Just because Bayern Munich have the best striker in the world in Robert Lewandowski doesn't mean RB Leipzig can't beat the Bundesliga leaders at the Allianz Arena, says the club's No.1 goalkeeper and captain Peter Gulacsi.
bundesliga.com caught up with the Leipzig stalwart ahead of Saturday's blockbuster fixture between last season's top two...
bundesliga.com: The winter break seems to have done you a lot of good. You've won every game since then. How did you use the winter break to gather your strength?
Peter Gulacsi: "We said from the first day of the new year that we would try to have a fresh start, not for the season but for our situation. We had a difficult half year behind us and it was important that we all had a rest and that we could all prepare for the second half of the season with a free head. In terms of confidence, it was important that we came back and started a new era. I think it has been working really well and the results in January were perfect for us. We got our first away win and we won two home games in the Bundesliga and one in the cup. It’s a great start to the year, but we also said that in terms of our game and our performances, we still want to improve a lot. That’s why it’s good that we still got the results but that we have the feeling we can do even better."
Watch: Analysing Domenico Tedesco's RB Leipzig
bundesliga.com: You've risen from vice-captain to captain of your team. How would you describe your leadership style as captain?
Gulacsi: "For me, whether I am the captain or not, I think the goalkeeper has an important role in the team. I am now the second oldest player in the team, so I want to help the team with my experience, my calmness, and my personality. I'm a really positive guy on and off the pitch, so I always try to help my teammates. We have a lot of young players, so I can help them a lot with my experience. This role became even more important this year when I became captain. I think everybody is a bit different and I try to set an example with my actions and my personality, and I try to give something to the team in important moments. If something is not going well, I have to be there, mention it, and try to figure it out with the team. We have another few experienced players in our squad who have a similar role to me. Of course, I'm the captain, but we have other players who have this leadership within the team, and I think we have a good mixture of players. I'm trying to do my best and hopefully we can achieve something big this season together with the team."
bundesliga.com: You've played an outstanding season so far and haven't really shown any weaknesses. But as an athlete, you always set yourself personal goals. To what extent do you feel that you can perhaps even improve, and in what areas would that be?
Gulacsi: "We're talking about top-level football, so there are always some areas where there is a little bit more room for improvement. I see myself as a complete goalkeeper but, of course, there is still small room for improvement in every area. I also keep improving with my experience and we work on every aspect of my game, whether it be using my feet, or defending the area in front of me, or in the air or just making saves on the line. We have to work on every aspect because I am playing at the highest level. You can never say I’m now good enough and that’s it. We have to improve all the time and we have a really good environment with our goalkeeping coach, Frederik Gößling, who creates an environment of pushing each other and trying to improve. I think it has been the case for me that I have been able improve step-by-step year after year and that is my goal for the rest of my future as well."
Watch: Peter Gulacsi's top five Bundesliga saves
bundesliga.com: Your role model is Petr Cech. Like Manuel Neuer, he was the dominant goalkeeper in Europe in his time. Where do you see parallels between the two?
Gulacsi: "In terms of style, maybe they are not exactly the same, but they still have a lot of similarities. Edwin van der Sar and Petr Cech were the first era of goalkeepers who paid a lot more attention to positioning and decision-making. Maybe sometimes their games looked really simple from the outside, but this was because everything they did before the action was perfect – they were in the best position, they were always ready, and they read the game well. This is something to do with intelligence and understanding the game, and they were the best at that time. A new era then started with Manuel and he is playing even more with the team, so he is like the 11th player for the team. He is playing high behind the defence, which is a little different to Petr Cech and van der Sar, but he is also very much involved in the game. He has great intelligence in understanding and reading the game, and I think this is modern goalkeeping. The game is so quick, the shots are so quick, the players have so much quality that if you do something wrong in the action before the action, then you don’t have a chance to make the save. I think this is an important aspect in modern goalkeeping and, for me, Cech, van der Sar, and later Manuel Neuer, were the best examples of this kind of development."
bundesliga.com: At 31, you are at the prime age for a goalkeeper. What are your further goals for your career?
Gulacsi: "At 31, you could say I’m experienced enough now and I have many seasons at the top level behind me now. But if you look at my physical shape, I'm in top condition, so these are the years that you try to reach your maximum potential, and that’s my goal. I play for a top club in Germany and we still have two chances this season to win our first trophy – the German Cup and also the Europa League – and we are maybe still in the running to win those competitions. In the league, we now have the opportunity to close the gap step-by-step to the first four places. We said from the beginning that we want to focus on ourselves and on our job, but our main goal stays the same. We want to play in the Champions League next season. There are enough targets and goals for this season and, long term for my career, I want to play at a top club at the top level for as long as possible. That’s my goal and, of course, along the way I want to win important trophies. The opportunity is already there this season and hopefully we can do it. If not, then it stays a the goal for the rest of my career."
bundesliga.com: Things are going much better this season under coach Domenico Tedesco. How has he given the team back its confidence?
Gulacsi: "As I said, it was not an easy half year behind us. We had some difficult moments and we had games where we definitely should have got a better result. We also had the phase with the coronavirus, so it was a frustrating six months. As our new coach came in just before the winter break, we still had three games to play and we started picking up results a little bit. After the winter break, we stabilised ourselves and I think that’s an important part of what he has done so far. He is trying to use our squad well and to use the strength in the squad to play a little bit more controlled football. From the outside, this might not always seem spectacular, but it definitely gives our team a little bit more stability, which I think was an important step in this case. If you look at the first four games we played in January, in terms of performances it was not always out of this world, but we got the results. We now have players slowly coming back, like Emil Forsberg, Dani Olmo, Dominik Szoboszlai, Amadou Haidara, who have this creativity going forward. This shows the strength in our team that we could still pick up important results without these players. We now have them on board for this important phase of the season and hopefully now with a bigger squad and even more quality in the squad, we can keep on having these results."
bundesliga.com: You fought your way up from 10th to sixth place within four matchdays. What's still to play for this season?
