Bundesliga legend Philipp Lahm says Der Klassiker between ex-club Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund is Germany's biggest match. - © DFL
Bundesliga legend Philipp Lahm says Der Klassiker between ex-club Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund is Germany's biggest match. - © DFL

Philipp Lahm on Der Klassiker, Harry Kane, Xabi Alonso and more


Philipp Lahm faced Borussia Dortmund 32 times in all competitions during a storied playing career with Bayern Munich. bundesliga.com caught up with the eight-time Bundesliga winner to discuss the latest edition of Der Klassiker, Harry Kane's goal-scoring form, Xabi Alonso's unbeaten Bayer Leverkusen and more...

Click here for all things Klassiker!

bundesliga.com: For the first time in years, 'Der Klassiker' won’t feature the league leaders. What else is it that makes the match between Bayern and Dortmund so special?

Philipp Lahm: "It's still 'Der Klassiker'. In recent years this match has always been a title decider but now, for Bayern, it is also about staying with Leverkusen and narrowing the gap. For Dortmund, it's about Champions League qualification. They are just one point ahead of Leipzig, so it's all on the line for them. Also, it’s at 6:30pm (CET) on a Saturday evening and it's the Bundesliga showpiece. Every player looks forward to that!"

bundesliga.com: To what extent do the players realise that this game is a special highlight in Germany?

Lahm: "You notice it in the week before, leading up to the match. Plus, it is a 6.30pm match, an evening game, and the biggest match in the Bundesliga. In the week before, you are a bit more focussed and things are bubbling away around you because it is just a top match."

Watch: Why Der Klassiker is still Germany's biggest game

bundesliga.com: What will it take for BVB to finally get their first away win against Bayern in almost 10 years? Which Dortmund players have the quality to decide this game?

Lahm: "What’s really important is that they don’t make many mistakes, because in top matches like this Bayern punish mistakes instantly. You saw that in the first game between these two - small mistakes are punished. So they need to avoid those. Gregor Kobel is an excellent goalkeeper to me, but in the most recent top match he made a mistake which swung the game against Dortmund. So they have to avoid mistakes and players like Kobel have to perform."

bundesliga.com: English footballers used to be an absolute exception in the Bundesliga. Now there are more and more of them. This time they will also playing a central role in the Klassiker. What strengths do the English footballers bring to the table?

Lahm: "They are very athletic and dynamic. When you look at Jude Bellingham, who came to Germany and broke through to reach the top level here, and then also left the Bundesliga. He is an example for lots of English players who see: 'OK, I can use the Bundesliga' too. It’s a top league where I can use my qualities', which in the English case are often athleticism, to good effect, because the game has also become more athletic."

Watch: England's Harry Kane scored a hat-trick on his Klassiker debut earlier this season

bundesliga.com: It looks like Bayern won't be German champions for the first time in 11 years. What does that mean for the club, the staff and the players? What will the atmosphere be like there?

Lahm: "Well, they had some upheaval and continuity is always important. Evolution and development are also important at Bayern Munich so they made changes at leadership level and of course that doesn’t help. I think you can see that now. What they didn’t really achieve was to build a team and to identify who the five or six players are who form the core of that team. Players who provide security and stability, which comes when you play together regularly. That is the key, to me, in why they haven’t been able to keep pace with Leverkusen. What that means for the club is that they will leave no stone unturned. That is clear from Bayern’s history. When failure happens they question everything: the positions, the players, the entire philosophy of the club and often they then return even stronger after a crisis."

bundesliga.com: New coach needed; new sporting director Max Eberl is already in place: what changes will Bayern make to get back on course for the championship?

Lahm: "The most important thing is to find a coach first. That has to be clearly said and what is his idea and how does the idea fit with the club. That always has to fit. That is important. After that you have to see what players you have - what players would you still need for the squad. Overall, FC Bayern Munich will always have a team to play for the title. They also want to be successful in Europe. Like I said, continuity is very important. In the leadership positions, but also in the manager positions. If you look back at the last few managers, they have stayed on average one and half years. I think that cannot be FC Bayern’s aspiration. If you look back at the successful times, it was with managers that were with the team for a longer period of time and really worked with the team. I am curious to see what happens in the summer."

bundesliga.com: In the race for the Golden Boot, Harry Kane is way out in front. What makes his performances so special and why is he currently the most successful striker in the world?

Lahm: "Because he just has incredible finishing. He is a passionate striker, and I think you see that. He knows where the goal is and recognises situations instantly. He has a great finish with both feet and with his head. Bayern’s game suits him well, too. They have a lot of possession, they create chances constantly and he is just an incredibly cool finisher."

bundesliga.com: Robert Lewandowski's goal record of 41 Bundesliga goals in one season could also be broken. Do you believe he can do it?

