Bay­ern boss Ko­vac fo­cused on AEK amidst off-field pressure

Gulf Times Sport - - FOOTBALL -

Un­der-fire Niko Ko­vac in­sists he is shut­ting out this week­end’s crunch Bun­desliga show­down to fo­cus on steer­ing Bay­ern Mu­nich to the verge of a Cham­pi­ons League’s last 16 spot by beat­ing AEK to­day. Bay­ern’s head coach kept cool when bluntly asked if this could be his last week in charge as de­feat at Dort­mund on Satur­day could leave de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons Bay­ern seven points be­hind in the Bun­desliga. “That is a hard ques­tion. Dort­mund is on Satur­day and per­haps we should talk about the games against (AEK) Athens,” said Ko­vac in yes­ter­day’s press con­fer­ence in Mu­nich.

“If we win, we have 10 points and we could be through. Sure, the game on Satur­day is im­por­tant, but for me only to­mor­row’s match (against AEK) is im­por­tant. I hope the way we play will also be good and that we will win con­vinc­ingly.”

Bay­ern can reach the knock­out stages with two games to spare if they beat Greek cham­pi­ons AEK at Mu­nich’s Al­lianz Arena and Ben­fica lose at Ajax in the other Group E match. Bay­ern will be with­out winger Ar­jen Robben, who has a knee in­jury, and play­maker Thi­ago Al­can­tara, who has torn an­kle lig­a­ments, while they are wait­ing on the fit­ness of at­tack­ing mid­fielder James Ro­driguez.

How­ever, off the field Ko­vac is un­der pressure on all sides. An­other lack­lus­tre per­for­mance on Satur­day saw his mis­fir­ing side draw 1-1 at home to Freiburg to sit third in the Bun­desliga ta­ble — four points be­hind lead­ers Dort­mund.

His at­tack are sim­ply not fin­ish­ing their chances while the de­fence is leak­ing goals. On Mon­day, Ger­man mag­a­zine Kicker claimed Ko­vac has lost the sup­port of stars Mats Hum­mels, Thomas Mueller, Franck Ribery and Ar­jen Robben, but mid­fielder Joshua Kim­mich in­sisted the play­ers are still be­hind Ko­vac.

“Ab­so­lutely! The coach can not help it, if we got into a spot of bother against Freiburg,” said the Ger­many de­fender. “The statis­tic that the last eight shots (on Bay­ern’s goal) went in shows we haven’t had much luck. That is not any­thing against (Bay­ern goal­keeper) Manuel Neuer. It’s about how we de­fend and how we use our goal chances, we have to be more aware. At the end of the day, it’s us on the pitch — not the coach.”

De­spite win­ning 2-0 at AEK two weeks ago, when Javi Martinez and Robert Le­wandowski scored the goals, Ko­vac ex­pects a hard test against the Greek cham­pi­ons. “It was a hotly con­tested game in Athens, we could have scored one or two in the first half and it was de­cided late on, so I am ex­pect­ing a tough game to­mor­row,” said Ko­vac.

He des­per­ately needs a big win to boost con­fi­dence in Bay­ern’s ranks. “You can not al­ways jus­tify ev­ery­thing, the fun and the joy are there, but we need an­other game, which we win by three or four goals, and the ten­sion will re­lease,” said Ko­vac.

(Reuters)

Bay­ern Mu­nich coach Niko Ko­vac (third right) watches as play­ers train.

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