Second place in the Bundesliga after eleven matchdays, the chance to qualify for the Champions League knockout stages still there for the taking after four matches in that competition and the narrow loss in the DFB-Pokal thriller against Bayern. It is time for a summary of the season so far.
We spoke to head coach Ralph Hasenhüttl about the first third of the season, his highlights and opinions on how the team can improve and the targets going forward.
Boss, the first third of the season is out of the way. What have you taken from the games so far?
We have had the experience of having to compete on three fronts – in the Bundesliga, Champions League and the DFB-Pokal. Sometimes it is hard for teams to struggle with such a workload. But we have done well to always be able to put a fresh side out so far. We have always had the necessary alternatives to rotate the team without losing out on quality because of our squad depth, which Ralf Rangnick strengthened extremely well in the summer. It has worked really well. And the boys have been great at accepting the decisions and got on with the job at hand – whether they are in the starting XI or have been brought on as a sub. In that way we have been able to bring in players who had been rested to turn matches around, like for instance in the home game against Hannover.
What positives can you take from the three competitions?
We have managed to improve our tactical flexibility. And we have adapted well to different tasks, with or without the ball. We aren’t as easy to figure out any more and we have lots of different ways of playing now. We can win games when we have most of the possession but we can also make it awkward for the opponents when we have less of the ball, like in the Dortmund game. We pull through whatever is required – with a man less, if we have to (laughs) – and we have a solution for almost everything. And despite this we still have a lot more to give. We still have the feeling that we have got even more to prove.
What has been your highlight from the first third of the season?
The DFB-Pokal tie at home to FC Bayern was a definite highlight. To fight the way we did with a man less and to come back the way we did – that was brilliant!
Our first Champions League home game against Monaco was also very emotional. It is something special when you hear the song for the first time. We had worked hard for that moment for a whole year. That was a great moment. And the 3-2 win in Dortmund was also a great day.
You had to play both games against Bayern with ten men. How do you ensure that doesn’t happen again?
It’s difficult. You have to be at 100% to win those games. When you’re the last man and you go in for the tackle, you have to be spot on. A millisecond late and it’s a red card. I have nothing critical to say about my players though – I’m not going to rip anybody’s head off for making the tackle a second late.
What has the team done well so far this season?
I feel like we’ve been very good on the ball. We’ve often come up against teams that defend very deep. Against Hannover, we had to work the ball, find room and those spaces to create chances. The patience the boys showed, to keep on going and to keep on trying, is really good to see.
What can be improved?
Sometimes, we’ve lost games we could have drawn because defensive errors have led to opponents’ goals. We haven’t been good enough at times in the Champions League. Our defensive work needs a bit of work. We know that and we’re trying to improve.
Leipzig’s team is the youngest in all three of the competitions the team is playing in. What are the advantages of such a young side?
Against Hannover, we fielded our youngest team ever. That shows what the club is all about. We play a different style of football to other teams, and so we need players who are fully committed to our philosophy, our style of football and the way we work off the ball.
Are there disadvantages, too?
I think some of our Champions League games, like against Porto and Besiktas, have shown that we can sometimes be a little naïve. You don’t always win games with quality alone. Sometimes you need to grind out results. All the same, we’re committed to our open and attractive way of playing football – even if that sometimes means we’re exposed at the back. Attacking is what Leipzig is all about and we plan to stick to that tactic.
What’s the team’s next goal?
Our next challenge is the away game against Leverkusen, but then we have those two Champions League matches against AS Monaco and Besiktas, which we have to win to stay in the competition. Monaco will be a real challenge because it’s away. Our fans will be crucial. They gave us that extra motivation when we were 1-0 down against Hannover. That’s our main goal after all, to put on an exciting performance for our supporters.