Cologne - Granit Xhaka hasn't experienced too many lows in his three years as a Borussia Mönchengladbach player, but last weekend's 4-0 defeat to Borussia Dortmund was certainly one of them.
In an exclusive interview with bundesliga.com, the 22-year-old Swiss international midfielder explains what went wrong at the Signal Iduna Park and looks at how the Foals can improve in the coming season, starting with Sunday's trip to Mainz...
bundesliga.com: Grant Xhaka, it’s not unusual to go to Dortmund and lose, but was a 4-0 defeat like last Saturday avoidable?
Granit Xhaka: Honestly, no! From the first to the last second nothing went well for us. It was as if we weren’t even on the pitch. We showed them far too much respect. There’s no doubt Dortmund played well. And like you say, you can lose in Dortmund, but not like that! Still, maybe a defeat like that has done us a bit of good.
bundesliga.com: Go on…
Xhaka: We have to realise that it didn’t just happen. The coach showed us statistics after the game that revealed every one of us ran a kilometre less compared with our average from last season. The defeat teaches us a lot of lessons and brings us back down to earth. Everyone knows that he has to do more, fight more and run more. It’s not enough playing attractive football in the Bundesliga.
bundesliga.com: It’s baffling when you mention “too much respect”. How can that be, given your confidence levels after last season and the way you played in the second half of the DFB Cup first round?
Xhaka: You’re right. The second half against FC St. Pauli went well, but only the second half. Without being disrespectful, Dortmund are an entirely different proposition to St. Pauli. They’re capable of competing for the title every season, maybe that's what they have to be doing. Take a look at the individual positions - they’re definitely better equipped than us. We also lost at Dortmund last season, they’re always a tough nut to crack. As always, I’d rather lose 4-0 once than 1-0 four times.
bundesliga.com: Christopher Kramer’s bizarre own goal was responsible for last season’s defeat. Are you missing Kramer and Max Kruse more than expected?
Xhaka: There’s no way you can replace them like for like. Christoph and Max weren’t just important figures on the pitch, they were off it too. In Lars Stindl and Josip Drmic, though, we’ve acquired some quality players. It’s completely normal that the guys need a bit of time to show their quality. That’s definitely not an excuse. We’ve always got enough quality, if we run and if we fight!
bundesliga.com: How did Lucien Favre react?
Xhaka: What happened last year was a real sensation. How did the coach put it? Borussia qualifying for the Champions League is like winning the title! We’ll get our reward in the coming months when we play in the Champions League for the first time. That’s great, but we can’t live in the past. Now it’s about the future.
bundesliga.com: What was training like during the week after a defeat like in Dortmund?
Xhaka: Lucien Favre isn’t the kind of coach to punish you in training. I'm going into my fourth year at Borussia and I’ve never seen him give us the hairdryer treatment. He always thinks positively. And we’re not daft. We know ourselves that we played badly.
bundesliga.com: You’re not the kind of guy to doubt himself. What about your teammates?
Xhaka: If you lose a few games in a row, everyone can have doubts. Most of us aren’t used to these kind of defeats any more. I don’t think anyone is beginning to have doubts. Why? Because we lost on the first day of the season. That hurts, but it’s not like it’s Matchday 30 or 32 and we’ve already thrown it away. Maybe we need a bit of time, but we have to be on it on Sunday. We can’t come away from Mainz with a point or nothing at all.
bundesliga.com: How do you deal with the situation as one of the leading figures in the camp?
Xhaka: I suppose more is expected of me these days, but I only try to fulfil my duties and do what the coach asks - just like last season. That’s all. I don’t want to take on a special role.
bundesliga.com: You said earlier that the Champions League is your reward for a fantastic season. Could the Champions League be a burden - not so much of a physical, but a psychological one - if the positive results don’t come?
Xhaka: I think playing every three days is an advantage. If you lose, you’re not carrying it around with you all week; you have the opportunity to quickly put it right. That said, we all know it’ll be on another level to the Europa League. Barcelona, Madrid, Chelsea: that’s the best football has to offer.
bundesliga.com: Is there a particular team you’d like to play?
Xhaka: Sure, my biggest wish would be to draw FC Basel. It’s my former club, my hometown and my brother, Taulent, plays there. It’d be a great experience for both of us. On the subject of great experiences, I saw the play-off between Celtic and Malmö. To experience an atmosphere like that at Celtic Park would also be fantastic. They’re the games you live for as a footballer.
bundesliga.com: Do you think that kind of atmosphere would make you nervous?
Xhaka: I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t feel something. Every player gets a bit nervous, but I wouldn’t be frightened; I’d actually be pretty excited. Playing against that kind of backdrop has to be a huge motivation.
bundesliga.com: Next up, though, you’ve got Mainz…
Xhaka: … and they’re a really awkward side to play against. Last season we drew 1-1 at home and 2-2 in Mainz. Mainz run hard and are prepared to fight, but they’ve lost two important players in [Johannes] Geis and [Shinji] Okazaki. Whatever the pros and cons are, we’re at playing at home and have to prove to our fans that we’re intent on showing a positive reaction after the Dortmund defeat.
Granit Xhaka was talking to Andreas Kötter