Germany international and RB Leipzig first-team regular Marcel Halstenberg faces Eintracht Frankfurt on Tuesday (18:30 CET) in the DFB-Pokal round of 16. The 28-year-old full-back spoke to DFB.de’s Oliver Jensen about the Cup game, his head coach Julian Nagelsmann and the 2020 European Championship.
DFB.de: Mr. Halstenberg, last season you reached the final of the DFB-Pokal with RB Leipzig, which Bayern then won. How badly do you want to make it to the final again this year?
Marcel Halstenberg: It was really special to play in last season’s final. In the week leading up to the game we really felt that something big had developed in Leipzig and in the region. It’s a fantastic experience when two clubs and two fan cultures meet in Berlin like that. For me, it was my first chance to win a big final. Unfortunately, it didn’t go according to plan. But that can also be an incentive to make it to the final again and do better.
DFB.de: You just suffered a defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt in the Bundesliga. What do you make of them as a team?
Halstenberg: Frankfurt have had ups and downs so far this season. They might not be at the level they were a couple of years ago when they won the DFB-Pokal but we’re expecting it to be a tough game. It’ll be a really interesting game with the fans getting behind their team. As a player, you look forward to games like these. It’s like a mini-final. It’s all about making it through to the next round and that’s something that may well be decided by a penalty shoot-out.
DFB.de: RB’s squad is full of young players who are attracting interest from other clubs. Is there a chance that Leipzig could lose a few regulars?
Halstenberg: You would have to ask Markus Krösche (sporting director at RB Leipzig). But as far as I can tell, the club has always tried to keep the majority of the team together so that we can continue to develop. Of course, there was Diego Demme, who is a great player and a top guy, who left to join Napoli. He wanted to follow his dream and the club understood that. We’re still in safe hands when it comes to his position, especially when Kevin Kampl returns from injury. Konrad Laimer has also been fantastic in midfield and Tyler Adams is also available again after his lengthy absence through injury. But to come back to your question: as is the case at other clubs, players come and go and that’s just normal business. The more successful we are, the more attention we will get. But I shouldn’t think we’ll be loaning out or selling four or five first-team players within a transfer window.
DFB.de: What kind of impact has Julian Nagelsmann had on the team since he took over as head coach in the summer?
Halstenberg: We work really hard, often having two training sessions per day and a couple of video analysis meetings. We talk a lot about our game on and off the ball. He tells us how he wants us to act or react in certain situations but he also gives us some freedom, although he is keen to make sure we stick 100% to his playing style on the pitch.
DFB.de: Full-backs play a big part in Julian Nagelsmann’s attacking philosophy. Has that changed your role much?
Halstenberg: Yes and no. Our full-backs were also part of our attacking game under Ralf Rangnick, but we didn’t neglect our defensive duties, of course. Julian Nagelsmann also encourages us to go for goal and we’re more than welcome to score five, six or seven goals in half a season.
DFB.de: How much does it mean to you that kicker magazine ranked you number one out of all the full-backs in the Bundesliga this season?
Halstenberg: It’s obviously a nice little award and a bit of recognition. But it’s meaningless if I can’t back up my first half of the season with an equally strong second, especially because it’s the business end of the season that really counts.
DFB.de: Your development into a Germany international raises the question: Why didn’t you break through as a young player at Borussia Dortmund and had to take a detour to second-tier FC St.Pauli?
Halstenberg: Dortmund and St. Pauli were both important stepping stones for me. I think I made the right decisions for my career. When I was at Dortmund, Jürgen Klopp was still the manager. Overall, he liked how I played and the fact I had a strong left foot. But Borussia Dortmund were incredibly successful at the time, winning the double and reaching the final of the Champions League. That made it difficult to break into the team. There were other young players in that team who played an important role. I just wasn’t ready yet.
DFB.de: How confident do you feel about making it into the Germany squad for EURO 2020?
Halstenberg: It’s an achievable goal for me. I felt good during our international breaks and I gained a lot of confidence. I’m hoping to have a good second half of the season and be picked for the tournament in the summer.
DFB.de: The Germany team has gone though some changes and now includes a number of young players. How has the team gelled so far?
Halstenberg: Yes, we have a lot of good, young players. There are players like Serge Gnabry, Leroy Sané and Timo Werner, as well as Kai Havertz. Of course, it hasn’t all run smoothly. With so many young players it’s normal for there to be room for improvement. I don’t see us as an underdog team for the European Championship. We have a young, hungry team with a great deal of potential.
DFB.de: Germany drew a tough group for the tournament, including Portugal, France and whoever wins the play-off. What are your thoughts on this challenge?
Halstenberg: I’ve seen that Hungary can still qualify and it would be cool to have my Leipzig teammates Péter Gulácsi and Willi Orban in the group with us. It’s definitely the strongest group with the reigning World and European Champions. But I still think we’re capable of getting through.
DFB.de: Is there a team you think are favourites to win the tournament?
Halstenberg: There are several countries that I think have really strong teams, for example France and the Netherlands. You can see how much quality France have just from looking at my club. Therefore, I would say France are the favourites.