Hunting the treble: After success in the league and DFB Pokal, VfL are looking to add a Champions League trophy to their list of honours
It all comes down to this. VfL Wolfsburg will face title-holders Olympique Lyon in the Champions League final on Sunday (20:00 CEST). VfL head coach Stephan Lerch (36) gave an interview to DFB.de evaluating the club’s chances of winning the final, while making clear just how determined the players are to bring the title back to Germany for the first time since 2014.
DFB.de: Mr. Lerch, the Champions League final is right around the corner...
Stephan Lerch: ...and it’s against Olympique Lyon once again!
DFB.de: The champions in each of the last four years.
Lerch: It’s not surprising to see Lyon in the final again. They have been the best team in Europe for years now – their recent achievements speak for themselves.
DFB.de: What memories do you have of facing Lyon?
Lerch: They’re not really good memories, since they have recently beaten us twice in the quarterfinals. With the incredible quality that they have in their squad, Lyon deserved to go through against us.
DFB.de: But Lyon only narrowly progressed against FC Bayern and Paris Saint-Germain en route to the final. Are they still as strong as they were in years gone by?
Lerch: I think so - we’re not letting a few close results deceive us. I have such great respect for that team. They will be at full strength in the final and won’t show any weakness. They are very experienced and they have played many big matches before. The squad may have changed but in my opinion it has actually become better, not worse. For example they now have Sara Gunnarsdottir, who was under contract with us until this summer. She gives them even more attacking quality. So I think that they are still an incredibly strong team. We need to be at our best if we are to be able to win on Sunday. In a one-off match, however, anything can happen on the day.
DFB.de: Do you see Lyon as the favourites, then?
Lerch: Yes, that’s how I see it. It’s down to their success in the last few years, as well as the consistency that they show - that is so impressive. We are the challengers, but we have achieved plenty ourselves. We want to end their run as champions and take the trophy home to Wolfsburg and Germany.
DFB.de: How is the team doing following the shaky semifinal win over Barcelona?
Lerch: We didn’t play as well as we can, obviously. We discussed the match and the performance in great detail with the team. We had to, because we simply can’t afford a repeat performance. Against Barcelona we only showed our true quality in short periods, if at all. For instance we had a good 15 minutes after half-time, which resulted in us taking the lead, but for large parts of the match we did not live up to expectations. The players were just as critical of themselves. I get the impression that they are all eager to show what we are really capable of.
DFB.de: Can you take any positives from such a below-par performance?
Lerch: I hope so. We are all in agreement that we have to do things differently against Lyon, and everybody wants to do better. One positive that we can take from the game is how decisive we were, and we also showed great fighting spirit. The players gave absolutely everything to reach the final. To have made it through without playing our best makes me very proud and fills me with optimism.
DFB.de: Has the Barcelona match made your team sharper?
Lerch: Yes, definitely. Without meaning to be disrespectful to other teams, the Barcelona game was our first real challenge since the summer break. With all due respect for our opponents, the 9-1 quarterfinal win against Glasgow wasn’t a great test for us. You can’t ignore the facts - we weren’t truly pushed in that game. So we didn’t really know where we stood prior to the Barcelona match. That tie made us very aware of where we are at, and we have spent the last few days working on a few important details for Sunday. Despite all the criticism, you also have to remember that Barcelona are a team with great quality.
DFB.de: Barca were in the Champions League final last season…
Lerch: And that was no accident. From my point of view, they are one of the very best teams in Europe. They can hurt any opponent on their day – they put us under pressure too, but we fought back successfully and we can now look forward to the clash with Lyon.
DFB.de: How are you feeling personally ahead of the match?
Lerch: I’m feeling positive. It’s a match in which we have the opportunity to achieve something great. We are ready and there is a good feeling ahead of the game – not just for me personally, but also for the team. We are itching to get out there and get the match underway.
DFB.de: Does it feel like a real Champions League final, despite the strange circumstances surrounding the game?Lerch: Obviously we will miss the fans – we would have loved to have our supporters backing us in the final. But it’s just not possible right now, and for me it is absolutely brilliant that the Champions League has been able to continue in this shorter, straight-knockout format. It feels like a European Championship at club level, and I have enjoyed the format where you have only one game to reach the next round. Every tiny mistake can cause huge problems, so you need a little bit of luck – we saw that in our match against Barcelona. But if everything comes together then you can make history in just a few days. We are one step away from glory, and it is now time to take that final step.