Bayer 04 Leverkusen go into their cup clash with 1. FC Heidenheim this Tuesday (18:30 CET) as clear favourites. Julian Brandt (22) sat down with us to talk about what he expects of the game.
DFB.de: Julian Brandt, since you’ve been at Leverkusen, you’ve reached the quarter-final of the Pokal three times and the semi-final once. What’s the aim for this season?
Julian Brandt: We want to go as far as possible. Our season in the Pokal so far this year is going well. The Gladbach game was amazing (Leverkusen won 5-0 away). Now we’re up against 1. FC Heidenheim. We want to get into the quarter-final, and it doesn’t matter who we’re playing. We’ll go into the game as focused as we are for every Bundesliga game. We won’t be thinking that we’re already through, just because we’re playing a second division side. However, we’ll go to Heidenheim with a lot of self-confidence.
DFB.de: Your DFB-Pokal campaign really took off with the massive victory in Mönchengladbach.
Brandt: That’s right. We played well. A lot worked out, and it came at the right time.
DFB.de: When Bayer 04 have gone out in the quarter-final in recent years, it’s always happened at home. You lost against Kaiserslautern, Bremen and twice against FC Bayern. Is that frustrating?
Brandt: You always want to do better. The DFB-Pokal is a big opportunity for us. Since 2009, the club has been keen to get as far as it can. We’ve always started well in the competition, with the exception of the second-round defeat in 2016. We didn’t play well and we were suddenly out. We’re trying again this year to improve. However, there’s still a long way to go, and Heidenheim won’t be easy opponents.
DFB.de: Heidenheim are in the top half of the 2. Bundesliga and have only lost four games. What do you know about your opponents?
Brandt: I don’t follow the second division extensively, mostly because I don’t really have a connection to it. But I know that Heidenheim are difficult to play against, especially when you play them away. They try to make things uncomfortable and fight hard. I see it as a bit of an advantage that we’ve already been back playing for a couple of weeks. We’ve been able to work to our new coach (Peter Bosz) for a couple of weeks already.
DFB.de: Leverkusen lost to Bayern in the semi-final last year, who went on to lose to Frankfurt in the final. Are you doubly-annoyed at missing the chance of the title when you’re watching the game on TV?
Brandt: It’s always annoying when you lose a semi-final. It hurts for two or three days, because you were so close to the final. But life goes on. There’s another chance every year. It was a good experience to reach the semi-final, because you can only do that when everyone’s pulled together. You also need that bit of luck.
DFB.de: Statistically, you score every third game in the cup. This is more often than in the Bundesliga, where you average a goal every fifth game. How much do you enjoy playing in the DFB-Pokal?
Brandt: I really enjoy playing in cup games. The system is simple and it moves fast. You’re in the final with five wins, and you remember a final for the rest of your life. It works very well. I want to stay in every competition for as long as possible, and that’s the goal for this year too.
DFB.de: You’ve got a new coach in Peter Bosz, who’s been at Leverkusen since the start of January. What is he doing differently to Heiko Herrlich?
Brandt: Every coach is different, and sets different things to work on. What you have to do isn’t always the same either, so you shouldn’t compare. It wasn’t an easy situation for Peter Bosz to implement his philosophy in such a short space of time. He’s a meticulous coach. We’ve done a lot of video analysis, we’ve trained long and hard, and we’ve tried out a lot. I think there’s a good feeling amongst the young players and the whole team. He works on the players’ strengths as well as their weaknesses. He’s also very down-to-earth. He communicates a lot and makes things clear to the players, and he’s very calm. That’s very important when you’re working with a lot of young players in Leverkusen. He does that very well.
DFB.de: The national team have a game against the Netherlands in Amsterdam in eight weeks’ time, as they look to qualify for the European Championships. How strong do you think the group against the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Estonia, and Belarus will be?
Brandt: When we were relegated from our group in the Nations League, we knew that we’d be put up against a good opponent. That ended up being the Netherlands. It could be a positive for us that we’re facing them again. We were able to get the measure of them and know what to expect. You could see how close it was in the second game, when we were 2-0 up but they equalised in the last minute. We have nothing to be afraid of in this game and can definitely do well.
DFB.de: Kai Havertz has also been involved with the national set-up recently. Are you a bit of a mentor for him?
Brandt: You’re welcomed well and quickly when you’re with the national side. You feel at home straightaway, as was the case with me. That’s what happened with Kai, too. He had no problems there.###more###