- Keita and Leipzig level on 36 points with Bayern before Wednesday's clash.
- Newly-promoted side have lost just one game all season.
- Keita believes the pressure is all on the Bavarians.
Just like his team being joint-top of the league, the development of Naby Keita into a leading Bundesliga midfielder has caught many observers off guard.
Fewer and fewer people will now be asking who the driving force in the RB Leipzig engine is these days, however, particularly if Keita and his side can steal a dramatic march in the title race by winning at the home of the champions, FC Bayern München, on Wednesday. Speaking to French football magazine L'Equipe, Keita gave his thoughts on Leipzig's incredible journey, his own progression as a player and his team's chances of success at the Allianz.
Question: Do you and the team recognise the extent of your journey since the start of the season?
Naby Keita: Absolutely. It was not until Matchday 14 until we tasted defeat [a 1-0 loss at FC Ingolstadt 04] after eight straight wins. This is an outstanding performance. But basically we have earned it because we work hard. At Leipzig, we do not cut corners. We can do something big.
Question: What is the secret of this success?
Keita: Solidarity at every level within the club. When I arrived in July from FC Salzburg, I felt that immediately. At the club, we spend all day together, from breakfast until the evening. The players see each other socially. It is an advantage that we are of the same generation and therefore have similar passions such as music or the Playstation. This camaraderie is our strength.
Question: How would you define Leipzig's philosophy?
Keita: We play a modern game based on speed and technique. Every time we lose the ball we press our opponents hard to recover it as soon as possible. We are difficult to play against and our main quality is that the danger can come from anywhere.
Question: Your first loss in the Bundesliga was 10 days ago and it did not knock you off your stride…
Keita: I was convinced that we would bounce back. Losing a game can happen to any squad. I think the defeat in Ingolstadt motivated us even more to work harder in training. Our coach [Ralph Hasenhüttl] is very strong in analysing our game and we have been able to learn from our first defeat and move forward very quickly.
Question: Hasenhüttl has played a large part in your success so far. What kind of coach is he?
Keita: He is someone who is committed to the club 24/7. His communication is very impressive. I've never known a coach who has such an influence on his team during a game. He is able to adapt and change aspects of our play if there are any problems. He also knows how to prepare for our opponents. Every time he has said something before a match it has come true during the game. He leaves nothing to chance.
Question: Early in the season your aim was survival. What about now?
Keita: For now, we do not need to aim for anything other than our top-flight survival. We need to keep playing our game, keep our cool and not be careless - then we will see how far we can go.
Question: Do you feel Leipzig can keep up their momentum in the second half of the season?
Keita: We play to win every game. This is our mind set. We are calm and do not lose our heads. There is no reason to be worried.
Question: Before playing in Leipzig, you spent two seasons at their sister club, Salzburg. How would you sum up the philosophy of the two clubs?
Keita: It is to run hard and dominate possession. From my first day in Salzburg, this was instilled in me. Then the wins follow. During each game, in every training session, we are asked to try to win that season. After a defeat it hangs in the air in every area of the club's headquarters.
Question: Is the euphoria palpable in the city of Leipzig?
Keita: On every street corner, people congratulate us and wish us good luck. The chance for fans to be involved is important and the atmosphere is exceptional at every home game. We feel like we are carried by a wave.
Question: Are you able to beat Bayern in Munich?
Keita: We have absolutely nothing to lose. This match is special. We want to achieve something big and I know we have the potential.
Question: On a personal level, you like to control games…
Keita: I play in front of the defence and I love touching the ball as often as possible. In Leipzig, I really enjoy this. I feel good and I like attacking at speed, and if I get the slightest chance I try to score.
Question: Who is your role model?
Keita: Andres Iniesta. He looks so calm, both on and off the field. He never makes technical mistakes. I am inspired by his vision, skills and change of pace.