Breel Embolo has been a player reborn since his summer switch from Schalke to Borussia Mönchengladbach. Now galloping once again as a Foal, the Switzerland international will meet his former Royal Blue teammates in the first game of the Bundesliga's 2019/20 Rückrunde.
Speaking with bundesliga.com from Gladbach's winter training camp in Jerez, Spain, Embolo discusses the Foals' start to the season, the unpredictable Marcus Thuram and facing his former club Schalke for the first game back from the winter break...
bundesliga.com: What are you looking to achieve as a team in the second half of the season?
Breel Embolo: "We want to pick up where we left off. We talked about how we put in good performances in a lot of games, but there have been games where we've conceded goals too easily or where we haven't created enough chances. We've worked on putting pressure on the opponent and winning the ball back in the opponent's half. There are a lot of things we can work on as a team and this is how we're using the time in Jerez. It's a great location with good facilities and nice weather. The whole atmosphere is good, and we're trying to get the most out of every day in terms of fitness and processes so that we're ready for next Friday."
bundesliga.com: How special was it to play your first game for Gladbach against Schalke at the start of the season?
Embolo: "It was great, and it was something special last year, especially because it was the first game. But this is football and it always involves new emotions. I'm excited about playing against Schalke because I spent three great years there. Even outside of football I got to know a lot of people who are still important to me today. Things on the football pitch didn't always go to plan, but that's life. I still had three fantastic years there and I'm looking forward to going back."
bundesliga.com: How is your season going with your new employers, Gladbach, from a personal standpoint?
Embolo: "It's going well, but we can still do better. I had a great start and found a fantastic team here who took me in straight away. They gave me the chance to develop at a high level. The team is full of quality and potential and is hungry for success, which I noticed from the start. We have a coach [Marco Rose] who knows exactly what he wants and always wants more. This is great for a young player like me and, as everyone in Germany knows, he works very closely with the players. This is exactly what is needed for young players to keep developing and I have benefited a lot from it in the last six months. I've taken a few steps forward and in terms of my fitness, I only had a short phase of about three weeks when I was injured. The most important thing for me is to avoid any serious injuries and to be able to keep playing."
bundesliga.com: How are you coping with the serious injury you suffered at the start of the 2016/17 season?
Embolo: "It's part of who I am now, and my foot is not the same as it used to be. You learn to live with your body and to listen to it. I was very lucky because I had a top doctor available to me and I'm very happy with how everything went. It's not a guarantee that you can come back and play at the same level, especially because of the type of dynamic player I am. I'm very happy to be back to where I had hoped, but there are always things I have to watch out for. It's not the case that it goes away completely, and I always have to check that things are okay and give myself time to recover. The most important thing I learned in the last year was to listen to my body."
bundesliga.com: Older players have to look after their bodies more - have you had to "grow up" in this respect?
Embolo: "It's not about old or young, but rather about the experience. You always want to play at 100 per cent, but this only works if your body is at 100 per cent. I have made some progress in terms of my mentality because it was not an easy time for me. I had a lot of support at Schalke from the very start. They pushed me and believed in me, which was not a given, and that's why I emphasised that I had such a good time there."
bundesliga.com: There is a title race in the Bundesliga. What are your aims?
Embolo: "It's important that we get off to a good start. We saw that things can go very quickly in both directions. Teams that had big aspirations going into the season are now lagging behind, and they're sure to want more from the second half of the season. We're currently exactly where we hoped we would be. It's been a lot of hard work and the league is very tight. It's a very enjoyable league and it's fun to watch the games across the weekend because there's always something happening in the table. This is how we all want it to be, and we're all trying to frustrate Bayern Munich. We're doing this very well at the moment, but we're all playing at such a high level that sometimes even the smallest things decide games. You need luck on your side in the title race and we're trying to stay relaxed. We're on the right path, but we know how much hard work has led us to where we are. We don't want to let up because we know that if that happens, then we have a coach behind us who'll quickly set us back on the right path."
bundesliga.com: Gladbach have conceded the least amount of goals this season. Do defences win titles?
Embolo: "Yes, and we've also rotated a lot at the back and had a few different pairings. We've had Nico Elvedi and Tony Jantschke and then a few others have come in too. Our job is to win the ball back as quickly as possible once we've lost it and this begins with the forwards. The opposite is also true because when we score goals, it starts with Yann Sommer in goal. These are the small things that made us strong in the first half of the season and we need to keep working on these. We need to defend aggressively as a team. We know that we have a lot of good players across the pitch and everyone can rely on each other. We've rotated the squad a lot, but everybody is mentally engaged and there's a fantastic team spirit. Sometimes it's not very easy because you play one game and are then on the bench for the next, but we're a team that's always ready. When someone is substituted in, he gets involved in the game straight away and this is what has made us so strong this season."
Watch: Gladbach under the tactical microscope!
bundesliga.com: Marcus Thuram - what type of guy is he?
Embolo: "Marcus is a great guy. I get on very well with him and with Laszlo Benes, too. They also weren't here last year, and we all had high hopes when we came here in summer. I'm very pleased that it's worked out so well for Marcus. He's a very grounded person and a little bit crazy, too. He always has a smile on his face, even when he didn't have the easiest of starts because he had such a short pre-season. It speaks for him that he's been able to make such a big impact. He always has crazy ideas on the pitch, and I think this is one of his biggest strengths. He's unpredictable and I'm happy to be able to play on the same side as him. Everyone only has positive things to say about him and I'm happy that we have a player like him in our ranks."
bundesliga.com: Has he inherited a special mentality from his legendary father, Lilian?
Embolo: "I think you would have to ask him yourself. I think Africans have a relaxed way about themselves and this is exactly what he's like. He doesn't worry about things too much and he just wants to put in a good performance on the pitch. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but it's important to just keep your head up and keep going. We're both still young, I think we were both born in 1997, so it's not always easy to have so much responsibility. He's doing great so far, and I hope he stays fit because this is the most important thing, and everyone has already seen what he's capable of. His father plays a big role and they talk to each other on the phone a lot. A player's environment is very important, and he can count himself lucky that he has a father like that. You still have to take your hat off to him because it's not always easy to concentrate on your own game and to push yourself every day when you have a father like that, but he manages it."
bundesliga.com: How much are you looking forward to Euro 2020?
Embolo: "I'm very much looking forward to it. It wasn't an easy qualification run for us, although we did create a lot of our own problems. We started very well, but then we conceded two or three last-minute goals which hurt us a lot. We're nevertheless very much looking forward to Euro 2020, but the foundation for this is the Bundesliga. We need to have a good season behind us here and the European Championships are just an added bonus. We have to give our all for our country. It's the first time that we're playing in different countries and I think we're playing twice in Baku and once against Italy in Rome. It's my second Euros and it'll be exciting because every tournament is different. The emotions and the games are different, and I'm really looking forward to the games and being with my friends and teammates. I hope we can break the last 16 curse this year."
bundesliga.com: What is Switzerland's goal at Euro 2020?
Embolo: "Our primary aim is to get out of the group, although we don't have an easy group with Turkey, Wales, and Italy. Afterwards we want to break this curse and we'll see how far we can go."
bundesliga.com: Do you think there is a favourite in the title race?
Embolo: "There are a lot of favourites. Borussia Dortmund are always a little written off even though they're always up there. You always have to keep an eye on Bayern, and RB Leipzig are also doing very well. Schalke and Bayer Leverkusen can both be dangerous, so there are a lot of teams who have the potential to have a special season, including us. We want to spring a surprise this year, which is why we're all looking forward to the second half of the season. We want to make sure that Gladbach has a happy end to the season."