- Bellarabi with five goals and eight assists in the Bundesliga in 2015/16.
- Delighted with the impact made by Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez.
- Leverkusen third in the table ahead of Saturday's trip to Schalke.
Bayer 04 Leverkusen winger Karim Bellarabi is crossing his fingers that leading scorer Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez will be fit to face FC Schalke 04 at the VELTINS Arena on Saturday afternoon (kick-off 15:30CEST/13:30GMT).
In an exclusive interview with bundesliga.com prior to the game, the 26-year-old Germany international stressed the importance of the fixture in the context of the push for UEFA Champions League football, analysed where Die Werkself can improve and hailed the impact of a certain Mexican sharpshooter.
bundesliga.com: Karim Bellarabi, after a bad run of results, Leverkusen are now unbeaten in six. Where do you find the mental strength so late in the season to turn it around?
Bellarabi: We went through a phase last season where we lost a few games, but we finished fourth in the end and eventually qualified for the Champions League. So this time we knew what it takes to turn a corner. In recent weeks, we've really noticed what good it has done the team to be playing fewer games. You mustn't forget that we were often playing twice a week and also had a lot of injuries to contend with. There were times when we had seven regulars missing, which demanded a lot of the young players that came in. Now you can see how well the youngsters have developed.
"We really want to come away from Schalke with three points and tighten our grip on third place"
bundesliga.com: How can the team, as well as you as a player, develop?
Bellarabi: Next season, I want us to make a better start than we did in the current campaign. We were really unlucky with injuries. If we're all fit and give it everything from the start, I'm convinced we can achieve something big here.
bundesliga.com: At the weekend you'll be looking to cement third place when Leverkusen take on FC Schalke 04 - a direct rival for the European places. Does it fall into the category of 'six-pointer'?
Bellarabi: Definitely! I always see Schalke as a direct rival, which is why we really want to come away with three points and tighten our grip on third place. It'd be fantastic if we can do that.
bundesliga.com: You also face two more direct rivals in Hertha Berlin and Borussia Mönchengladbach in two of your final three games of the season. Is it advantageous when it's all in your own hands or is it a disadvantage because of the growing pressure?
Bellarabi: We've got some tough games coming up, no doubt, but I see it as a positive: keeping our rivals at bay is in our own hands. We'll do everything we can and focus 100 per cent on the tasks at hand to make it happen. Then I think we'll pick up points and secure third place.
bundesliga.com: Is Chicharito going to be fit for the Schalke game after picking up a knock last weekend?
Bellarabi: He's been able to train this week, so I hope he's fit enough to play.
bundesliga.com: Describe Chicharito the footballer...
Bellarabi: Obviously it's a joy to be able to play with someone who has played for big clubs like Manchester United and Real Madrid. He didn't always have it easy there, but he gained a lot of experience. He's really important for us and for our style of play. Without his goals, we wouldn't be where we are now. It's always a lot of fun for me to play football with him.
bundesliga.com: Leverkusen's style of play really suits you...
Bellarabi: It sure does. I think our entire attack plays good football. You can see that in the way we work together in attack and create chances. That's how it needs to stay in the coming weeks.
Karim Bellarabi was speaking to Andreas Kötter