Champions League: Niko Kovac demands more from Bayern Munich as Ajax arrive | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 01.10.2018
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Champions League: Niko Kovac demands more from Bayern Munich as Ajax arrive

After a week when Bayern lost their perfect record and then their unbeaten record, Niko Kovac has demanded his players improve against Ajax. Also on Tuesday, Julian Nagelsmann faces his coaching idol, Pep Guardiola.

"We're playing at the Allianz Arena tomorrow and we are Bayern," said Niko Kovac after his side's prematch training session on Monday. "We want to put our stamp on the match." 

The Croatian coach knows that the tolerance for anything other than victory at the Bundesliga champions is low and that, with domestic dominance considered a minimum requirement, his reign will be largely judged on his achievements in Europe.

Kovac got off to a fine start, with a convincing 2-0 win over Benfica in Lisbon in their Group E opener that was notable for Renato Sanches scoring his first goal for the German outfit, at the club where he made his name. But a home draw against Augsburg followed by Friday night's loss to Hertha Berlin saw Bayern drop points for the first time this season. Kovac expects that to spur his men on.

"The defeat really bothered the team. They gave me the impression in training today that they want to show a reaction. It's all about the small things that we need to do better," the 46-year-old said.

Midfielder Leon Goretzka has returned to training following an ankle knock, meaning only long-term absentees Corentin Tolisso, Kingsley Coman and Rafinha are unavailable for the clash with the Eredivisie runners-up.

Despite an impressive international pedigree that includes four European Cups/Champions League titles and two other major European titles, Ajax are not the force they once were. But the serial Dutch champions did reach the Europa League final under Peter Bosz in 2017 (beating Schalke along the way), and crusied past AEK Athens 3-0 to open this Champions League campaign. 

Erik ten Hag's side boast plenty of exciting young talent, with the likes of Kasper Dollberg and Matthijs de Ligt expected to be off to one of Europe's major footballing powers in the not-too-distant future. There's also a familiar face for German fans, with former Schalke striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar likely to lead the line in his second spell with the Amsterdam outfit – the 35-year-old has notched 10 goals in 14 games this term.

Battle of the tactical brains

Julian Nagelsmann (imago/Michael Weber)

Julian Nagelsmann is set to get the chance to coach against his idol

Huntelaar is four years older than Hoffenheim boss Julian Nagelsmann, who become the youngest coach to take charge in the Champions League group stages when his side impressed in a 2-2 away draw with Shakhtar Donetsk.

Tuesday's early kickoff against Manchester City is, naturally enough, Hoffenheim's first home match in the competition proper, after Liverpool knocked them out in the playoff next year. Nagelsmann has often admitted to studying Pep Guardiola's methods and cites the former Bayern Munich boss as an inspiration. But the German isn't sure his studies will bear fruit, given the gulf in resources between his side and the Premier League champions.

"I don't know if it it's always an advantage to know Pep Guardiola," Nagelsmann said. "It is not easy to filter out the crucial things. If we were to win, which naturally we are also trying to do in this game, then it would have a huge significance."

Hoffenheim struggled with the demands of the Europa League last term, with their league form only picking up again in the last third of the season. That late run eventually saw them snatch third, their best-ever league finish. But Nagelsmann's charges have yet to find any consistency in 2018-19.

"It is not an easy task to hit a top level every three days," Nagelsmann admitted after Hoffenheim's loss to his future employers RB Leipzig on Saturday, their fifth match in a 22-day spell.

Injuries have not helped his cause. Even if captain and defensive leader Kevin Vogt can return against City, Benjamin Hübner, Ermin Bicakcic, Havard Nordtveit and Kasim Adams are missing at the back while Nadiem Amiri, Dennis Geiger and Lukas Rupp remain out of the midfield.   

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