Timo Werner has told bundesliga.com that he is optimistic RB Leipzig can still win the 2019/20 title, despite surrendering top spot to defending champions Bayern Munich in recent weeks.
Leipzig held Bayern to a goalless draw in Munich on Matchday 21, but trail the record champions by one point in second with 13 rounds of fixtures remaining.
Werner spoke to bundesliga.com about his side's title aspirations, the season so far, battling Robert Lewandowski for the top scorer's prize and the prospect of playing for Germany at the UEFA Euros...
bundesliga.com: What experiences will you take away from the top-of-the-table clash against Bayern?
Timo Werner: "It was a good experience. Regardless of having had some problems, we also showed glimpses of what we can do. If I had scored that goal, we could have won. Overall, we're satisfied with the 0-0. We put on a good show; showed we can compete with Bayern. It was a good experience for us."
Watch: Highlights of Leipzig's trip to Munich
bundesliga.com: Do RB Leipzig enjoy the role of 'hunter' more than that of the ‘hunted’?
Werner: "That's a good question. As ‘hunter’, we were able to produce some good football in the first half of the season, especially towards the end where we manage to clinch the top spot in the league. Obviously, we do not want to remain as the ‘hunter’ until the end, otherwise we wouldn’t be Bundesliga champions. What is clear is that, unlike at the beginning of the season where we were obsessed with the idea of being in the title race, we have now managed to put such thoughts to the back of our minds and play with freedom just like we did in Munich. Whatever happens, happens. If at the end of the season being the ‘hunter’ or the ‘hunted’ turned out to be better for us, great! Then we will know for the future. For now, we want to look at the upcoming match only and put the title talk to one side."
bundesliga.com: In terms of the table, everything is going well. You are a point behind Bayern. Overall, however, the beginning of the 2020 season has been quite average for RB Leipzig: one win in four Bundesliga games, and you were knocked out of the DFB Cup. How will you be able to get back on track?
Werner: "I think it has to do with motivation. We were in the cup final, we were top at Christmas, so 2019 was a good year for us. The fact that 2020 hasn’t started so well for us is a pity because we were expecting to build on the lead that we had or at least preserve it. We let that slip, unfortunately. In our defence, we have had very hard games: in Frankfurt, losing twice; in Munich; against Gladbach [2-2]. These were all very hard games. We're glad to have them behind us. We're looking forward to being able to play with a sense of freedom, knowing we have already taken on the ‘big boys’. We're confident of challenging now. We will see how it turns out, but I feel like 2020 can properly get going now. The pressure is off now. We can begin to play with freedom."
bundesliga.com: How good are RB Leipzig at handling pressure?
Werner: "Sometimes good, sometimes not so good. Against Gladbach, we were under a lot of pressure during the first half. In the second half, we had even more pressure although it was better compared to what we felt before the game. In Munich, the pressure was also great because everyone wanted to know if we were able to compete or not. We were able to control that pressure. We can handle it. Sometimes, however, we are not able to show that as well as we would like on the pitch. When we do show it, we are a great surprise, even against the big teams. We want to show the teams that are coming up against us - Bremen, Schalke – that we're still a top club that is capable of being right up there."
bundesliga.com: How is your coach Julian Nagelsmann handling the current situation? Has anything changed in terms of his attitude? His tone?
Werner: "He's pretty relaxed. He knows our strengths and our weaknesses. He's gone through them with us. The players know this; we know what mistakes we have made. These are things that we can work and improve on. They're nothing to do with our lack of quality or attitude. These are things that have to do with our willingness. For example, walking into a match with a freer mind; with less pressure. The funny thing is, that in football, that sometimes sounds so easy but it turns out to be much harder than it sounds. It's our task to improve. The coach is giving us tips and encouragement in terms of helping us through this."
bundesliga.com: You face Werder Bremen at home next. Compared to the Bayern game, Leipzig are the clear favourites. What will stop you winning?
Werner: "Not much. When we go up against a team in the bottom third, especially at home, we should get the win. If you have the ambition to be in the Champions League and the ambition to challenge for the title, you are supposed to be able to win such games. On the other hand, Werder are not a team that belong where they are in the table. They're a team with a very good squad. A team which was challenging for the Europa League spots at the beginning, but then with injuries and a spot of bad luck things went downhill. That's why we need to watch out. They're dangerous. It'll be an interesting game. Especially for the fans."
bundesliga.com: After that you face Schalke. What are Schalke’s strengths this season and how can you beat them?
