Munich - After making his breakthrough on loan at Mainz two seasons ago, Lewis Holtby is now gearing up for his second full season with FC Schalke 04.
In an exclusive interview with bundesliga.com, the midfielder with an English name but German allegiances, at least when it comes to football, discusses Raul's departure, preferred positions and his excitement about finally appearing in the UEFA Champions League...
bundesliga.com: Lewis Holtby, how has pre-season gone at Schalke 04?
Lewis Holtby: Pre-season is going very well. We've met some Italian sides and had two training camps and they have all gone well. Additionally we haven't picked up any serious injuries in the team and that's really important. Spirits are high and we can't wait for the first game of the season.
bundesliga.com: How have new signings Tranquillo Barnetta and Roman Neustädter settled into the team?
Holtby: They've been really, really good. They both fit into the team really well, in terms of their attitude and especially their football skills.
bundesliga.com: For a squad with so many young players like yourself, how difficult will it be to compensate for the loss of Raul, who left the club in the summer?
Holtby: Well he is one the greatest footballers of all time and he was a really important figure for the club. He scored and set up a lot of goals for us, but now we have to look forward. We have a new, young team that wants to win trophies. On a personal level, I'm desperate to try and emulate what he achieved, but it's not easy.
bundesliga.com: When you were playing for 1. FSV Mainz 05 you were used in an attacking role, whereas last season you often played in defensive midfield. Which position do you prefer?
Holtby: It depends. In Mainz it worked out pretty well when I played as a playmaker as we operated with a diamond formation and we had two strikers. Here we play a 4-2-3-1 so you're just like a second striker [in the centre], but it doesn't really matter where I play.
bundesliga.com: And might there be an opportunity for you to play in more attacking role this season, since Raul has left the club?
Holtby: Yes, there could be and I'm ready for that. I've spoken with the coach and it's an option for me to play there because my running skills are perfect for that position, but let's wait and see. The season is long, I can play deeper or in attack and we can always change things during a game.
bundesliga.com: What do Schalke need to do to close the gap on Bayern and Dortmund and win a trophy?
Holtby: That's a question that isn't easy to answer. The first thing I'd say is that the whole team has to stay fit for the entire season. The other point is to win the big games against Bayern, Dortmund, Leverkusen and whoever else. We have to stay in top form, especially with the Champions League to think about too. I think that's a good recipe for winning titles.
bundesliga.com: How much of a burden will it be having to play Champions League games during the week and Bundesliga matches at the weekend?
Holtby: I don't think it will be a burden. We're prepared for that, we have a strong squad and every player can be used for each competition.
bundesliga.com: And how much are you personally looking forward to playing in the Champions League?
Holtby: I'm very happy to be playing in the Champions League as it will be my first time playing in the competition. I played in the Europa League last season and the format is similar, but in the Champions League you play against much harder teams. I'm just excited and pleased to be playing at the highest level.
Interview by Bernie Reeves
This week's edition of 'GOAL! The Bundesliga magazine' features an in depth preview of Schalke's first match of the season away to Hannover 96.