Kovac: It’s about the mental not the physical

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Roughly 15 hours after the final whistle blew in FC Bayern’s 3-0 win over Red Star Belgrade in the Champions League, head coach Niko Kovac was back in front of the microphone. The European encounter still heavy in the legs of his players, the 47-year-old was holding his pre-match press conference ahead of Saturday’s Bundesliga clash at home to 1. FC Köln and explained he was not concerned by the midweek exertions.

“Of course we’ve had that game but Saturday will come down to the mental aspect,” Kovac stated to the gathered media at Säbener Straße. “We absolutely want to win, that’s hugely important for us, but my players are fit and ready. Our opponents in the Bundesliga always give their all and we’ll be challenged from the first minute, but we want to win and remain at the top end of the table.”

The tactician also reported that his charges had mostly come through the Red Star clash unscathed, although there were a few knocks: “Josh [Kimmich] went over his ankle but everything looks okay. Lucas [Hernandez] has a problem with his ankle too and King [Coman] has a sore neck, so we’ll have to see how they do.”

One player who is steadily returning to full match fitness is Philippe Coutinho. The Brazilian had been a late substitute in last week’s 1-1 draw at RB Leipzig, which Kovac put down to him being tired from his extensive travelling during the international break. Bayern’s new No.10, however, started on Wednesday and impressed all around him.

“He showed yesterday what he can do with the ball, that he sees things most people don’t,” Kovac enthused. “His handling of the ball and his movement are without equal, but of course he needs time and we’ll give it to him. He gave a hint of it yesterday and we’ll see more of it in the coming weeks.”

Asked about the possibility of employing both Coutinho and Thomas Müller, who last night became Bayern’s record appearance holder in the Champions League, in a central role off the striker, Kovac played down any hopes fans had of seeing two world-class yet different attacking midfielders in tandem.

“Müller and Coutinho together in the 10 role would be too attacking. We need a good balance,” Kovac said before then keeping the dreams of many alive. “Never say never, but right now I’d lower the probability.”

And of course the press conference could not go by without a mention of the Oktoberfest, which kicks off the same day as FCB’s match against Köln. Kovac spoke of the need to improve on last season’s disappointing record, which he is certain they will do.

“The Oktoberfest is a great time but unfortunately as Bayern coach you can’t enjoy it as much as others. I’ll be there, just not too often,” he concluded with a grin.

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