Leverkusen - They were made to work hard for it, but Saturday's 2-1 win over FC Augsburg at last brought Bayer 04 Leverkusen's barren run of four competitive games without a win to an end - no mean feat given the side's UEFA Europa League exertions just two days earlier.
"When a player as hard-working as Lars Bender asks to be substituted, you know what a hard game it must have been," said co-trainer Sascha Lewandowski after Thursday night's 1-0 loss to SL Benfica. Yet in spite of all that, it was the machine-like Bender who came through fighting to deliver the all-important knock-out punch at the BayArena less than 48 hours later.
Question: Lars Bender, congratulations on the win. What did you make of the performance?
Lars Bender: Augsburg didn't make it easy for us. They've made great strides and are playing better football than they did during the first half of the season. Their last few results speak for themselves. We knew it was going to be hard work, but we moved forward quickly and directly, created one or two chances and were much more effective compared to the last few weeks.
Question: Was the game lacking a bit of spark?
Bender: That doesn't matter today [laughs]. In recent weeks we've played attractive football, but the ball wasn't going in. The final ball was missing again at times today, but we won and that's all that matters.
Question: How did the team prepare in such a short space of time after the Benfica game?
Bender: It wasn't easy for us. We trained at a normal level because we didn't want to drive ourselves into the ground. We had to force ourselves today, but now we can recover - which is much easier after a win.
Question: Did you personally have to push through the pain barrier?
Bender: I picked up a knock on Thursday that caused me a couple of problems. Playing two days later isn’t easy, but that's the sort of thing you have to overcome. Today it was important that we were all focused on the task at hand. Your head has to be stronger than your legs. That's what got us the win today.
Question: Did you know that, according to the statisitics, teams that have to play twice in the space of 48 hours often win their second game?
Bender: I've never paid any attention to the stats, but that sounds about right [laughs].
Question: How important is the win ahead of the return game against Benfica and your upcoming league assignments?
Bender: Massively important. We've played some good football in recent weeks, but not picked up the points. At the end of the day, it's all about the points. You won’t find "they played well" tagged on anywhere - all that matters are the points. We've said we want to stay up there with the top sides, so the win is huge in that respect.
Question: What's the plan for the second leg against Benfica?
Bender: I think we showed that at the very least we were on a level with them. We could have won the first leg for sure. We’re going there to book our place in the next round. After that we can get into the Thursday-Sunday playing rhythm. I've got a good feeling we’ll come out on top.
Interview by Markus Hoffmann