Lahm: "It's possible. It is certainly possible. It relies on the entire team and how they act, how many chances they create. Then Harry Kane will be there to break the record, as long as the chances come. I wouldn’t have thought it could happen so soon that another striker could hit these numbers, but that also shows the strength of Bayern’s attacking game. They concede too many as well, I think that is the reason why they aren’t at the top of the table."

Watch: Every Harry Kane goal so far in the Bundesliga

bundesliga.com: "What are the reasons for Leverkusen's success this season?

Lahm: "The coach, for one, certainly. Xabi Alonso radiates confidence on the sidelines and brought a real stability to Leverkusen and to the team. He has a clear idea of how he wants to play football and clear roles he expects his team and individual players to fulfil. Football also demands a bit of luck, and I think that they worked so well in the first half of the season and played with such confidence that they now have the momentum and luck on their side to often swing games in their favour. They earned that luck, though. The players earned it and they deserve to be top of the table because of that. It is also about the opponents, you have to say that too, because the usual competitors like Leipzig, Dortmund and of course FC Bayern have been weaker this season."

bundesliga.com: Leverkusen have also broken the unbeaten single-season record, now at 38 games...

Lahm: "When you don’t lose a game for so long… and they have also turned around so many games in recent weeks and scored late to draw or win, particularly in the Bundesliga they have won close games late on, because they have that confidence. But I think a lot of that comes from the sidelines. Xabi Alonso radiates calm from the sidelines and has confidence in the fact that his football works. He passes that on to his players, so they believe until the final minute that they can turn games. As I said, they also earned a bit of luck in the first half of the season and that is the only way it is possible to go unbeaten for such a long run of games."

bundesliga.com: As a former teammate of Xabi Alonso, what makes him special as a person?

Lahm: "I think he is very, very intelligent. He wasn’t just an intelligent player on the pitch, but also off it: he has good judgement. He was a strategist on the pitch as well, and he had the best international coaches. He played at Liverpool, FC Bayern and Real Madrid, at the highest level and he passes that on to his team. He also knows what his players can and perhaps can’t do. That is very important and that is how he fits his players into his game very well and ensures the puzzle pieces in his team fit together well."

bundesliga.com: To what extent could you already recognise his coaching potential back then?

Lahm: "You could certainly see that back then, because he was already a strategist on the pitch and understood the game and how he wanted to play. As a teammate it was just nice to have conversations with him about how we played and what we could improve. There was a great exchange of ideas there and you got the feeling Xabi could be a very, very good coach. He is also really grounded and when you look at his career path as a coach, it is exactly right in my opinion. I think his coaching career could be very, very successful."

Lahm (l.) won three of his eight Bundesliga titles with Bayern alongside Xabi Alonso (r.). - Matthias Hangst/Bongarts/Getty Images

bundesliga.com: Leverkusen are playing the second-best Bundesliga season of all time. Only Pep Guardiola's Bayern with Philipp Lahm were better. Can you describe that phase again? What kind of self-image do you develop as a team when you succeed in everything?

Lahm: "You are not arrogant, but you have a lot of self-confidence. You can trust what you hear. Of course you start to trust your teammates more and more, and you enter a sort of flow. You can go on the pitch and say, if everything is normal we will lead and we can kill the game. You have trust in your teammates. It is important – and this was the case with us – that all the roles are well defined. What do you expect from the players. This gives the players a lot of security and stability on the pitch. I think it is the same at Leverkusen. I don’t think that every player is on the level that we were at that time at FC Bayern Munich. We were a little bit better equipped. Our players had a little bit more quality, but what he gets out of this team is just incredible to see."

bundesliga.com: Last year, VfB Stuttgart were relegation candidates - now the club has set a new points record. How do you explain Stuttgart's turnaround?

Lahm: "First of all, at a club level, a lot of structure was put in place. On top of that, a clear playing philosophy and system were introduced. The manager plays one system, so to speak. Like I said, it gives the players security. There is a spine in the team at VfB Stuttgart. There is not so much rotation. There is a core in the team, and Sebastian Hoeneß managed to make the important players better. If I think about Chris Führich, who has a leading role there, he was given more responsibility and that is paying off. Waldemar Anton is having a great season. They have taken the lead, but what is important, and it should not be undervalued, is that you play a system that brings security to the players and the roles are understood better and then, very quickly, it can go in the right direction."

bundesliga.com: What do you think Bayern can do against Arsenal in the Champions League?

Lahm: "You have to always trust Bayern - that they have the ability to shut down Arsenal over two legs, is clear. On the other hand, Arsenal are making a very good impression. They also have an ex-midfielder on the touchline [in Mikel Arteta] that was given the time at FC Arsenal to develop their game. They look very stable. Against Arsenal you can get into trouble because they have a very good attack and they like to play with the ball in their possession. That is why it will very interesting. Arsenal are not undeservedly top of the Premier League. It's a very interesting match-up. I think Bayern has the harder draw than Dortmund [who face Atlético Madrid]."

Vote: Who will win Der Klassiker?