Things haven’t been running smoothly for Bayer 04 Leverkusen in the Bundesliga of late, but the same cannot be said for their DFB-Pokal exploits. Following a resounding victory over Eintracht Frankfurt, the Werkself – last season’s runners up – prepare to take on Regionalliga side Rot-Weiss Essen at 18:30 CET on Tuesday. Ahead of the clash, two-time Germany international Kerem Demirbay (27) spoke to DFB.de in an interview about Bayer Leverkusen’s chances of winning their first title since 1993 and the imminent task of Rot-Weiss Essen away.
DFB.de: Kerem Demirbay, how satisfied are you with Leverkusen’s start to 2021?
Kerem Demirbay: Obviously we can’t be satisfied with the results, even if we’re still very-much in the fight for those Champions League spots. We’ve dropped far too many points in recent weeks.
DFB.de: How would you explain the shifts in form between beating Frankfurt 4-1 in the DFB-Pokal and losing to Union Berlin and Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga?
Demirbay: The first thing to do is distinguish between results and performances. Our only really bad game in January was against Eintracht Frankfurt in the league. In the other games it was a mixture of lacking efficiency in front of goal and lacking that little bit of luck. We just didn’t manage to score in some of the deciding moments. Let’s not forget though, that lots of teams sit deep against us and give us very little room. That makes it important to take the lead first – and we haven’t managed to do that recently.
DFB.de: Meanwhile, in the DFB-Pokal, the Werkself go marching on. How much does this competition mean to you personally?
Demirbay: An awful lot. We reached the final last year, but unfortunately we lost it. Now we want to go back to Berlin and win the thing.
DFB.de: Was that the biggest and most significant game of your career so far? What sort of memories and experiences do you associate with the 2020 final?
Demirbay: It is certainly one of the games that I will remember the most, even after I retire. The feeling of having reached the final was indescribable, and you could sense the magnitude of the occasion, even without spectators. This made it all the more disappointing to lose. But it also makes us all the more determined to bring the trophy home to Leverkusen this year. We’ve still got a long, hard road ahead of us though.
DFB.de: Were you very disappointed to not be in the starting XI that day?
Demirbay: Of course. As a footballer – an athlete, you always want to play from the start. But football is a team sport – the team comes first.
DFB.de: Does the name Simon Engelmann mean anything to you?
Demirbay: I’m sure you’re about to enlighten me.
DFB.de: He’s a forward who plays for your next opponents, Rot-Weiss Essen. This season he’s scored 20 goals in 22 games and he has found the back of the net against Bielefeld and Düsseldorf in the DFB-Pokal as well. Have Leverkusen been warned? How seriously will you be taking your opponents from the fourth tier and their striker?
Demirbay: That’s a terrific return. We definitely have a lot of respect for Rot-Weiss Essen. They’re fighting for promotion to the 3. Liga and have professional footballers in their ranks, who have played at higher levels before. This is a knockout game. It’s all about reaching the next round. That is our aim.
DFB.de: What kind of a game are you expecting in Essen? An opponent who will sit back or one that will try to play? What will be the deciding factors?
Demirbay: We are assuming that they will sit back, be compact and wait for opportunities to hit us on the break. We will need to be patient. We need to go into the challenges, hold them off and show our footballing quality over the course of the game. An early goal would obviously really help us – as we saw in last season’s semi-final against Saabrücken.
DFB.de: You always hear it said that as a top club you need to be there whenever Bayern München show signs of weakness. Bayern are now out of the cup already. What was your reaction to the news three weeks ago? Has this increased Bayer Leverkusen’s chances of winning their first title since 1993?
Demirbay: Ich würde lügen, wenn ich sagen würde, dass das Ausscheiden von Bayern München nicht die Chancen verbessert hat, den Pokal zu gewinnen. Normalerweise steht der FCB immer im Finale, und der Titel führt automatisch über sie. Dass die Bayern jetzt raus sind, ist natürlich ein Vorteil. Das gilt aber auch für die anderen 15 Vereine, die noch im Wettbewerb vertreten sind. Einer davon ist Rot-Weiss Essen. Und auf den sollten wir uns jetzt konzentrieren. I’d be lying if I said that Bayern getting knocked out didn’t improve our odds of winning the DFB-Pokal. FC Bayern are nearly always in the final and they always have a say in who wins the title. Bayern being out now is obviously an advantage, but that’s the same for the other 15 teams remaining in the competition. One of those teams is Rot-Weiss Essen – and that’s who we need to concentrate now.