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.
"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.