Yann Sommer has established himself as one of the Bundesliga's very best goalkeepers across his now seven years between the sticks at Borussia Mönchengladbach, but wholeheartedly agrees Bayern Munich counterpart Manuel Neuer is the finest custodian around.
bundesliga.com: As a Gladbach player for the past seven years, what do you think of Mönchengladbach's development and what role has Max Eberl played in that?
Yann Sommer: "Yeah, the development is incredible, truly. It's my seventh season here and if I compare it to when I began, first of all with the infrastructure, we had no hotel, everything around the stadium. The biggest difference you notice is you dare to qualify from a group in the Champions League with Real Madrid and Inter Milan. That's the greatest development we've made, in my opinion. When we first qualified for the Champions League, it was nice and we enjoyed it but we never really believed we would achieve something. The self-confidence and the standing of the club has grown and Max Eberl has played a massive role in that. He has led the club strongly, despite being very relaxed and friendly, makes sure we have what we need to work in peace and led this club to a higher level. We have him to thank for that."
bundesliga.com: To Gladbach's current situation. Is there still a chance to hunt down the European places? How do you see it?
Sommer: "I hope so, it has to be clear. We deservedly won twice and that was important, we had a difficult phase mentally, even though we began the second half of the season well. Then we were out of the cup, out of the Champions League, lost a couple of games in the Bundesliga and then it was a big tough. Now we're back in the mix, but we need a few more points to contend for the European places and that's our biggest goal. We had to deal with a few things this year but so have all the clubs with Corona and so on and that's why we just need to try to grab as many points as possible."
bundesliga.com: On Robert Lewandowski... How can you play against him as a goalkeeper? What makes Lewy so special?
Sommer: "He's a special striker, one of the best I have played against. I enjoy playing against him and all good strikers because it's a great challenge for me as a goalkeeper to play against such players. You have to be really concentrated against them because they're very clever, they make great runs and are good finishers, so you always have to be ready and be something of a perfectionist when it comes to positioning, speed and one-on-ones. It's a great challenge against these players and I find that he's very down-to-earth on the pitch, he has unbelievable quality and I don't need to tell you how good he is."
bundesliga.com: In Germany, Manuel Neuer is considered the best in the world - not least for his six league titles. How do you see it?
Sommer: "Yeah, it's the same for me. For years he has played at a high level. He's a goalkeeper who is very consistent, which I think is significant. If I look at another goalkeeper, he has been consistently at a high level for years, a goalkeeper with plenty of quality, who is happy to play with the ball, has good feet and offers a lot to the team. A very complete goalkeeper is good off the line, has good positioning and is strong in the box. He is a goalkeeper who has earned a reputation as one of the best in the world in recent years and he's also a good guy."
bundesliga.com: Manuel Neuer was also an impressive footballer in his youth and played out of goal on the playground. Where does your impressive technique come from?
Sommer: "When I was younger, I was always on the football pitch. Funnily enough, I was never in goal. Personally, I wanted to be out scoring goals. But when it came to playing with my club, I was gladly in goal and later I was fortunate with Concordia and FC Basel, also Vaduz, that I had coaches who wanted goalkeepers who could play with the ball. Under Christian Gross, I had a year or two when I was the number three goalkeeper and often played right-back, right-wing or in the middle in training and I learned an awful lot from that, playing against [Xherdan] Shaqiri, [Mladen] Petric and the likes, so I was able to learn a lot when it comes to playing with my feet."
Watch: Manuel Neuer vs. Yann Sommer: Head-to-Head
bundesliga.com: Many of your teammates also play for the Swiss national team. As a goalkeeper, do you profit from that extra playing time together?
Sommer: "Yeah, we're profiting from it because they're all very good players, whether they are Swiss or not is another thing but, of course, it's nice to have a pal to speak Swiss-German with in the dressing room, that's always nice. But they're guys with a lot of quality, who give us a lot in the national team and now help us get to another level in Gladbach, alongside many others. They're guys who have quality, good character, talent and are still very young, they provide a lot to the team."
Of course, the European Championships are on the horizon. To what extent does a tournament like that influence the Bundesliga season?
Sommer: "Not at all, actually. Usually, the mental and physical preparation for these tournaments begins when the league ends, that's how I do it. I close the Bundesliga chapter after the last game, then concentrate on what is coming with the tournament, preparation and so on. During the Bundesliga season, there's not much room left in your head to think about it. Of course, you look forward to it but the focus is on the Bundesliga."
bundesliga.com Italy, Switzerland, Turkey, Wales - not an easy group. What is your goal?
Sommer: "Yeah, I mean our goal is always to progress from the group. When you play in a tournament, the first step you can take is to make it out of the group and that's our biggest goal. I don't wish to think beyond that because we have a demanding group with Italy, Turkey and Wales, who will seriously test us and will give us very tight matches, then we'll see. But getting through the group is the first thing and we as Switzerland want to show yet again that we have plenty of quality in the team and can play great football."