Marcel Halstenberg made his debut for the Germany International team back in 2017, before an ACR injury ruled him out long-term. Now, the 27-year-old left-back has returned to top form and is ready for Wednesday’s DFB-Pokal tie with VfL Wolfsburg (KO - 18:30 CET), as revealed in a DFB.de interview with Oliver Jensen.
DFB.de: Mr Halstenberg, the cup game vs. Wolfsburg fast approaches. RB Leipzig lost to Wolfsburg 1-0 in the first half of the Bundesliga season, so what will your team have to do better to win this time around?
Marcel Halstenberg: At the time, we hadn’t wished for a perfect day against Wolfsburg. Now, we’re playing at home, and we need to press our opponents and give them no time on the ball. We need to get the ball into their half as much as possible and get a quick opening goal. Wolfsburg are tough opponents, especially because they play tightly and are cohesive as a team.
DFB.de: You’ve reached the DFB-Pokal round of 16 for the first time. Two years ago, you bowed out in the second round to FC Bayern on penalties, although you scored your spot kick. To what extent are you preparing yourself for this scenario ahead of the game?
Halstenberg: We always have three to five lads taking penalties at the end of every training session, regardless of whether we’re training ahead of a Pokal match or not. Before a cup game though, we might sometimes increase the number of people taking penalties. I can remember when we played a ten vs. ten match one time, before having a penalty shootout where each of us took five penalties.
DFB.de: Do you yourself prepare for penalties by researching which direction the opposition goalkeeper usually dives in?
Halstenberg: No, I prefer having faith in my individual ability and kicking the ball where I want to kick it.
DFB.de: After Ralph Hasenhüttl’s departure, Ralf Rangnick has taken up the role of coach this season. How much has he made his mark on the team?
Halstenberg: We’ve become a lot closer as a team. We’re a good crowd with a lot of quality in our ranks. Ralf Rangnick has brought us together even more than before. We get on well both on and off the pitch. As well as this, Ralf puts a lot of emphasis on everyone being able to understand each other in German. He’s always focussing on the smaller details. In past seasons, we had more freedom, to an extent.
DFB.de: RB Leipzig have the youngest and surely one of the most talented squads in the Bundesliga. Next season, Julian Nagelsmann arrives with perhaps the biggest expectations as a coach in Germany on his shoulders. Will RB Leipzig turn into long-lasting title candidates with Nagelsmann on board?
Halstenberg: That’s perhaps more imaginable in the next few years. For now, we’re focussing purely on us and our development – up until now, we’ve done the best we possibly can. Nagelsmann will certainly offer new input once he arrives in the summer, and we will continue to develop further. In our last two years in the Bundesliga, we’ve already done well. We’re doing alright now too, and we want to qualify for the Champions League at the end of the season.
DFB.de: Do you think like an old hand in the squad, as the average team age is 23.6 years old, and a lot of the players in the squad haven’t even reached 20 yet?
Halstenberg: Whenever we’re messing around in the changing rooms, I do actually sometimes feel like an old man. When I see players around the place who were born after 2000, I do ask myself where the time went. People’s interests have changed. The younger lads have apps and games on their phones, which I’ve never even heard of. I used to play on my phone, but not anymore. But the boys always make sure that I don’t become too old in my ways (laughs).
DFB.de: RB Leipzig have faced criticism from fans of other clubs for their meteoric rise to the Bundesliga, and have been stylised as “Bayern-hunters” due to their attacking play style. Have things become more normal now, the longer time you’ve been in the top flight?
Halstenberg: Definitely. You can definitely sense some resistance in a few away games, but that’s completely normal playing as the away side. No visiting team is going to be welcomed with applause at some stadiums. In general, I find it all very positive. We have a lot of fans, both here in Leipzig and in the wider region, and are very well supported on away days.
DFB.de: In November 2017, you made your senior debut for the Germany national team against England. Do you enjoy reflecting on that moment?
Halstenberg: It was one of the top-three moments in my entire career. I’d always dreamed of playing for the national team since when I was a young boy. I was able to finally fulfil that dream by making my debut. It was a wonderful moment. In harder times, when I was injured, I always thought back to that game. But I’m looking forward to the future now. I want to earn a call-up to the national team again with some good and consistent performances.
DFB.de: Do you reckon you would have gone to the 2018 World Cup with Germany, had you not been injured?
Halstenberg: I do think so. I was playing well in the Bundesliga and had hoped to go, but my dreams were dashed with the injury.
DFB.de: Most national team players have had a different career path to yourself, making their Bundesliga debut early on in their careers. They don’t fight for their Bundesliga place step-by-step in the third, second and first divisions, only making their Bundesliga debut aged 25, and never playing for the Germany youth teams. Do you think your talent went unnoticed early on in your career, or did you need a few years longer in your development?
Halstenberg: As a younger player, I lacked composure and calmness on the ball, and I was still a bit nervous. I’ve needed time to work my way through the leagues and learn something new from each division. It was the right step to leave St. Pauli for Leipzig in 2015. We’ve been promoted to the Bundesliga, finished runners-up in our first season in the Bundesliga, and have played in both European competitions. We’ve developed significantly not only as a club, but as individuals as well.