but we’ll do our best.
Isn’t this a season to build on for you, after your third place finish?
That’s a very good question. (smiles) From my point of view, it’s even more difficult to maintain a certain level of play, than it is to achieve it. It’s a different situation, our young players will need to improve further, and to work even harder. If we can maintain the level of last season, it will not be enough, as maybe a team will pass us up. We have to take that extra step, to show even more quality, if we want to have the same results. This team has potential, but they have to work even harder than last season to grab a place in the top three.
𝗙𝗼𝗰𝘂𝘀 👀 pic.twitter.com/lbykLOc0oS
— AS Monaco 🇲🇨 (@AS_Monaco) July 28, 2021
Can you aim higher? And have you noticed any gaps in your workforce?
We believe in the qualities of our players. We know that we have a lot of young players, and that sometimes one can go through several phases, ups and downs. My role as coach is to limit the effect of these phases as much as possible. I don’t sense anything negative. Sometimes as a coach you feel that there is a bit of slack, but that is not the case in my opinion. When we see that we have to push our players, we do it. But I am very positive and optimistic that we can achieve our goals.
Can you give an update on the injured players?
Sofiane (Diop) took a knock against Antwerp. We were afraid because he had had the same injury as he had against Lyon at the end of last season. During the second part of the preseason, he worked on away from the group, but he is getting better and better. Pietro has had some muscular issues. He is not yet 100% ready to resume competition but we will take stock in a week. As for Benjamin, he’s on the comeback trail, he’s recovered well from his injury. He has worked well the last few days.
Finally, what can you tell us about Alexander Nübel?
He is a player I have known of for many years, at Schalke, Bayern and even Paderborn. When you have Manuel Neuer ahead of you, it’s not easy. In any case, I’m very happy with his arrival, he’s a goalkeeper who is very comfortable with passing the, using his left and right, and who is very good at one-on-ones. He’s a good person too, and that’s exactly what the club needed. We have four very high level goalies on hand so we are delighted.