Gelsenkirchen - After a two-month injury-enforced absence, Julian Draxler made his return to action for FC Schalke 04 in their 0-0 draw with 1. FSV Mainz 05 on Friday night.
The 20-year-old's recovery could hardly have been timed any better with a view to Wednesday night's UEFA Champions League last-16 clash with Real Madrid CF. Talking after Friday's game, the Germany international discussed Schalke's chances of progression but insisted he still needs time to find form after a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
Question:Julian Draxler, how did it feel to return after such a long injury absence?
Julian Draxler: Most of all I was happy to be back and to savour the atmosphere. I'm also pleased to have come through it pain-free. After a long spell of suffering, it was important for me to return. But you could also see that I still need a bit of time to find form. It was the first major injury of my career and it'll certainly take a while before I get back to where I want to be.
Question: Could you realistically have started against Mainz?
Draxler: I'd spoken about it with the coach pretty early on and it was clear that a berth in the starting XI wasn't such a good idea just yet. I'd only been training with the team for a week and I'm not as experienced in these things as the Hunter, for example, who came back after a long absence and scored immediately. I'm definitely going to need some time.
Question: What is it that you are still lacking?
Draxler: A bit of everything! When you're out for so long and unable to train fully, you're always going to lack a bit of sharpness, quick-thinking and match rhythm. Particularly when you're as young as I am and have never been through such a long injury absence before - you just need time.
Question: With that in mind, how would you rate your chances of featuring in the big match against Real Madrid on Wednesday?
Draxler: Right now, all that matters is that I train hard in every session and rediscover my best form, then we'll see what stage I'm at come Tuesday's final training session. The coach will then decide how long he wants me to play for.
Question: How frustrating would it be for you to miss the Real match?
Draxler: Real Madrid is a highlight for any footballer. Of course I'd like to play for as long as possible. It's a childhood dream of mine to play against Real Madrid, but you've got to be sensible about these things. If I'm not ready, then I'm just not ready, but if I'm feeling good after the next few days and if the coach is happy with me, then of course it's a game I'd love to be involved in from the start.
Question: How much are you looking forward to the Real game?
Draxler: The whole club's looking forward to this game – the players, the coach, the staff and the fans. It's going to be a highlight and we've got nothing to lose. Real Madrid are an absolutely world class side and of course we're the rank outsiders, but we've got the chance to show how motivated we are to play in the Champions League. We all want to play in games against teams like them and it's why we worked so hard last season - to qualify for the Champions League. And here we are!
Question: What are Schalke going to have to do in particular?
Draxler: Everything! We're going to have to have a perfect day to be able to cope with Real. That means everything from maintaining fighting mentality right through to a bit of luck and quality. Everything's got to be spot on. It's going to be tough because Real really are a world-class team, but I and the whole team can show that we belong among the elite.
Question: Was Bayer Leverkusen's heavy defeat to Paris Saint-Germain last week a warning for you?
Draxler: Things can happen very quickly in the Champions League and that's what that game taught us. When you're playing against sides like these at this level - if you get distracted for a second - then you've already conceded one or even two goals. Then it's hard for you to turn the game around. But I think Schalke and Leverkusen are two different sides so what happened to Leverkusen doesn't really scare us. It was a shame for German football that they lost so heavily for sure, but that's not an issue for us. We want to get a good result in the first leg against Real so that we can travel to Madrid still in with a chance.
Dietmar Nolte reporting from Gelsenkirchen