As a winner of the Bundesliga title in charge of both FC Bayern München and Borussia Dortmund, Ottmar Hitzfeld is certainly well placed to cast an eye over the 2016/17 Bundesliga season.
In an exclusive interview with bundesliga.com, the 68-year-old assesses whether newcomers RB Leipzig can sustain a title charge against FC Bayern, whether Dortmund can claim a top-four place, whether Bayer 04 Leverkusen can resurrect their season and much more besides…
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bundesliga.com: Ottmar Hitzfeld, do you think FC Bayern will run away with the title or will it be a tight race at the top?
Ottmar Hitzfeld: Bayern play four of their next five league games away from home, while Leipzig play three of their next four at home, so I think it will still be tight for another few weeks. But Bayern will stay top of the league because overall they simply have more quality. Carlo Ancelotti experimented a lot in the first half of the season but he’ll know his favoured formation now. I’m convinced Bayern will only get better from now on.
bundesliga.com: Will Leipzig continue to cause a sensation?
Hitzfeld: I think Leipzig are the only side that can challenge Bayern this season, as the others are just too far off the pace now. I don’t think Leipzig will ‘do a Hoffenheim’ and fall away [TSG were top of the table at the halfway mark in 2008/09 but ended up finishing seventh] because this Leipzig team is very stable and solid. Experience plays a big part and it will be interesting to see how they react if they lose two or three games, but they have those home matches coming up so that should help them find their rhythm quickly.
bundesliga.com: Can Dortmund still finish above Leipzig?
Hitzfeld: I think BVB definitely have enough to finish in the automatic Champions League qualifying places, and that has to be their aim, but they've not met their expectations so far this season. They've had injuries but the squad is big enough to compensate for that – they’ve simply lost games and dropped points unnecessarily. I think they’re the only side that can challenge Leipzig [for second place].
Hitzfeld: All three of them have played to their limits this season and I don’t think they’ll all be able to play so consistently well over the second half of the season. However, if I had to pick one, I’d say Frankfurt. They have a strong team, good variation in attack and it seems a more relaxed environment than at the other two clubs. Niko Kovac is also doing tremendous work as coach.
Hitzfeld: All of those clubs are under massive pressure after a weak Hinrunde, so if they suffer any setbacks, it will be very hard to compete for the European places. They can’t really afford to lose games, and I think it will be hard for them to produce top performances. But if I were to pick one of them, it would be Leverkusen. Again, the climate there seems to be calmer and more relaxed, which isn’t always the case for Schalke, while Gladbach and Wolfsburg are too far behind now.
Interview by Alexis Menuge
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