Gulacsi: "There is a lot in it because the league is really tight this season. It’s really exciting to see who is going to reach those international places because teams like Freiburg, Union Berlin, Cologne, Hoffenheim are pushing up in the table and trying to compete for those international places. I think it’s big competition but, having said that, we are not just fighting against one team but multiple teams. The chance for them to drop points is even higher than the year before and that’s why we have to focus on ourselves and on our job. We now have a really difficult game coming up against Bayern Munich and, after that, we have games against our so-called direct rivals at home – Freiburg, Eintracht Frankfurt, Cologne, Union, Hoffenheim. This situation means that there is still a lot to play for this season and we can still climb the table to the places we want to be. But for that, we clearly need results and that’s why January was important and why the coming months are even more important."
bundesliga.com: This weekend you face Bayern. In games like this, the mindset is often crucial. With which mindset will you go into this match?
Gulacsci: "In recent years, we had a completely different situation playing against Bayern because we were really close to them and it was a tight race. We could make it difficult for them and the last two times we went to the Allianz Arena, it ended 3-3 and 0-0 if I remember correctly. We had chances to win both games. This season is different because we are in good form looking at the recent weeks but, of course, we are far away from Bayern in the table. It’s not a direct rival and for us, it’s just an important game on our way to trying to pick up points and climb the table. They are fighting for the championship and they have a good gap between themselves and Borussia Dortmund, but it could still be a tight race in the end. It’s an important game for both teams for their own situations and we will go there and try to get something out of the game. We have the quality to do that and you also need a little bit of match luck or a good day to create this kind of situation. We need to use our quality, but we showed in recent years that we are a good team and hopefully we can get a good result there."
bundesliga.com: But the last and only win for Leipzig against Bayern was almost four years ago. You were there at the time. So how can you beat Bayern?
Gulacsi: "It was our only win against Bayern and if you look at the whole picture, they rested some players and we had a good opportunity to beat them. We went hard against them and pressed them high, and it was a good performance. The situation is a little bit similar because, at that time, we were also not competing directly against Bayern and we were fighting for the first four places. Hopefully we can have the same performance and same result in this situation. As I mentioned, to beat Bayern you first of all need the ball because they dominate you with the ball and it’s going to be difficult, especially now under Julian Nagelsmann. We need to have the ball as well because that’s an important part of our game. We are probably not going to have many chances, so we need to use our chances well and defend really well against them. It’s easier said than done, but we need a complete performance. We are going to be aggressive and compete, and if we get a tiny bit of luck as well, then we have already seen this season that Bayern is really strong but there are games where you can surprise them. Hopefully we are going to be the next team who can do that."
bundesliga.com: With Robert Lewandowski, they have the world's best player in the penalty area this weekend. He can actually do everything. To what extent does it make any sense to prepare for him? Or do you just let him come to you?
Gulacsi: "We are talking about one of the best players in the world, so if you could prepare for him then it might be easier to defend against him. The best players in the world are so versatile that it is not easy to know what they are going to do next. They are complete players on their left, their right, with their head, keeping the ball, shooting from distance, one against one, and they can do anything. There is not one solution against these players and we have to defend well as a team. There were games where could really switch him off and there were games where we couldn’t. We have to put in a strong performance defensively as a team, and we have to stay compact to not give much space to Lewandowski or to Thomas Müller or to the wingers. It’s a team performance because the goalkeeper alone cannot stop the Bayern attack. It has to be the whole team. That’s what we are trying to do and we will be well prepared. It’s a big task, but we definitely have the quality to do it. We need a good performance and a good day, and hopefully we can do that."
Watch: Gulacsi was the last Bundesliga goalkeeper to stop Bayern from scoring almost two years ago to the day
bundesliga.com: Off the pitch, you're known for getting involved socially. Why is that so important to you? And what is it that you do?
Gulacsi: "First of all, I think if you look at the whole world, there are many footballers trying to use their publicity and their role in the world to do something nice and to help a good cause. It was always an important part of our lives for me. We are privileged because we can do what we love and, at the same time, we can have a privileged life. It is a good situation and we work a lot for what we have achieved as footballers, but I think it’s really important to have an open mind and to think about others in the world. This is what we are trying to do with my wife and with my family. Mainly, we are trying to help in my home country, Hungary, and you cannot help everyone in the whole world. It’s impossible, but we always try to pick different causes and different situations where we can help. I offer my national team bonuses for good causes all the time. For me, if you play for your country, it has nothing to do with money or bonuses, but it is to do with being proud and loving playing for your country. I try to give back something to my home in this way and this is what we are doing. We already helped a child with Spinal muscular atrophy in its recovery and we helped a premature baby unit during the Covid fight. There are always different topics and we try to choose different ones every year. We now have a project that we can hopefully launch in a few months and we are still working on it. It’s going to be a bigger project and hopefully it will work out because if it does, it could also make a big difference to many lives, and that’s our goal. As I said, you can’t help everyone, but if people in this kind of situation with these kinds of lives are open to helping, then our world can be a better place, and this is what we are trying to do."
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