Marcel Halstenberg and RB Leipzig are looking to return to the final of the DFB-Pokal for the second time since 2019. In order to keep their hopes of doing so alive, they must first get past Wolfsburg in the quarterfinals on Wednesday (20:45 CET). In an interview with DFB.de, the 29-year-old spoke with Oliver Jensen about the upcoming game, the loss of key players, his interest in finance and this summer’s EUROs.
DFB.de: Mr. Halstenberg, VfL Wolfsburg are the toughest opponents you could have been drawn against in the quarterfinals, just based on the table. How difficult do you think this game will be?
Marcel Halstenberg: It will definitely be a tough challenge. Our 2-2 draw against Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga taught us that they are strong both in attack and in defence. We will have to make sure that we’re able to play our game and keep Wolfsburg under control.
DFB.de: VfL Wolfsburg are definitely one of this season’s surprise packages. What makes them so strong?
Halstenberg: They are good in defence and don’t concede many goals. They have a good striker in Wout Weghorst, who has already scored several goals this season. They don’t always build out from the back, but sometimes do it after winning back the ball, chipping it up front to their central striker and controlling possession.
DFB.de: You said it yourself: Wout Weghorst is VfL Wolfsburg’s top goalscorer, and he also scored in the most recent meeting with Leipzig. How can you keep him at bay?
Halstenberg:His height and his strength in the air make him a very strong player, with plenty of power. If he gets the ball and has a clear-cut chance on goal then he’s absolutely clinical and finds the back of the net. You have to make sure to mark him closely in order to not allow him chances like that.
DFB.de: The last time Wolfsburg and Leipzig met in the DFB-Pokal was in October 2019. I’m assuming that you have good memories of that game, right?
Halstenberg:That’s true, it was a good game from us. If everything goes to plan, we could have a repeat of back then (laughs). But, I’m assuming that our opponents will have a different game plan this time around.
DFB.de: RB Leipzig won 6-1 back then...
Halstenberg:Wolfsburg are a different caliber now compared to back then. We also had a perfect game back then. Every shot we had went in.
DFB.de: RB Leipzig reached the DFB-Pokal final in May 2019, but lost 3-0 to FC Bayern back then. This season, Bayern have already been eliminated from the cup. Does that increase your odds of winning the title for the first time in club history?
Halstenberg:Of course we know what it means that Bayern have been knocked out. But, first we need to take care of business and beat Wolfsburg. It’s obvious that our chances of winning the title have risen because of that. But, you can’t forget about Gladbach or Dortmund - both are strong sides and one of the two will reach the semi-finals.
DFB.de: RB Leipzig are currently in second place in the Bundesliga. How likely are your club to be the ones to challenge Bayern in the title race in the coming years?
Halstenberg: I think that the last few years have shown that we can consistently compete at the top and that we’ve drawn close to Bayern and Dortmund. We’re also still competing in three different competitions. This season could be the one for our club, but there are still many games to go. Everything has to go to plan in the final stages of the season.
DFB.de: Your team has also had to deal with the departure of several key players. Timo Werner left to join Chelsea in summer 2020, while Dayot Upamecano will join Bayern this summer…
Halstenberg:Upa has had a great season and has been a top level defender for two, three years now. He’s still young and has a lot of potential. It’s obvious that there will be interest both domestically and abroad. If a team like FC Bayern approaches you, and are willing to offer you a higher salary and the chance to compete for a title every season, then it’s difficult for a player to turn that down. We’ve undergone a great development, but Bayern are still another step up. For us as a club, it’s definitely a challenge to compensate for that loss. That was already the case with Timo Werner. However, everyone works extremely hard to bring in suitable replacements and to make adjustments for certain players leaving.
DFB.de: Your teammate and fellow left-back Angeliño has developed into one of the best players in the Bundesliga this season and as a result, you have been moved to play in central defence more often. Do you feel just at home there as at full-back?
Halstenberg:When we play with a back three, for example in a 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 formation, I feel very at home at centre-back as I can still help to shape the game from there. In Angeliño, we have a player who is very important going forward because of all of his goals and assists, so I can live with playing in central defence.
DFB.de: How have you dealt with no longer automatically being in the starting line-up for every game?
Halstenberg:We have a lot of potential with the squad and rotation happens a lot because of the high workload of the season. When all the players are fit, there’s a lot of competition. This is especially the case in defence as you could see last weekend against Hertha BSC when Nordi Mukiele was brought on and scored. Willi Orban has also been dangerous in front of goal for a number of years now. It’s up to me to give it my best in training and show the coach that I deserve to play. That’s my motivation.
DFB.de: Shifting the focus to the international now, the last break before the European Championship takes place in around a month’s time. How much difference would it make to be in good form in the World Cup qualifiers against Iceland, Romania and North Macedonia?
Halstenberg: These are must-win matches. It’s a case of finding a team that clicks well as we head into the EUROs. I want to show that I belong in that team and play for my country.
DFB.de: Germany have been drawn in a tough group with Portugal, France and Hungary. What are your thoughts on the group?
Halstenberg: They‘re very difficult teams to play against and we’ll have to give it everything we’ve got in every game to go through. We’ll have to be at our best.
DFB.de: As a defender, you could be given the task of keeping Cristiano Ronaldo or Kylian Mbappé quiet in these games. As someone who has already faced Mbappé, how do you go about stopping players like that?
Halstenberg: You can see that they are truly exceptional players who are so dynamic and successful. But we want to compete with these world class players. It’s something we look forward to, to see if we can defend against the best in the world.
DFB.de: You’re going to turn 30 years old this year and footballers often start to think about what they want to do after their career at that age. Have you given that much thought?
Halstenberg: I'll probably become a financial advisor. (laughs) No, I’ll think about that at some point in the future. I already take care of all my own financial matters on my own so it’s a direction I could see myself going in. One of my best friends works in the industry and he introduced me to the subject a bit. We like to talk about how shares are performing and how it’s all working out, for example. So that could be something for me to look into in the future.