Borussia Mönchengladbach Granit Xhaka was once again at his influential best as he produced another captain’s performance in the Foals’ 4-1 win on the road against Hertha Berlin.
‘We believe in ourselves again’
Since being promoted to the role under new head coach Andre Schubert, the Swiss international has gone on to repay his boss’ faith with a string of exemplary outings that have significantly contributed to Gladbach’s six-game winning streak. Xhaka had 134 touches of the ball in the capital, providing the perfect fulcrum in the middle of the park, whilst also getting on the scoresheet with a well-executed spot-kick in the 54th minute.
Talking to the assembled press after the resounding victory, the 23-year-old discussed his newfound self-confidence, his role as first-choice penalty taker and the Foals’ remarkable upturn in form since the departure of Lucien Favre.
Question: Granit Xhaka, congratulations on the win in Berlin. You seem to be the man leading the charge for Gladbach. Is there any truth in that?
Granit Xhaka: I think our first-half performance was almost perfect. Hertha showed us a lot of respect and for the large part just sat really deep. It took us 15 minutes before we figured out how to find the gaps. After that we struck twice in quick succession. After the break we knew that Hertha had to push forward, but we did well to hold firm and then managed to make it 3-0 immediately. After that the game was over.
Question: Did Hertha have too much respect or did you and the team simply give them no chance?
Xhaka: Hertha obviously know that we’re extremely strong when given room to work in. We also boast the necessary qualities needed to do that. That’s why Berlin wanted to tighten up the game, sit defensively and perhaps push on in the second half – I don’t know. However, we quickly broke through and caught them cold.
Question: You took the penalty to make it 3-0 today. Four other Borussia players have already taken spot-kicks so far this season. Are you the new first-choice man?
Xhaka: The people who know me know that I’m always good for a quote. This time I said to Raffael: sorry, but you missed from the spot against Manchester City. Lars Stindl had the opportunity against FC Schalke 04 and only scored on the follow up. So I was up next. I wanted to show everyone how it’s done without the team needing to worry.
Question: You’ve now won your last six Bundesliga matches, having previously lost five on the bounce. How is that possible?
Xhaka: No one would have believed that possible. We were asleep during the first five games of the season. It wasn’t that we’d forgotten how to play football. We believe in ourselves again now, though. We’re willing to play risky passes, we’re holding onto the ball. In short: we’re playing good football. It’s more fun that way. We’re also pressing a lot higher up the pitch. We’re winning the ball further forward so that the distance to goal is a lot shorter. That’s how we’re making an impact. It’s simply a quality that we have.
‘Every game starts from scratch’
Question: Six wins on the trot, scoring an average of three and a half goals per game – do the rest of the league need to be worried about Gladbach?
Xhaka: Right now it’s all going well, but we can’t take our foot off the pedal even a little. Our style of play demands a lot physically. We run a lot, sprint a lot and run with great intensity for long periods. We’ve already seen that when you step off, things get tough. We saw that in the first half of the DFB Cup tie with Schalke. We’ve got to stay hungry and greedy. Every game starts from scratch. Now we’re looking forward to the next game against Juventus in the Champions League and then after that against Ingolstadt in the Bundesliga.
Question: Have you given Juventus cause for concern ahead of the clash on Tuesday?
Xhaka: It will, of course, be a different game to the one in Berlin. Juve have a very different quality to them. We saw that in the reverse fixture, but if we’re able to play the way we did in Berlin and perhaps even be a little more courageous going forward, then we’re also capable of causing problems for a big time like Juventus. Our aim in the group stages for now is to finish in third place. If we’re then able to claim second or even first, we’ll be more than happy to do so.
André Anchuelo reporting from Berlin