Niko Kovac: "We have to respect our opponent"
The team is now one step from the Stade de France. The Rouge et Blanc are one game away from a Coupe de France final, 11 years after their last one, and getting a little closer to a title they’ve not won since 1991, a near-eternity. To accomplish this, they will have to win on Thursday (9.15 p.m.) in a semifinal against the competition’s remaining amateur side, Rumilly-Vallières. While AS Monaco will start off as strong favorites against this fourth division team, Niko Kovac does not underestimate this opponent and will approach this match seriously. It was with this spirit that he spoke to the media ahead of the match.
Hello Niko. Can you explain to us the principle of the “performance bubble”?
There are two things. First of all, it’s a performance bubble because over ten days we have the chance to play four important games for the Club, for us. We all want to be together to prepare well. Second, it is a procedure for protection that is necessary because we want to achieve our goal of protecting ourselves as much as possible together.
Who decided on this bubble?
I spoke with Paul Mitchell because we are very close. We also spoke with James Bunce, the Director of Performance. We are in this bubble to perform. We are living in difficult times. This season, in addition to injuries, we have had to deal with Covid-19.
Of course, some risk does still exist. But we hope to play four matches. There is a need for focus and protection to be at 100%. In this bubble, there are only the players and the staff and we are not far from La Turbie.
What is the danger in the face of such an adversary?
The danger still exists. Everyone is expecting AS Monaco to win. The danger is very much there. We have to respect the opponent even if they are from a lower division because they work hard day in and day out. It is a dream for them to play for a place in a Cup final in the biggest stadium in France. This match will be difficult against an opponent who will give 100%. If we play 50% or 90%, we could lose the game. We must therefore respect this opponent and give everything. The first goal is the next game. It’s not Rennes or Lens, but this next game is the most important.
Usually you do a lot of video analysis. How did you prepare for this opponent when they have not played a lot?
We have material with which to work thanks to our video analysts. We are treating this match the same as PSG. This afternoon we will be doing a video session to show their strengths and weaknesses to our players. We imagine they will play with a low block and try to hit us on the counterattack, while being dangerous on set pieces.
In the past, I have played a lot of games of this ilk. I know it takes energy and passion. For them, it’s the game of a lifetime. A tough battle looms. We have videos of their Coupe de France matches and some friendly matches. It’s true that we don’t have a lot of video, but in my time we didn’t have any at all. (laughs)
How do you see Radoslaw Majecki’s progress?
He is doing a very good job and he has put in good performances in the Cup, like the match in Lyon, where he made some decisive saves. He deserves to play. He has a good chance of taking part in the Euros with Poland’s senior team. For his part, Vito has played 9 games. We have found a good balance among our goalkeepers. Everyone must be happy with their playing time and their performance.
Between winning the Coupe de France and finishing in third place, what would you prefer?
It’s an interesting question. For me, the next game is the most important because we can only influence this one. Our attention is first on the semi-final as this game can take us to the final. I will think about the other fixtures afterwards.
📸 La célébration d'Eliot Matazo pour son premier but en @Ligue1UberEats 👏
Le début d'une longue série ? 👀#SDRASM pic.twitter.com/PsksHu0yFa
— Ligue 1 Uber Eats (@Ligue1UberEats) May 9, 2021
To come back to Radoslaw Majecki, do you think he has progressed, especially in his character?
Yes of course. Young players always need six months to show their quality. At the start of the season, he played against Nantes. Radeck realized he was here to improve and he had to work to show his qualities. And like Eliot, he took his chance; he has developed physically and technically. I am happy with his work.
What condition is Aleksandr Golovin in, physically?
We will take things step by step, as we have done since the start of the season. There is no sense in having him play 90 minutes after a period in which he’s been unavailable In the last game, he played 10-15 minutes. Tomorrow he will have a little more playing time. And if the medical staff tell us there is no risk, he can play 90 minutes. I am not disappointed with his season.
In the first half, he was injured for four months, then COVID took him off the pitch It was a very good period for the club in 2021 and against Lorient, when he returned, he changed the game. He has scored goals and added assists (4 goals and 8 assists in Ligue 1). His season has therefore been positive. My only regret was that I didn’t have him available from the start of the season.