Bayern Munich captain Manuel Neuer is in line for his first Bundesliga start in 11 months when the champions welcome Hoffenheim to the Allianz Arena on Friday, and new coach Niko Kovac could hardly be happier.
Kovac succeeded the retiring Jupp Heynckes in the summer after steering Eintracht Frankfurt to a DFB Cup triumph at his new employer’s expense. Now set for his first Bundesliga game with the Bavarians, Kovac is taking nothing for granted against Hoffenheim, against whom he expects to welcome back Neuer… but perhaps not James Rodriguez…
Niko Kovac on…
…Manuel Neuer's long-awaited return
“Manu’s a leader and not only of Bayern, he’s also the captain of the national team. He’s someone who the opposition respect simply because of his presence, so I’m very happy that he’ll be back tomorrow.
Watch: Neuer's Top 5 saves!
…James Rodriguez's fitness
“There are always two definitions of ‘fit’: the player’s definition and the coach’s. Which one he really is we’ll find out tomorrow.”
…Robert Lewandowski's mind-set
“I wasn’t here last year so I have to accept that it’s possible that he didn’t get the kind of affection every human being needs. But he has his head on his shoulders. He’s scored four goals so far, four important goals. We can count on him. Our conversations have been very constructive. I’m with him not as a coach but as a human being, I’ve experienced similar situations in my career, so I was able to empathise with him.”
…Julian Nagelsmann's work at Hoffenheim
“He’s turned Hoffenheim into a top club. The last couple of years have been outstanding. Two years ago they finished fourth, they were third last season. There’s not much room left up there!”
…Serge Gnabry featuring against his former side
“Serge has a muscle problem and can’t play tomorrow. We’ll certainly have injuries this season. We have superstars on the pitch and on the bench, but we have the same rights as other teams and must start with 11 players.”
…his team selection
“We’ll have a short run tomorrow morning so I’ll tell my players personally and I’ll speak to the players who are only on the bench during the afternoon, maybe just before the match.”
…defending the title
“To speak about it is one thing. Actually doing it is quite another. You can have big dreams but are they feasible? That’s the most important thing. We’re glad it’s finally starting now. Seven weeks of pre-season was a long time, but we’re fit now and in a good mood.”