Leverkusen - What a belter Matchday 32 has in store. On Saturday afternoon, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Bayer 04 Leverkusen - the Bundesliga’s two most in-form sides, each unbeaten in their last ten league games and vying for third spot in the standings - go head-to-head in a mouthwatering encounter.
‘We’re an awkward opponent for anyone’
Ahead of the pivotal clash at Borussia-Park, bundesliga.com caught up exclusively with Leverkusen’s South Korean attacker Heung-Min Son for his thoughts on the upcoming game, the race for UEFA Champions League places and dealing with stardom in his homeland.
bundesliga.com: Heung-Min Son, will Saturday’s match be decisive in determining who finishes third?
Heung-Min Son: If Gladbach win then probably, but I’m convinced we can make sure it goes down to the wire on the final day. If we win on Saturday we’d go a point ahead of them and we’d have to make sure we stay there in the last two games of the season. That’s our aim and I believe we can do it.
bundesliga.com: Gladbach attacker Ibrahima Traore has said he believes playing at home will give the Foals an edge this weekend. However, Leverkusen are unbeaten in Gladbach for the last 26 years. What do you think will give you an advantage?
Son: There’s no denying that both teams are in top form, but this season we’ve already shown that we’re capable of focusing and putting in the required performance out on the pitch in important away games. The Schalke game [on Matchday 26] is a good example of that and we managed to get a result there. I think we have a great chance in Mönchengladbach.bundesliga.com: Has the victory over FC Bayern München last weekend given you extra confidence?
Son: The win over Bayern isn’t the only result that’s done that. We’ve been playing at a fantastic level for weeks now and we haven’t lost in the Bundesliga in ten straight games. We know what we’re capable of and that we’re an awkward opponent for anyone.
bundesliga.com: You personally will doubtless be able to count on support in your homeland on Saturday. How many people will be watching the game on television in South Korea?
Son: I don’t know, but I do know that a lot of people follow the Bundesliga in Korea. And I think most of them will be cheering Leverkusen on this weekend… [laughs]
bundesliga.com: During Leverkusen’s summer tour it was reported that fans waited for ten hours to get your autograph and that some even fainted with excitement afterwards. Do you enjoy your popularity?
Son: It’s nice and a huge honour that people in Korea like me so much.
‘I try to combine diligence, hard work and fun’
bundesliga.com: But presumably you can’t walk freely down the street anymore in your homeland?
That’s true, I can’t. There would be crowds of people and I’d have difficulty getting where I was going. That can be draining, but on the other hand it’s also a big compliment.
‘I’m excited about the future in Leverkusen’
Son: I try not to let myself be influenced negatively by things like that. What would be the point? I’m just really happy about it and try to maintain my performance level and keep improving. The important thing is that you keep enjoying the game, which I do.
bundesliga.com: You are reported to have once said: “Us Koreans are very hard workers.” Does that provide the foundation for your game?
Son: Diligence, hard work and fun – I try to combine all of those things, but the same goes for everyone in the team. You’ll never be successful nowadays without the desire to perform.
bundesliga.com: Leverkusen’s playing style relies heavily on wide attackers. Julian Brandt said Karim Bellarabi’s biggest weapon is his speed, while he described your main strength as your finishing ability. Do you agree with him?
Son:[Laughs] Julian certainly knows what he’s talking about…
bundesliga.com: Brandt has show huge improvement in the last few weeks. Do you view him as a rival for your place in the side or do Leverkusen need that kind of competition for places in order to improve?
Son: That’s what you need. Julian’s a great player and it’s fantastic that we have him in our squad. You always need first-rate replacements if you want to compete at the top of the Bundesliga and in Europe. The team can’t improve without competition for places in the starting XI.
bundesliga.com:Hakan Calhanoglu says he spends a lot of time with you and Bellarabi away from the pitch. Does that help your understanding on it?
Of course. If you get along well as friends then things work out a lot better on the pitch too, and it also makes things a lot more fun.
Click here to find your local broadcaster for Leverkusen’s match against Gladbach.
Son: You’d have to get the better of Bayern in order to be champions, and not only in one game but over the whole season. That doesn’t really seem possible for us, but we’ll do everything we can to finish as high as we can. But I’m sure Wolfsburg, Dortmund, Gladbach and Schalke are saying that too. There’s a lot of competition, so we’ll have to wait and see where we end up.
bundesliga.com: Do you plan on staying in Leverkusen in the long term?
Son: I’ve got a long-term contract here and things are happening that make the club highly attractive, and not only for me but for other players who want to achieve things. That’s not something you can give up lightly. I’m perfectly content here and am excited about what the future holds.
Interview by Felix Seaman-Höschele