Before the end of the year holidays, the Monegasques can earn a second win in a row and potentially end 2020 in style against AS Saint-Etienne. The matches have followed one another at a very sustained pace over the last 17 days, with no less than five games. Before the visit of ASSE this Wednesday (9 PM, behind closed doors), as part of Matchday 17 in Ligue 1, Niko Kovac gave a pre-match press conference.
Hello Niko. We imagine that you want to end the year well against Saint-Etienne …
It’s the last game of the year before Christmas indeed. We know there is always a bit of a special atmosphere, and we want to end the year on a positive note, with a good feeling, with a light heart, before heading off for a few days off. We are a great club, with a great team and we have to give everything to have a great match to end the year well. For that, it will be necessary to be at 100%, because we will face a team which has played well in their last few last matches.
How do you motivate your players for this last game of the year?
They are professionals, and as such, they need to be focused on the game. In the last game at 9 p.m. against Lens, we weren’t on the pitch the day before the match, but this time we will be. We want to show our players images from the last game, so we need some time before kick-off to get our team in the best shape. We want to see our player show desire, and focus on the game. We still have to win this game to finish the year well and stay in touch with the top of the table.
What changes will you make, in light of the suspension of Youssouf Fofana ?
Youssouf isn’t here, so we’ll have to find a solution. He’s a loss, especially since he had a very good game in Dijon. We will have to choose between the solutions offered to us in our squad. Florentino (Luis) is there, and Eliot (Matazo) also has the ability to start at this position in midfield. Let’s see what happens at the last practice session today and see what we decide. We’ll see if we have to keep the same system with two defensive midfielders. Saint-Etienne is a very strong team which tries to play football, who like to score and who also concede a lot of goals. So I honestly think it can be a very interesting game.
What line of conduct will you give your players over the holidays?
The players will have five days of rest between the 24th and the 29th. They will be back in training on the 30th. They will have to do small individual sessions to keep in shape. We gave them a schedule of what to do. We have also given instructions on their destinations, that they be careful of their behavior, in particular so that they do not risk testing positive for COVID. Because behind that happening we know that it would mean three weeks of their being unavailable. It would be a risk that could penalize the team.
What conclusions can you draw after five months on the bench for AS Monaco?
I believe we are on the right track, although we have not yet reached the level that I expect. We’ve had ups and downs so far, so we still need to improve. Let’s wait for the next three matches and the end of the first half of the season at the beginning of January to make a first complete assessment of these months of work.
It’s different that the break comes after only 17 matches, what does that change?
It’s not a problem, it has happened in the past. We are in a challenging period with a very busy schedule. Ligue 1 is made up of 20 clubs, two more than there are in Germany, but I don’t think that’s a problem. I want to focus on football and not think about that stuff. I don’t want to make excuses.
What do you think have been the notable changes since your arrival?
I don’t know what happened in the past and I am not entitled to speak about it. What I can say is that when we arrived, me and my staff, we wanted to play aggressively, have an attacking style of football, score goals, and create a lot of chances. We are not yet where I want to be, so we still have to work to reduce the number of mistakes we make in particular. I want to focus on what we are doing today, and I can tell you that we are on the right track.
Kevin Volland is doing better and better, do you see him now as a team leader?
Kevin is a very good striker, a great player. When he arrived, as I say every time, he arrived in a new country, with a new language, a new culture … I said he needed time. Now he has shown us that he can perform very well as a 9 or a 10. No matter our tactical adjustments he has shown that he is a very good forward. Obviously he’s a leader in this team, I’ve known him very well for a long time. In my opinion, he deserves, could and should even be a part of the German national team for Euro 2021.
Can he help Wissam Ben Yedder get back to his best?
Wissam at the moment is our best forward — he has already scored seven goals this season. I don’t care if they were scored from the penalty spot or open play, whatever. He’s a player like Kevin, who is good for our team. The two are working together very well and have provided a lot of assists for each other already. Wissam may not have scored in the last two or three games, but he’s getting his chances. So I’m sure he will finish with the same total of goals as last season, 18 if I remember correctly.
Finally, what will happen in the winter transfer window?
I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. As I speak to you, we are focused on tomorrow’s match. Then there will be the holidays just after that. We are AS Monaco, a great club, and so we know what’s going on in the market. But for today there is nothing planned.