Eight-time Bundesliga champion and 2014 FIFA World Cup-winning captain Philipp Lahm sits down with bundesliga.com to discuss the title race ahead of the huge game between Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig to come on Matchday 27, as well as Thomas Müller, Alphonso Davies, Tyler Adams and much more...
bundesliga.com: What are your thoughts on the title race and Leipzig's role in it?
Philipp Lahm: "Yeah, they've shown that they can challenge. Last season they had a lot of draws. This season, it's different. They've been able to win more games and you can see the effect that has had on the table. Last year, they were towards the top of the table already and, yes, they are Bayern's competition and, in the years to come, I think they can continue to be Bayern's rivals. The game between the two teams will be the decisive match. Leipzig have to chase and to win the game, then there will be one point between the two sides and anything is possible, but they can't lose this game against Bayern. If they do then there will be a seven-point difference between the two sides and Bayern will be tough to stop."
bundesliga.com: What are the differences between Bayern and Leipzig?
Lahm: "Bayern have 16 to 18 players who can play at the absolute top level with real quality in every position. They have consolidated and got stability in the squad. They have a team that can chop and change easily with one or two players who can come in and make a difference. However, a spine has developed within the team and been improved on or, as Hansi Flick said, you can really see a strong first XI with one or two interchangeable positions and, through their quality, they have a lot of possession. Therefore, what they concede is usually through counter-attacks as they've applied so much pressure, have so much possession that they're mostly in the opposition half. For Leipzig, Leipzig and [Julian] Nagelsmann is similar with [Jürgen] Klopp and Dortmund in 2011/2012. They play compact. They're very physical. They play with speed; they win the ball back and then go at goal as quickly as possible. Of course, they have quality in their squad too. They can play with the ball, but their squad is mainly focused on winning the ball back and trying to get shots on goal as soon as possible."
bundesliga.com: How are the head coaches different?
Lahm: "I can only say from what I see on the outside because I've never worked with Julian Nagelsmann. So, it's difficult to really make a judgment. What I see with Julian Nagelsmann is that he influences the team, and that's always a tell-tale sign: you can see the influence of the head coach. How he communicates with the players but their structure on the pitch and how they move too, that he impacts the team. That's what I was trying to explain before. That he has found a team that the people upstairs have allowed him to put his own stamp on things, and I think that was a masterstroke and gives the team a lot of stability."
bundesliga.com: What are the reasons for Leipzig being so much stronger than Bayern defensively?
Lahm: "As I've said, Bayern have a lot of possession and concede now and then from counter-attacks. That can happen. It's not my job to know what the issue is there but, as long as they keep being so effective going forward and keep scoring so many goals and creating so many chances, there's no problem for Bayern to concede so many goals because I think their goal difference is plus 40 or something like that, which is very good. So as long as it stays like that, it can be enough for them to still win the Bundesliga."
Watch: RB Leipzig reloaded - tactical analysis
bundesliga.com: What players could make the difference and why?
Lahm: "I think the attackers can make the difference in this game. We've already spoken a lot about the forwards. I think the attackers will make the ultimate difference. Defensively, both sides are solid, maybe Bayern are a bit more susceptible to the counter-attack but both have unbelievable quality going forward and that's why I think the attack will make the difference between the two teams. As I've already said, Dani Olmo could be that player. His movement is excellent and technically he always can make an incisive pass or set up a goalscoring opportunity and he can influence games. When you're looking on the other side at Bayern, what can you say? Anyone could be the player who makes the difference in the end, Bayern are very flexible in attack! Behind [Robert] Lewandowski usually, Bayern have enormously important players such as Thomas Müller and also many options on the wings who can inject pace and influence games with the assist or with the decisive goal."
bundesliga.com: Could the two goalkeepers be the difference?
Lahm: "Sure! If a goalkeeper has a blinder, they can be the difference-maker. Often in those cases, it can be the form on the day. The level of quality is relatively similar I'd say. Bayern have maybe slightly more quality in their ranks but on the day it can be a single player who makes the difference. We spoke about the attack but defensively there are two fantastic goalkeepers in both goals. In terms of Manuel Neuer, I don't need to say much but he can of course influence these kinds of games. If Leipzig have one or two chances and he's able to keep them out then Bayern are able to stay in the game. At this level, there are many players on the pitch capable of deciding the game in their team’s favour."
bundesliga.com: How would you rate Leipzig's development?
Lahm: "Very, very good. It's a very impressive development. They have a good structure and clear vision. I think Ralf Rangnick was very important in providing that vision and that clear structure. We all know what Leipzig stand for: education, developing players and talents. They've transformed from a small club to a Champions League level club. Now you can say Leipzig isn't a team who plays only in the Bundesliga, but they play in Europe too. It's great work and good for the region and you feel that the whole region is behind Leipzig. The support of the people is really great to see."
bundesliga.com: What do you make of Lewandowski's season? Can he break Gerd Müller's scoring record and why?
Lahm: "Sure he can break the record because he doesn't need too many more goals to get it. And because Bayern is so strong in attack. They create so many chances that it's definitely certain that the centre forward of Bayern Munich can score that many goals. The fact that it's so many goals is, of course, because of Robert Lewandowski's quality. He's great in the penalty area, with his right foot, with his left foot, with his head. He has everything you need to be a striker. He's a modern forward. His movement is good. He can play with the ball at his feet or hold it up. He's a complete striker and he plays in Germany's top team and belongs at one of the top teams in Europe."
bundesliga.com: Will Leipzig be Bayern's closest rival in future?
