BERLIN (Reuters) - New Bayern Munich coach Niko Kovac said on Thursday he was confident the champions would get off to a winning start when they kick off their Bundesliga season against visiting Hoffenheim on Friday.
The Croat, who succeeded the retired Jupp Heynckes in the close season after joining from German Cup winners Eintracht Frankfurt, brushed off any concerns following their lacklustre 1-0 German Cup win over amateurs Drochtersen/Assel last week.
“I am convinced that my team will have a great game tomorrow because physically and mentally we are at top level,” Kovac told reporters.
“We know what to expect. We have a very difficult game and Hoffenheim are in good form.”
The visitors, who will play in the Champions League group stage this season, have looked sharper than Bayern in the run-up to the league kickoff, beating Kaiserslautern 6-1 in the German Cup.
“We really have to go to the limit,” said Kovac. “We cannot take it lightly. We have to press our game on them, stay dominant and give the opponent as little space as possible.”
Apart from injured winger Serge Gnabry, Kovac has a full squad to chose from, including fit-again defender David Alaba.
He said, however, that midfielder James Rodriguez has not yet fully recovered from an ankle knock during pre-season and could potentially miss the league opener.
“There is the ‘I am fit’ coming from the player and then the ‘I am fit’ from the manager. I see the players every day and I know who is at the top of the their capacity. He has not been able to do every exercise yet,” Kovac said.
The coach also said he had sympathy for forward Robert Lewandowski, who had considered leaving the club over a perceived lack of support from Bayern bosses last season.
Lewandowski said this week he planned to stay at Bayern.
“From the outside you have to look at Robert and feel for him and understand him. He did not boycott training,” Kovac said. “I understand him because I felt the same as a player. The need for backing and support.”
Lewandowski has scored four goals this season, with a hat-trick in the German Super Cup and another goal in their German Cup first round win.
Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Toby Davis