Werner: "Schalke are a very uncomfortable team to play against. Their coach has taken on a similar approach to ours lately. They want to attack high up the field. They are very dangerous in the way they press. They have very quick transitional players who are have integrated some of our style of play into their tactics. Schalke have always been hard to play against. Playing there is always special, especially with their fans. However, we can prove ourselves there as well. We have already been able to beat them there. We have already showed what we can do there. We know we're facing a very good team. These are the games that make you feel like you deserve to have qualified for the Champions League or deserved to have finished first or second in the league. Therefore, we need to be able to beat Schalke as well."
bundesliga.com: The title race is in full flow. Why will Leipzig be crowned champions this season?
Werner: "We're not in pole position anymore, but we have showed that we're very consistent in terms of our results against the teams struggling in the league. That's something we have not always been so good at in the past years. Therefore, this is our strength now. Now that we've managed to get through a lot of the harder games in the second half of the season, we can concentrate on taking points off the teams lower down in the table. If we achieve that, we can finish with 80 points and I'm confident we can win the league with that amount."
bundesliga.com: You're having a strong season. You've already scored 20 goals, but are still two goals behind Lewandowski. How will you be able to overtake the Bayern striker?
Werner: "'How?' is a good question. I think Lewandowski is a very good striker. I've had a good season, but his has been significantly better - especially with the number of goals he has scored in the Champions League. He's hard to overtake especially because he plays for a team that creates a lot of goal-scoring opportunities; players who create great chances for him to convert. I'll do my best and wait and see what will happen."
bundesliga.com: How many goals were you expecting to score before the season started?
Werner: "At the beginning of the season, I wasn't expecting to have as many goals as games played by this stage. You cannot expect something like that. My aim was to score every second game. I have managed that for now. That is why I have surpassed my expectations - but I'm 23, going on 24. I don’t think a lot of players have been able to reach 20 goals in a season at my age. I have managed that twice now. It's something special to see, especially that it's possible at such a young age. I want to continue my development and become even better. I want to reach 30 goals in one season one day."
Watch: How Robert Lewandowski and Timo Werner compare
bundesliga.com: New Leipzig signing Dani Olmo is meant to help you in the final third. What is your opinion of him and how good is your combination play after only two games?
Werner: "He's a very skillful player, and a very good passer of the ball. He's very technical and will definitely help us in terms of our chance creation. The fact that our runs are not perfectly in sync yet isn't surprising. He's only had two or three weeks of training with us. Others that have had one or two or three years training with the team are obviously more prepared. It takes time. For some, it takes longer than others. We'll see, but I'm sure he's a player that can make us stronger. He has so many impressive attributes that will help us. A player like him is easily integrated because he's very open to developing, and brings a lot of quality to the team."
bundesliga.com: What are your hopes for the Euros with Germany?
Werner: "For the European Championship coming up my goal is to get as far in the tournament as possible. We have a strong team. We're in a tough group, but we want to go as far as possible. Being part of the Germany team going into the Euros, saying 'we will see how it goes' is not good enough. We want to win it. Even if it will be hard and even though we are not favourites, we need to go into it believing exactly that. With this mentality of wanting it all, we have a chance. We will see how far we get."
bundesliga.com: Were you happy about the draw for the group stage or would you have preferred to meet Portugal and France later in the tournament?
Werner: "We look at that with a laugh and a cry. On the one hand, it's great to be able to compete against the very best at the very beginning; being able to set a marker for Germany. On the other hand, it's very hard to progress from a group such as this. We need to prove ourselves from the outset. I'm sure we'll only get better as the tournament goes on, if we are able to produce some quality results in the group stage."
bundesliga.com: It will be your first European Championship but your second major tournament. What did you learn from the 2018 FIFA World Cup campaign and what do you intend on doing differently this year?
Werner: "It's hard to have expectations before the Euros. Before the World Cup, I just wanted to score a lot of goals, to help Germany progress as far as possible. These are things you always hope for. If we're honest with ourselves, we need to look at each game in front of us at the Euros. We need to get off to a good start. Maybe my targets are achievable. The tournament will then continue the way it started. Whether that is on a good path or a bad path, we don’t know but that is how we want to go into the tournament. We don’t want to say 'in the semi-finals we want to play this way and in the quarter-finals this way', instead we want to look at each game and see what possibilities arise. We have enough opponents in the first round that will challenge us and make us play to the best of our abilities. That's why I'm looking forward to the fact that another international tournament is on the horizon and that we have another opportunity to give our all for our country. I think that's how everyone feels."