Following their last-gasp win over FC Ingolstadt 04 and last weekend's 1-0 loss to Eintracht Frankfurt, FC Schalke 04 have not had it easy in 2017 and now face the unenviable task of taking on league leaders FC Bayern München on Saturday.
Ahead of the Royal Blues' trip to Munich, defensive stalwart Sead Kolasinac sat down with bundesliga.com to discuss the clash with the record titleholders, the competitive nature of the current campaign and his new role under head coach Markus Weinzierl.
bundesliga.com: Sead Kolasinac, the clash with Bayern is just around the corner. Is the sense of anticipation greater than ahead of games against other teams?
Sead Kolasinac: We know that we're taking on the strongest team in Germany, who right now are also amongst Europe's elite. It's always a special challenge to measure yourself up against teams like that and, despite our poor performance against Frankfurt last time out, we're going to give everything we've got to have a good game in Munich.
Watch: Match highlights of Schalke's 1-0 loss to Eintracht Frankfurt.
bundesliga.com: You made your first-ever Bundesliga start in Munich against Bayern almost exactly four years ago. However, it was not the most enjoyable debut…
Kolasinac: No, it most certainly wasn't. Back then I was really young and the head coach at the time, Jens Keller, had decided to put me in the starting line-up for the first time against FC Bayern München of all teams! I was tasked with marking Arjen Robben and remember being very, very nervous. We were convincingly beaten 4-0, but that will nevertheless always be a very special memory for me.
"I believe the level of the Bundesliga has continually improved in recent years and that several teams have closed the gap."
bundesliga.com: At the end of that season, the 2012/13 campaign, Bayern boasted a 25-point lead as they won the title. This season though, it appears the record titleholders are having a tougher time of it at the top. Have the other teams caught up or have Bayern taken their foot off the pedal?
Kolasinac: No. Bayern have definitely not taken their foot off the pedal. I believe the level of the Bundesliga has continually improved in recent years and that several teams have closed the gap. Which ever way you look at it, the Bundesliga is one of the most successful and strongest leagues in the world. You can't take any game lightly because every team has a chance of winning every game irrespective of where they are in the standings at the time. That is constantly making Bayern's life more difficult.
bundesliga.com: Despite a strong performance, Schalke suffered a 2-0 loss against Bayern on Matchday 2 on account of making mistakes in pivotal moments and suffering from a bit of misfortune. Is that game perhaps an example of why this season is proving a difficult one?
Kolasinac: We've asked ourselves the same thing. I think our problem has been a lack of consistency. At times we're putting in top-class performance like we did halfway through the Hinrunde when we went on a run of 12 games unbeaten in all competitions. However, then we have games where we can't recognise ourselves from the game before when we look in the mirror.
"One player alone can't look good over a long period of time in football. You're nothing without the team!"
bundesliga.com: You came off the bench in the 86th minute in that game when Bayern were 1-0 up. Since that 2-0 defeat, your team have had to suffer through some ups and downs, while you personally have been performing consistently at a high level since Matchday 6…
Kolasinac: That's true, but the important thing for me, which I always emphasise, is that one player alone can't look good over a long period of time in football. It's possible in a one-off game, but over the course of several games it's definitely not. You're nothing without the team! Our best run of form this season came after the 4-0 win over Borussia Mönchengladbach on Matchday 6. After that, as I mentioned earlier, we went unbeaten in 12 games in all competitions. During that period we were all performing well and, for me, it was an especially good feeling to be able to help the team by chipping in with four assists and two goals.
Watch: Relive Schalke's stunning 4-0 win against Borussia Mönchengladbach
bundesliga.com: As you just mentioned you've had a hand in six goals so far this season. That's almost double your return from the last four campaigns and we've still got half a season to play! Is that a result of Markus Weinzierl utilising a three-man backline in the last couple of months?
Kolasinac: It has definitely helped me that we're now playing with a three-man backline. I know that I'm always covered when I push forward. As a result, I can rely upon having Matija [Nastasic] behind me and know that he's watching my back. That's not the case when you're playing with four at the back. In that system, you’re the one who has to cover. At that point when you move into more advanced positions, there are times when you have no one behind you to provide cover. Right now I'm having a lot of fun picking and choosing my moments to get involved further up front.
Interview by Andreas Kötter