Cup specialist Niko Kovac is hoping to end a turbulent first season in charge of Bayern Munich with a domestic double when his side face RB Leipzig in the German Cup final in Berlin on Saturday.
The Bayern boss has been under pressure lately amid rumours that he may be sacked at the end of the season, but has said that he is focusing on football ahead of Saturday’s final.
“I want to throw myself into the task (of winning the cup), everything else, everything concerning my position, is secondary,” he said on Friday.
Just hours earlier on the other side of Berlin, Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said that Kovac’s job did not depend on the outcome of the final.
Kovac admitted that it had been an “intense” season, and said that winning the league title last weekend had lifted a weight off his shoulders.
“The season was long, and when you reach your goal you feel more comfortable and the tension drops. But we have had time to relax with our families and now we are focused on tomorrow,” he said.
Saturday will be a third return home in three years for native Berliner Kovac, who led former club Eintracht Frankfurt to back-to-back cup finals in 2017 and 2018, and delivered a shock victory over Bayern last year.
“Last year shows that there are no favourites in a cup final” Kovac warned on Friday.
“Both teams will want to win and you need a little bit of luck.”
The Bayern coach heaped praise on Leipzig, saying that they were the “hardest opponent we could have got in the final”.
He said that he would have to pick his best team for Saturday’s game, suggesting that departing veterans Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery would start on the bench in their final game for Bayern.
“It will be their last game so it is a difficult decision to make,” he said, hinting that the likes of Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman would be in the starting line-up.
“I know what it means to end your playing career, but we also have players who have played really well since January.”
WE WANT TO NARROW THE GAP
Leipzig coach Ralf Rangnick, meanwhile, said that it did not matter to his team whether Robben and Ribery began the game or not.
“If they come off the bench, we will have to play well, just as we will do from the beginning.”
Leipzig are targeting a first major trophy of their ten-year history, and Rangnick said his side hoped to use the final as a springboard to challenge Bayern for further domestic titles in future.
“We have always been knocked out early in the cup before, so we are happy to get this far,” he said.
“Bayern remain the benchmark for everyone, but we hope to narrow the gap, that is our ambition.”
“We need to keep making clever signings. If we had had one or two players more at times this year, we might even have been in the title race.”
Leipzig finished third in the Bundesliga, 12 points behind champions Bayern.
After a narrow 1-0 defeat to the Bavarians in December, they managed to postpone Bayern’s title celebrations with a 0-0 draw in Leipzig two weeks ago.
“We only conceded one goal against them this season, but we also didn’t score any,” said Rangnick.
“If we are going to beat them on Saturday, we will need to score at least one, maybe even two or three goals.”