CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: Bayern Boss Kovac Focused On AEK Amidst Off-Field Pressure
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 attacks 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 cannot 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 cannot 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.