- Leverkusen tie up third and place in next season's Champions League group stage after Hertha win.
- Kramer says winning run the key to belated march up the standings.
- Excited to return to former Gladbach stomping ground next week.
Resurgent form and a dose of good fortune played their part as Bayer 04 Leverkusen secured their passage to the group stage of the 2016/17 UEFA Champions League somewhat unexpectedly ahead of schedule, according to Christoph Kramer.
Speaking after helping Die Werkself put the seal on a third-placed finish with a 2-1 victory over Hertha Berlin, the Germany international midfielder explained the whys and wherefores of the Rhineland outfit's late-season revival, discussed his side's prospects of one day closing the gap on the Bundesliga's top two and looked ahead to next weekend's meeting with former club Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Question: Christoph Kramer, with two games to go, Leverkusen have achieved their goal of qualifying for next season's Champions League. Is it something you anticipated a few weeks back?
Christoph Kramer: No, definitely not. It's not what was expected.
Question: After you took an early 2-0 lead and Hertha reduced the arrears, it was a pretty tough game. What did you make of it?
Kramer: I don't think Hertha had a clear-cut chance, perhaps other than the shot from Alexander Baumjohann. It was a tense game. Anything can happen when you only have a one-goal lead, but we had chances through Stefan Kießling and a couple for Karim Bellarabi. We should have put it to bed earlier. Then it wouldn't have been so tense. We did well.
Question: What tipped the balance in Leverkusen's favour in the race for Champions League football?
Kramer: It was clear from the start that whoever went on a run would win the neck-and-neck race behind second place for the Champions League. We did that and deserve to finish third.
Question: Seven or eight weeks ago the atmosphere was completely different. What happened for you to be able to turn it around and come out of it so positively?
Kramer: It's hard to say exactly - not a lot happened. We had a bit of luck. Then we hit top form, which we really needed. We won games with a bit of luck on our side. We didn't have that earlier in the season.
"It will be difficult to match Bayern and Dortmund over an entire season" Christoph Kramer
Question: Nominally, Leverkusen are now the third best team in Germany. Are Bayern and Dortmund attainable for Bayer 04?
Kramer: That's a really tough question. After last season, I said it would be really difficult to catch Wolfsburg. For me, Wolfsburg were guaranteed second or third place. Now they're tenth and just lost 5-1 to Dortmund. It's going so well for Tuchel's Dortmund and Bayern that I think it will be difficult to match them over the course of an entire season.
Question: You can now go into next weekend's game against former club Mönchengladbach feeling pretty relaxed. What would you like to see happen for Borussia?
Kramer: I hope they finish fourth. We can play with the shackles off and see what comes of it. Gladbach are really strong at home.
Question: How special will it be for you to return to Mönchengladbach?
Kramer: I don't really get emotional. I'm really looking forward to playing there because BORUSSIA-PARK has one of the best atmospheres in the Bundesliga. I'm also looking forward to seeing my former team-mates again, but there's not really much riding on it for us.
Tobias Gonscherowski reporting from Leverkusen