Hoffenheim and Germany midfielder Kerem Demirbay is getting back to his best after recovering from a persistent ankle injury, with two goals in his last five games getting the Sinsheimers back into European contention.
Ahead of Hoffenheim's crunch clash with Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday, bundesliga.com sat down with the 25-year-old to get his thoughts on football, family, and much more in between…
bundesliga.com: Kerem Demirbay, Hoffenheim take on Eintracht Frankfurt in a potential European six-pointer on Saturday. How do you see this game unfolding?
Kerem Demirbay: "It'll be a difficult game. They've got some very good players. If I had to pick two teams I don't like playing against in the Bundesliga, just because of the way they play, it would be Freiburg and Frankfurt, especially in Frankfurt. But I'm looking forward to the game. The scene is set for it to be sensational. It kind of feels like a final. The team who keeps its cool, the best team will win. Or maybe not! But we'll be well prepared and I'm really excited about the game."
Demirbay: "At the moment I’ve got a good feeling about the team and my teammates. Everyone knows what's at stake, everybody's giving their all. We had a different type of player last season, like Serge [Gnabry], or Mark [Uth], who did well for us. We're still creating some very good chances this season, scoring a lot of goals, but we're conceding a lot as well. It's hard to explain why, beyond the different types of players we've got this season. We've got enough quality to kill games off, though, so I don’t really think there's an explanation for it."
Watch: Demirbay tries his hand at football-darts in our 'Owo Meets...' series
bundesliga.com: You have picked up some of the attacking burden yourself, with four goals and four assists so far - twice as many as you had of each in all of last season…
Demirbay: "One of my strengths is that I can play as a holding midfielder, an attacking midfielder or a No.10. I'm probably most comfortable playing as a defensive midfielder with another holding midfielder so I have some freedom to break forward every now and then. Apart from that I'm comfortable in central midfield, I'm not too bothered where. I like playing as a No.10 because you get more action in front of goal but I'm at home in central midfield."
bundesliga.com: Since joining Hoffenheim from Hamburg in 2016 you have taken your first steps in the Champions League and become a full Germany international. How important has Julian Nagelsmann been to your progression?
Demirbay: "I know Julian and I know which system he favours and how he likes to set up. I don't think he's concerned about the type of player I am, it's more about the fact that I've worked with him for a while and I know what he expects. Generally speaking he wants us to be positionally strong. He loves it when we're brave but we can't forget the basics like aggression, passion, defensive work, everything. I'm in my third year here now and Julian's philosophy has stuck with me throughout my time here. It's become so innate to me that I know instinctively what he wants and when he wants it in every situation."
Watch: Demirbay's long-range stunner against Freiburg on Matchday 19
bundesliga.com: You have been troubled by ankle injuries for much of the last two seasons. Do you feel back to your best now?
Demirbay: "I'm feeling good. I'm heading in the right direction. I'm feeling fit, mentally strong as well. Physically, I can run, I can pass but it's so important to be mentally fit. To know what you want, where you want to get to and I'm on the right path but I'm not quite there yet."
bundesliga.com: How do you stay motivated when you are on the sidelines?
Demirbay: "Everyone has to decide for themselves what's important. For one person their car might be important, for another it's their clothes or appearance. For me it's my family, and that's who I'm working for. I don't just mean my wife and child, I mean my extended family too. I want to be there for them. That's the fire in my belly that drives me."
bundesliga.com: Your extended family have travelled far and wide to watch you play for Hoffenheim and Germany…
Demirbay: "I'm a family man, I care for my family, but I'm also clear-headed. I know where I want to be and how long the journey will be. There are always small thoughts in my head which drive me. I like to write down at the end of the day the small things which I'm grateful for. Things like being thankful to be able to wake up every day to my wife and son. Your thoughts change then and you learn to value different things. I'm on a path looking to balance myself psychologically and I think that's becoming noticeable. I'm delivering week on week. I'm clear-headed so I can help the team."