Lahm: "It's definitely possible. They'll definitely be there or thereabouts in the second, third or fourth spot. I think they have the opportunity to keep reaching the Champions League because, like I said, they have the structure, they're financially solid. So, I think they have the right structure to do so and an academy that continues to bring players through. I think they definitely have the potential in the coming years to challenge at the top of the Bundesliga. Whether or not they're able to challenge Bayern's dominance at the top of the league is something I'm less certain on because Bayern always have a special status in Germany."
bundesliga.com: How do you rate Alphonso Davies' development?
Lahm: "Davies had an outrageously good first season at Bayern. He's a classic full-back I'd say. Dynamic, quick, physically capable. He plays with passion. He reminds me a bit of a young version of myself - youthful, determined. He still has a lot to learn but that's okay as he's young - especially tactically, how you act defensively and offensively is very important. For me, initially, it was all about working on the defensive side of my game. You have to get that experience which is highly important as a young player. He'll show the rewards of that experience defensively in due course, I'm sure."
bundesliga.com: On the other side, how do you rate Tyler Adams' development?
Lahm: "Yeah, a quality player without question. I don't know exactly how his journey is going to go and he's not quite nailed down an exact position where he's most comfortable and at his best. Where can he get experience? I think he's a quality player to bring through the RB youth team. He's very dynamic, he's got a good footballing brain but I'm not quite sure exactly where he fits in yet and where his journey will lead him. What exactly are his strengths and where can he pick up experience in a certain position? That will be important later down the line for his career."
bundesliga.com: What do you make of Julian Nagelsmann?
Lahm: "He's a young head coach and already a successful one. For me it's hard to say because I've never played under him, he's never coached me. I've never worked with him on the day-to-day so it's hard to comment on that but, from what I see from his teams, I see his handprint. I see what he wants to achieve and that's important to see the influence of the head coach on the pitch and on the game - on the players and on the match itself. You see that with him 100 percent and I'm intrigued to see where it's going to go in the future."
bundesliga.com: You know Thomas Müller well, of course. What do you make of his form?
Lahm: "Yeah. Very, very good. Thomas is enormously important for Bayern and for the club. You need certain players who completely identify with the club 100 percent but bring composure and continue to put in excellent performances and he does that time and time again. That's why he's incredibly important for Bayern."
bundesliga.com: How important is Müller for the team?
Lahm: "As I said, it's important that players bring their top performances and try to show it even in training. He has the desire to win on the pitch and off the pitch. He's always there for the team. He doesn't take himself to be too important in terms of his role in the club. He shows that in terms of his football but also by how he always tries to bring the team forward. There's only a handful of players who can do that in a team and Thomas is one of them."
bundesliga.com: With his experience and personality, can Müller make the difference in the Leipzig game?
Lahm: "He can always be that! We know Thomas and one of his strengths is being able to get into certain spaces to get a shot away or make the final ball. He always has an eye on his teammates but one of his great strengths is to move into the right place at the right time. His movement into space is fantastic. He knows exactly where the space is, where no space is, how to move in order to create space for his teammates. That's an unbelievable strength of his and, because of, that he can always influence a game and send the game in a certain direction even with one bit of movement."
bundesliga.com: What do you make of Müller being named 'Der Raumdeuter' (the space-interpreter)?
Lahm: "As I've said, he knows exactly how he has to move in the opposition final third. Sometimes he moves behind defenders or into space or comes in front of the opposition player in front of the penalty area. How he moves is incredible. He knows exactly how he has to get to the right positions to have a shot or to play the final ball in order to help a fellow teammate."
Watch: Thomas Müller - Bayern's key without Lewandowski
bundesliga.com: You are close friends with Müller and play golf together. Tell us about life on the golf course. How competitive are you?
Lahm: "Yeah so here we played in a pairs competition - footballers against bobsleigh riders. The footballers won in the end on the final hole. With Thomas it's always fun. Of course, you want to play well and he also wants to be as good as he can be, but that's just the way that competitive sportsmen are and that'll never change. Also having fun was the most important thing and it was very good fun. It was a trip with Felix Neureuther and Claudio Pizarro playing golf. It was a good laugh with some great guys who wanted to have fun and experience something together."
bundesliga.com: Why should Joachim Löw pick Müller for Euro 2020?
Lahm: "First of all, that's the decision of the national team head coach of course. We have enough coaches in the country but he's the only one who can make that decision and it's Jogi Löw who must decide if the things I've already explained - his movement - mean he wants to bring him and whether he can bring something to the table or if he doesn't suit with the style of the national team. Only he can decide that, that's fine. Thomas is very important at Bayern, that's without question, and the head coach relies on him. In Hansi Flick he has a coach who depends on him entirely and puts his trust in him and explains his importance to the team and to the club. Whether the head coach of Germany decides that way is his decision."
bundesliga.com: How could he fit into the team and improve it?
Lahm: "That's only for the Germany national team head coach to decide. Where can he fit in? I've already said what his great strengths are: to create chances, his ability to bring players into space. Does the national team head coach need those skills still? He's reversed his stance. Took out some players and brought new ones in. That's the question. Does he take a step back or does he decide the transition was too important to turn back on in terms of developing the younger players? These things are play a role."