Cologne - With just over a week to go until the Bundesliga swings back into action, no less a judge than the legendary Ottmar Hitzfeld has offered his opinion on the season so far, as well as what he believes the Rückrunde holds for two of his former clubs, FC Bayern München and Borussia Dortmund.
In a wide-ranging exclusive interview with bundesliga.com, the seven-time Bundesliga-winning coach also discussed FC Schalke 04 and VfL Wolfsburg’s hopes of European qualification and predicts a tight battle at both ends of the table during the second half of the 2014/15 campaign.
bundesliga.com: Ottmar Hitzfeld, did this season’s Hinrunde meet your expectations?
Ottmar Hitzfeld: Absolutely. Even if you take Bayern’s impressive position out of the equation, since they’re where we always assumed they would be, the Bundesliga remains intriguing. It’s a really even league, in part because it’s such a short distance from third place to the relegation zone. Behind Bayern anything is possible, and that tells you all you need to know about the balance of the league.
bundesliga.com: What do you expect from the Rückrunde?
Hitzfeld: I think that the battle for the European spots is going to get really exciting. Right now, it’s hard to predict who will finish in second, third and fourth. The same goes for the battle for survival at the bottom. Teams who are currently down there can suddenly lift themselves into mid-table with just two wins. That says everything about the quality of the Bundesliga and proves that things are far from decided yet.
bundesliga.com: Is this Bayern side the best of all time?
Hitzfeld: The team has never been so strong. They have a fantastic squad from top to bottom and there’s certainly never been so much quality.
bundesliga.com: Do you think that the record champions will make history again and lift the Meisterschale even earlier than last season?
Hitzfeld: It’s certainly possible that they’ll set another record and will be celebrating at the Marienplatz [Munich’s central square] come Easter. The one side that could have posed a threat to Pep Guardiola’s men was Borussia Dortmund, but they’re suffering a crisis at the moment.
bundesliga.com: How do you explain Dortmund’s poor Hinrunde?
Hitzfeld: Even though BVB have got plenty of quality in their squad, there were lots of players out injured, and then those who did come back needed a bit of time to find their rhythm again. You get the feeling that they’re permanently in upheaval and unfortunately that means they’re not a genuine challenger for Bayern at the moment.
bundesliga.com: Despite that, do you think Dortmund will show how good they are again at the start of 2015?
Hitzfeld: I’m absolutely convinced that they won’t be relegated. I’m also quite optimistic that BVB will qualify for a European competition, because they have such quality to draw on, as was evident in the UEFA Champions League group stages.
bundesliga.com: Will VfL Wolfsburg be able to hold onto second place until the end of the season?
Hitzfeld: The battle for the Champions League spots will remain exciting right up until Matchday 34. Wolfsburg have a good lead and therefore a good chance of qualifying for the Champions League, but will have to reckon with Bayer Leverkusen, Schalke 04 and Borussia Mönchengladbach if they want to get there. Hoffenheim have also been knocking on the door.
bundesliga.com: Do you think that Roberto Di Matteo will assert himself at Schalke and match his club’s expectations?
Hitzfeld: Generally, it’s pretty tough to bring a real consistency to Schalke. Having said that, I think Di Matteo will bring Schalke forward and that they will be playing in Europe next season.
Ottmar Hitzfeld was speaking to Alexis Menuge