Leverkusen - Daniel Carvajal was largely unheard of outside his native Spain when Bayer 04 Leverkusen snapped up the right-back in summer 2012. That the 21-year-old has since gone on to become an indispensable member of the first-team in a squad filled with international players is testament enough to his outstanding ability.
Speaking exclusively to bundesliga.com, the Spaniard confessed he himself had found it "surprising that I've done so well in such a short space of time," but credited his team-mates and "the confidence the coaches have given me," as the secret behind his seamless transition into the Bundesliga.
Daily classes are helping Carvajal make progress with the notoriously difficult German language, a fact no doubt contributing to the defender's overall sense of well-being: "The longer I'm here the more settled and at ease I feel," he said. A product of the Real Madrid youth academy, Carvajal possesses flawless technique, outstanding positional awareness and an adventurous streak that has seen him score one and provide five assists so far.
Despite such impressive statistics - he is Leverkusen's joint-best provider alongside Andre Schürrle - Carvajal has no desire to follow in the footsteps of team-mate Gonzalo Castro and adopt a more advanced position. "I like playing right-back because I enjoy defending, even though I'm also an attack-minded player. I don't see myself playing further up the pitch, but if the coach wants me to do that, of course I will. However, I like playing at right-back as that's where I've played all my life and it's where I feel most comfortable."
The decision to move to Germany was not a difficult one. "Leverkusen showed a lot of interest in me," the amiable right-back said. "They told me I’d play in the first team and that I was their first choice. I think I made the right decision. We're second in the table, we're doing well in the Europa League and I'm playing a lot, which is what I need to keep developing as a player."
In spite of his achievements at this early stage in his career - Carvajal won the UEFA U-19 Championship 2011 and is now a cornerstone of his country's U-21 team - the desire to improve is a recurring mantra. That should come as no surprise, as he recognises "it'll be tough to break into the Spanish senior side". Nevertheless, Carvajal is enjoying the challenges playing abroad bring. "The rhythm of the game is different here. In Germany it's a lot faster, whereas in Spain the tempo is slower and more about possession."
On Sunday, Leverkusen host the perhaps paciest team in the Bundesliga, defending champions Borussia Dortmund. Yet Carvajal is relishing the prospect of facing the fleet-footed Mario Götze, Marco Reus and Jakub Blaszczykowski. "There's no specific tactic [to defend against them], it's just a question of trying to do the best you can. We're all quick and though it's very difficult to mark players like that, I'm going to give everything I can."
Leverkusen lost the reverse fixture 3-0 earlier this term and Carvajal is expecting an equally "fiercely contested" encounter this time. The game pits second against third and while the Madrid native recognises the campaign still has a long way to go, he nonetheless believes the outcome could be crucial. "They're direct rivals. It could help give us a boost for the remainder of the season."
Interview conducted by Jonathan Stockitt