Cologne - Having coached both FC Bayern München and Borussia Dortmund for several years, Ottmar Hitzfeld is in a better position than most to comment on his two former sides’ respective starts to the 2015/16 Bundesliga season.
In an exclusive interview with bundesliga.com, Hitzfeld talks about Dortmund’s development under new head coach Thomas Tuchel, the importance of summer signings Douglas Costa and Arturo Vidal to champions Bayern and Leverkusen’s philosophy under Roger Schmidt.
bundesliga.com: Ottmar Hitzfeld, were you expecting Dortmund to start the season in such spectacular fashion?
Ottmar Hitzfeld: I was optimistic that Dortmund would start well because they did very well in the second half of last season. They also seem to be benefitting from the Thomas Tuchel effect, with every player having to prove themselves once more under the new head coach. Dortmund have not only collected six points and scored a hatful of goals, the team’s overall performance has also been impressive. Dortmund are no longer just a counter-attacking side, they also move the ball about very well. All their players are good at pressing the opposition and they remain focused for the entire 90 minutes. You can tell the team is enjoying their football.
bundesliga.com: Thomas Tuchel has managed to get the best out of players who were struggling for form last season. How do coaches manage to give their players a new lease of life like that?
Hitzfeld: A coach must always play the roll of a psychologist, even when addressing his players every day in training. That’s when he has to get his philosophy across and take his players’ strengths on board. A new coach always starts his job by trying to build players’ confidence. When a coach is replaced, the job of trying to foster a positive atmosphere starts again from scratch.
'Dortmund aren't just a counter-attacking side anymore'
bundesliga.com: What do you make of BVB’s playing style? Would you say it has improved under Tuchel?
Hitzfeld: The team has definitely improved. It’s not only all about fast-paced counter-attacks anymore. BVB have more possession, more patience, their pass-completion rate has gone up and they are more comfortable on the ball.
bundesliga.com: As a coach, how do you prevent your players becoming complacent?
Hitzfeld: That’s part and parcel of being a coach. It doesn’t matter if you’re analysing the previous game or addressing the players in a meeting. It’s important to remember that you only play as well as you train. That’s why it’s vital to maintain high levels of concentration and call a halt to proceedings when players start becoming complacent. In short, you have to plan your training sessions, criticise and be more strict. As a coach, you can tell when a player’s just being sloppy.
bundesliga.com: BVB took quite a while to get into their stride against Odd and against Ingolstadt. Why do you think that was?
Hitzfeld: They simply underestimated Odd. They conceded an early goal and were momentarily stunned. Other than that, it’s hard to find an explanation for something like that against a weaker opponent. It should be noted that both Odd and Ingolstadt had enough energy in the first half to keep BVB at bay, but Dortmund eventually tired them out and made them chase the ball. If your concentration levels drop, BVB are more than capable of beating you.
bundesliga.com: Do you think Tuchel uses the first 30 to 45 minutes to probe the opposition before telling his players to pounce in the second half?
'Hertha have always been a tricky opposition for BVB'
Hitzfeld: The aim is always to score an early goal in order to play with more composure, but BVB also have the ability to decide games in the second half or in the closing stages of a match. That’s a huge advantage.
bundesliga.com: Tuchel sets great store by politeness and modesty. How important are values like these within a team and did you set similar standards when you were a coach?
Hitzfeld: This sort of thing depends on a coach’s social skills. It’s also important that players can all speak German. The coach speaks German, and this way he is able to get his message across off the pitch as well as on it. Without solidarity and loyalty among each other you can’t perform properly as a team. The more experienced players are important role models in that regard. They have to set an example to the other players in matters of respect and decorum. That’s something I always demanded of my players.
bundesliga.com: How do you think Dortmund will do against Hertha Berlin this weekend?
Hitzfeld: BVB are favourites based on their performance in the first two games of the season, although Hertha have always been a tricky opposition for them. BVB have the wind in their sails, though, that’s why they’ll get the three points. I’m expecting BVB to win at any rate.
'Vidal and Costa have improved Bayern'
bundesliga.com: What about Bayern? What would you say is the main advantage of their playing style under Pep Guardiola and are there disadvantages to their approach?
Hitzfeld: Bayern’s biggest strength is that they’re very solid in defence because their players defend very well from the front and the back. They are more compact and they pass the ball more. Obviously that only works with top, top players, but Bayern have those in abundance. They’re simply a world class outfit.
bundesliga.com: Which of Bayern’s summer signings do you regard as their most important acquisition?
Hitzfeld: Both Vidal and Costa have helped improve Bayern. Vidal is an aggressive leader, he’s strong in the tackle and good at regaining possession. He also provides extra protection for the back four. Costa is capable of getting the better of any opponent. He’s very dangerous in one-on-one situations, always has to be marked by two opposition players and is very quick.
bundesliga.com: Do you think Leverkusen can really hurt Bayern this Saturday and maybe leave Munich with a point, or even all three?
Hitzfeld: Bayern are favorites. Leverkusen will have to have a very good day to even get a point. Having said that, Bayer are a quality side, they have great individuals and also have plenty of strength in depth. In my opinion, though, Bayern are still clear favorites.
Ottmar Hitzfeld was speaking to Thomas Mörs