RB Leipzig have been battling at the top of the Bundesliga table once again this season, and are in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals for the very first time. It's been successful and for midfielder Marcel Sabitzer, the next goal is clear.
Sitting down with bundesliga.com, the Austria international discusses how growing up as a striker has given him a love for shooting at goal from distance, working under Julian Nagelsmann and Leipzig's goals this season and next.
bundesliga.com: Sadly you suffered a recent injury which made you miss the draw against Paderborn...
Marcel Sabitzer: "Yeah, unfortunately it happened just before the game in our final training session. It was annoying but I'm on my way back, we're taking it day-by-day and then we'll see if I'll be okay for Friday."
bundesliga.com: On Friday, as you say, you will face Hoffenheim to kick-off the weekend's action. They have just relieved Alfred Schreuder of his duties as coach. How does that affect your preparation for this game?
Sabitzer: "I don't think it affects us that much. It'll probably affect the boys at Hoffenheim more because there's obviously going to be a bit of a shake-up at the club and lots of changes are being made. You don't really know how it's going to go, but we're preparing for it in a normal way as if their coach hadn't left. We're focused, we need the three points and we want to get them on Friday."
bundesliga.com: Have your goals for this season changed from the start of the campaign, with only four games left to play?
Sabitzer: "We started well in the first half of the season against the supposedly smaller teams, and unfortunately we couldn't keep that up as much since the winter break. Obviously that's annoying as we had hoped and expected to get more points. So now we know that we really do have to win every game until the end to be 100 percent sure that we make it into the Champions League. That's our focus, we want to win every game, starting on Friday and then in Augsburg."
bundesliga.com: Are you thinking about the possibility of finishing in second place, or does it not matter as long as you are in those top four spots?
Sabitzer: "Yeah, first of all, our goal was to make the top four. That's the most important thing. It's very tight and very exciting, but it's in our hands in terms of how far we can go. With four wins it'd be a bit easier to achieve!"
bundesliga.com: You've missed only one game in the Bundesliga this season for Leipzig. Why do you think you've become so important in the squad?
Sabitzer: "I've played quite a lot of games during my time at Leipzig. Apart from my two shoulder injuries, I've not really missed many games. Firstly it's because I'm usually fit a lot of the time, and when I'm on the pitch I can keep up a consistent level of performance without too many mistakes. I'm one of the leaders in the side, I know that, and I'm always going forward and trying to help the team. And it looks like the coach has been convinced by that, so that's how something like that happens."
bundesliga.com: Has Julian Nagelsmann helped to take your game to the next level?
Sabitzer: "Yeah, if you have people that look at you and your game and make suggestions to be better, it all works out. I feel good, I feel happy in the team and the club, the coach has confidence in me, he gives me confidence and it's fun to play, and we've had success. So it's easy as a player to perform well when the team is playing well and when you feel that trust. But I would also say I've developed a lot in a lot of ways and I'm very happy with how it's going."
bundesliga.com: You've played in a lot of different positions in your time at Leipzig, but how has your role evolved under Nagelsmann this season?
Sabitzer: "I was a striker in my early days or a No.10, so I wasn't usually far away from the goal, and this season it started like that again. I was playing in a lot of offensive positions compared to the last couple of years. I've just found my instinct again, the runs to make, finishing, long shots, the whole package for an attacking midfielder. Now since the winter break, my role has been a bit deeper, playing as a defensive midfielder really, and so it's harder to get forward. But I'm trying my best to get a goal or an assist now and then."
bundesliga.com: What's it like playing under Nagelsmann?
Sabitzer: "Yeah, to play under him is obviously a good thing. He's really at the top of his game, a really high level. His tactical insight and his leadership is good, and given his age, you really have to credit him. It's really fun, and I've developed a lot under him. I'm happy that I can have him as a coach, but he also wants to develop and learn things himself, so we as a team want to support him so he becomes a better coach too."
bundesliga.com: You've become known for scoring some blockbuster goals, most from outside the box. Is that something that has always been a part of your game?
Sabitzer: "I always knew I had a good shot on me, with my right foot. I was unlucky a few times, but this year they've been flying in. It's fun to shoot from distance and my position helps me out there as I'm a bit further from goal. But in the second half of the season that's dropped off a bit, so I'm giving my best to try and keep improving my scoring stats!"
bundesliga.com: You've mentioned a few things already, but how would you describe Leipzig's season?
Sabitzer: "Up and down. We had good phases and less good phases. Obviously to be up there in the table and to be in first place really raised our expectations, we absolutely wanted to win the title, but it seems like we've quietly slipped down a little bit. We couldn't quite keep it up, we've had far too many draws to be right at the top, we haven't lost many games but if you had 10 or 11 draws then you're going to drop points. We've had a very good league season so far, we're in quarter-finals of the Champions League, so everything is going to plan. We're happy, the players have developed; I would describe it as positive, but it could have gone better."
Watch: Sabitzer's perfect day against Union with a hand in all FOUR goals!
bundesliga.com: What do you think it takes to make that next step to win the title?
Sabitzer: "Those tight games where we've drawn, you have to win those. And games against the top teams - Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Borussia Mönchengladbach - you have to win those and not just draw. And then you have to beat the smaller teams. It's a mixture of both that will mean you finish right at the top."
bundesliga.com: One thing that also helps is experience, which could be said to be lacking in the Leipzig squad. Does that add an extra obstacle for you as a team?
Sabitzer: "Yeah, as I said, we're a young team so it's not always easy - especially when a lot of noise comes from outside, asking whether we'll win the league, can we do it, all that. So that adds a bit of pressure and perhaps one or two people think about it too much and it holds you back a bit. We've experienced that now, and we have to learn how to deal with it. And next year we want to go for it again, if possible."
bundesliga.com: Finally what have been the main differences for you since playing games behind closed doors compared to having fans in the stadium?
Sabitzer: "I think communication is better since you can hear everything, but then again it's hardest because you know everyone can hear everything you say! It's a really strange situation to be in the stadium and there's just no atmosphere - it definitely takes some getting used to."