Niko Kovac: “We are a second family”

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There’s no time to savor the latest result. With qualification for the first Coupe de France final for AS Monaco in 11 years obtained against Rumilly (5-1), the Rouge et Blanc are back in action on Sunday. It is a decisive match in terms of the podium in Ligue 1 that awaits Niko Kovac’s men against Rennes this Sunday at the Stade Louis-II (9pm). On the eve of playing for the European future of the Principality club, who have already qualified for the Europa League at worst, the Monaco coach spoke about the stakes of this match in with the media.

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Hello Niko. What advice have you given your players before these important fixtures that await you?

Above all, we are very happy to be in the Coupe de France final for the first time in a long time for the Club. But as has so often been the case in recent times, we have to move on very quickly, think about the next game, because the matches are coming thick and fast. We are in this performance bubble and are preparing very well for this game, which promises to be challenging, against a very good opponent. We have been preparing our players with video work for this match. We are in a good mood, we are very positive, and we hope to continue like this.

What is the atmosphere like in the squad and in the bubble?

Thing are really good, we have everything we need at the hotel. Obviously our families are not with us, but everyone understands the importance of this moment in our season. We are playing for our future over these two weeks, and it was really essential to refocus on ourselves to be able to tilt the odds in our favor. I’m really very positive and confident about the next three games.

Will you regret if you don’t finish in 3rd place at the end of the season?

You remember when we started the season, the team’s ambition was clear, to finish in a European place. We reached that goal with five matches to spare; now we want to go even further. We are competitors so obviously we want to finish on the podium. But honestly it’s already been a very successful season for us. It would be a disappointment but not a massive blow not to finish in third place. We have come a long way.

Is the preparation for these high-stakes games different?

Since the start of the season and the reverse fixture in Rennes, which only came 5-6 weeks into the season, we have come a long way. We only lost on the last shot of the game. Since then, the players have been following a process, and we have made a lot of progress in our game. I remember that match well, Stade Rennais had a great match. But things have changed in the meantime, and even if our opponent has a new coach, very good, with good ideas, we will give everything to win this match. We have progressed as a team, and as a club.

Are you going to track the results tomorrow during the match?

No, I want to focus on our game. Even when our opponents were playing before us the last few matches when we were playing at 5pm, I didn’t want to know what the result of the other teams was. It is important to stay focused on ourselves. The rest we have no control over, so I’m not interested.

Do you think the duo of Kevin Volland and Wissam Ben Yedder will make the difference as the season draws to a close?

They have already shown so far that they are decisive and capable of carrying the team to certain results. Wissam has already scored 19 goals, Kevin 16, and they have also had a lot of assists. The important thing is that we work together as a team. We have made a lot of progress defensively, thanks in particular to the work of our forwards in pressing. And when we’re more compact, it’s also easier for the forwards to perform well. If we continue to be strong, we will have a better chance of winning our matches. And on top of that we have Gelson and Golo ’coming back, so we have some nice options up front.

Personally, are you able to sleep well, and to recover in this stressful end to the season?

(Smile) I hope I look pretty relaxed to you. More seriously, relationhips within the group, with the players and the staff are very good, we are united in facing these important fixtures at the end of the season. It’s a  group that gets on well, we are all working together, there is a great atmosphere and a great harmony. This is the key to success in football. We are a second family, and when things are going  well in your family, results come naturally. I am sleeping well, I can assure you, but what is more important is that my players sleep well too (smiles).

Will Chrislain Matsima have more opportunities to play next season?

Yes of course. If he develops in the direction he has been showing, he will play more next season. If the players want to improve, we will help them to be stronger. We have seen that Eliot has made a lot of progress lately, like Chrislain. He played in the Coupe de France semi-final because I trust in him, I believe in him. The opportunity to play is going to become more and more important to him. We recently extended his contract because we think he has a really bright future. Give him two or three years to continue to develop and you’ll see he’s going to be a great player.

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