Ris­ing to a chal­lenge, fail­ing eas­ier tests

Bay­ern play bet­ter in tougher Cham­pi­ons League matches, says coach Ko­vac

Global Times - Weekend - - SPORTS - AFP

Niko Ko­vac ad­mits Bay­ern Mu­nich have a prob­lem with play­ing in the Bun­desliga af­ter his side brushed off re­cent woe­ful do­mes­tic form with a five­goal romp in the Cham­pi­ons League.

“It sounds strange, but when we play in the Cham­pi­ons League or against the big names in the Bun­desliga, you can see that the team can do it,” said Ko­vac af­ter Tues­day’s 5-1 romp against Ben­fica con­firmed Bay­ern’s place in the last 16 of the Cham­pi­ons League.

“How­ever, when we play against the so-called small teams, per­haps we think it’s okay to play at half strength.”

“Those are the [league] points we are miss­ing at the mo­ment,” he added.

Bay­ern have taken just eight from a pos­si­ble 21 points in their last seven Bun­desliga games.

Against Ben­fica, Ar­jen Robben pro­duced two su­perb goals be­fore Robert Le­wandowski scored with two head­ers and Franck Ribery net­ted his first Cham­pi­ons League goal for three years in a gala dis­play.

Yet there were again glimpses of the woe­ful de­fend­ing which has cost Bay­ern so dearly in re­cent weeks as Ben­fica scored on the coun­ter­at­tack when sub Ged­son Fer­nan­des net­ted 48 sec­onds af­ter com­ing off the bench.

Bay­ern have chalked up four wins and a draw to qual­ify for the last 16 of the Cham­pi­ons League at a can­ter, but their progress in Eu­rope con­trasts sharply by their do­mes­tic form.

The de­fend­ing Bun­desliga cham­pi­ons sit fifth in the Ger­man ta­ble – trail­ing lead­ers Borus­sia Dort­mund by nine points, dent­ing their hopes of win­ning a sev­enth straight Ger­man league ti­tle.

The Ben­fica rout, three days af­ter a woe­ful 3-3 draw against Dues­sel­dorf, ef­fec­tively res­cued Ko­vac’s job as head coach, but an­other poor dis­play at Werder Bre­men on Sat­ur­day will put him back in dan­ger.

The Ger­man me­dia have al­ready tipped for­mer Arse­nal boss Arsene Wenger as the lead­ing can­di­date to re­place him, which Bay­ern deny.

“No – 100 per­cent, no,” replied sports direc­tor Hasan Sal­i­hamidzic, who said there was no dis­cus­sion about re­plac­ing Ko­vac af­ter Sat­ur­day’s draw.

“Of course, we talked about the sit­u­a­tion, but not about an­other coach. The win speaks for it­self, the team gave the cor­rect an­swer on the pitch.”

Robben, part of a quar­tet of se­nior play­ers – with Thomas Mueller, Ribery and Mats Hum­mels – who mag­a­zine Kicker claim do not sup­port Ko­vac, said he was pleased the win eased the pres­sure on his coach.

“It is nor­mal that the trainer would be crit­i­cized, we win to­gether and we lose to­gether – he’s one of us,” said Robben.

Ko­vac hugged Ribery af­ter his goal but later ac­knowl­edged Kicker’s re­port of rebels in his dress­ing room.

“I’ll put it this way, they talk about four play­ers who are against me, but not about those who are on my side, be­cause there are lots of them,” said Ko­vac.

“That is clear enough and we are on the right path. Franck is very dili­gent, he does a lot, plays a lot for his team­mates and earned the praise.”

Photo: VCG

Head coach Niko Ko­vac of Bay­ern Mu­nich ges­tures dur­ing the Group E match of the UEFA Cham­pi­ons League on Tues­day in Mu­nich, Ger­many.

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