Christopher Nkunku is in his second season with RB Leipzig and has been a regular in Julian Nagelsmann's side since arriving at the club. With seven goals and nine assists this season, he has certainly played his part in helping Die Roten Bullen reach second in the Bundesliga table and the semi-finals of the DFB-Pokal. In an interview with the DFL, the Frenchman spoke about the end-of-season run-in, reaching Berlin, adapting to life at Leipzig and his relationship with Alexander Sørloth.
We are entering the final stage of the season. How can you prepare for the run-in mentally?
“We would prefer to be in first place in the league of course. We have to keep working hard and keep pushing ourselves. We will see how far we can go at the end of the season.”
You also have a chance of silverware in the DFB-Pokal. Just one match separates you from the final in Berlin. How much do you want to reach the final?
“Yes, we are very determined. We are fighting for the league and have a semi-final to play in the cup. I have spoken to my teammates and they told me that they had a final in Berlin against Bayern Munich before I arrived at the club. We want to return to Berlin. We have Werder Bremen in the semi-final next, away from home. We have to give our all to make sure we are in Berlin for the final.”
How determined are you to secure the club’s first trophy?
“Yes, that serves as additional motivation – securing the first trophy for Leipzig. I think you can see that in every training session. Everyone is pushing. That’s how you win titles – giving everything in training in order to do the same in games. We have a good mentality at the moment. We will see what the future holds.”
Your performances have once again improved throughout the second half of the season. Why is that?
“I was playing at a high level before, but I have been more decisive this season compared to last season, I think. We had a tough start to the season, as we did not have a full pre-season. I am someone who feels very good after going through a full pre-season. This season was different. We got to the final eight of the Champions League and so we only had three weeks to recover. It didn’t give us long to prepare. Then we had matches every two or three days because of the Champions League. Unfortunately, I was injured for a month too, although it was potentially a blessing in disguise as I was able to recover fully and make a good comeback. I am satisfied with my performances so far.”
In 2019, you made the move to Leipzig and became a key part of the team. How important was this move for you in terms of your personal development?
“I chose this club back then because it was the best project. I visited the facilities and I was able to talk to the coach and to the sporting director before making my decision. That was important for me. I think this sort of project, with its young and competitive squad, is what I needed. I also left PSG because it was important to get regular minutes. That was my main reason for leaving PSG.”
There is a real French presence at RB Leipzig with players like Upamecano, Mukiele, etc. How important is that for you? How does that translate to the dressing room?
“We all get on very well as a team – regardless of nationality. It is a very homogenous dressing room and we get on well. I think that helped me a lot when I arrived at the club as I am someone who is a bit reserved, a bit shy. They helped me to open up and speak to my teammates more. It helped me a lot.”
What role has Julian Nagelsmann played in your development?
“I have always been fairly demanding with myself, but having a coach who is even more demanding has given me a real boost. He is a coach who works very hard on the tactics and on the details, and that has helped me to develop as a player. He likes players who give their all and leave nothing out there on the pitch, so I have progressed in that sense too. Previously, I would have been more cautious in terms of making sure I preserved my energy, but now I am able to take part in every attack and counterattack. That is where I have developed as a player.”
How did you manage to adapt to the Bundesliga so quickly? Does the fast-paced style here at Leipzig suit you?
“Yes, I think it’s an attractive league with lots of goals and space. Teams are happy to take risks, so that’s good for players like me who look for little pockets of space and angles for passes, and who dribble with the ball and make life difficult for their opponents. It suits my game.”
Your last three assists have been for Sørloth, and he recently set up a goal for you too. Why is it working so well between the two of you?
“There’s always a relationship between the attacker and the players around the attacker like myself. Alex has a good footballing brain. He is good at finding the space. We have been able to develop a good relationship thanks to his strengths in that area. We have to keep pushing in order to improve. I hope we continue in the same way.”
Is this something you discuss?
“Yes, I tell him to run into the space when I get the ball, not to hesitate and that I will spot him. And it is the same for him. If he is close to the goal but unable to find space for the shot, he is always able to find another solution. I tell him, ‘Even if there is an opponent near me, pass me the ball’, so we are always talking to each other and trying to find the right solution. That is good for us two and it is good for the club as well.”