• Raffael: Leverkusen game this weekend will be "really tough".
  • Gladbach then travel to Darmstadt on the last day of the season.
  • Positive outlook after a turbulent season for the Foals.

While it has been a wild ride for Borussia Mönchengladbach fans this season, the club know that back-to-back wins in their final two games of the season will secure UEFA Champions League football in 2016/17. One man they can rely on to contribute towards that aim is Brazilian attacker Raffael, who has contributed 13 goals and ten assists to the Foals' rise to fourth.

In an exclusive interview with the 31-year-old discusses this weekend's clash with Bayer 04 Leverkusen, FC Barcelona star Lionel Messi and qualifying for next season's Champions League. Raffael, Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl described this as a strange season for Borussia. As it draws to an end, however, a place in Europe is secure and the UEFA Champions League still possible. How would you assess the campaign?

Raffael: Max Eberl hit the nail on the head: it’s been a crazy season, and one which is quite hard to explain. We lost five games in a row at the start of the season, then Lucien Favre left and then we couldn’t win away from home for months. and it’s in our own hands to reach the Champions League. That’s really crazy – but so is football sometimes!

The Brazilian is eyeing a second successive top-four finish with the Foals. So would finishing lower than fourth and playing in the UEFA Europa League and not the Champions League be a disappointment?

Raffael: No. Even if it was ‘just’ the Europa League, I’d still be delighted. I always try to think positively and no defeat ever makse me think anything but an amazing victory is possible in our next game. I must admit actually, though, that last summer – after five defeats in a row – even I was pondering. Back then everyone rightly thought that it was going to be a really tough season. Instead, we’re now on the verge of qualifying for the Champions League with a place in the Europa League already secure! How could I be disappointed with that? Borussia are currently fourth, level on points with Hertha Berlin and one point ahead of FC Schalke 04. Only with wins against Bayer 04 Leverkusen at home and then away at SV Darmstadt 98 would qualification for Europe’s top table be certain.

Raffael: That’s true, but that also means it’s in our own hands. Particularly against Leverkusen, we’ve got unfinished business after the 5-0 defeat in the first half of the season. That was probably our worst game this year. They’re in great shape approaching this one and have won seven games in a row – even considering how good we are at home, it’ll be really tough.

Raffael has netted 13 times already this season. And what about Darmstadt?

Raffael: Darmstadt will be fighting for survival until the last day, and so we won’t get anything cheaply there. After we met them in the Hinrunde, we know how tough they are to play against. That said, I firmly believe that we’ll take six points from these two games and so qualify for the Champions League. Against Leverkusen you’ll be up against Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez, another excellent footballer, and one who has scored a lot of goals this season, although he’s still behind you in the combined goals and assists tally. Is the competition between Brazilian and Mexican players as fierce as between Brazilians and Argentinians, say?

Raffael: No, it’s totally different (laughing). We Brazilians love the Mexicans and plenty of Brazilians play in the Mexican league. Mexicans and Brazilians – they just fit together! I’m actually going on holiday to Cancun for a few days with my family this summer. So what does the Brazilian Raffael make of the Mexican Chicharito?

Raffael: Chicharito’s a world-class footballer and one of the best in the Bundesliga.

"Chicharito's a world-class footballer and one of the best in the Bundesliga." Better than Raffael?

Raffael: I’d say so. There are a lot of excellent footballers in the top European leagues. You could compare plenty of them and ask plenty of others and get completely different answers as to who is better. At the moment, probably only one player would win every comparison, and that’s Lionel Messi. That’s very humble of you, but you have recorded the best combined tally of goals and assists in your career in what has been a turbulent season…

Raffael: That’s true, and it’s something I’m very proud of. It’s been the best season of my career to date and I’ve had the feeling that I’ve been getting better and better in the last three years at Borussia. Obviously it also helps that I’ve been pretty fit throughout: I think a torn muscle was probably the worst I’ve had to deal with. Things just fit nicely here for me – my family and I feel very comfortable, and would happily stay for longer.

Gladbach have endured an up-and-down campaign, but are aiming to end on a high. What’s more important to you: scoring more goals or having a better combined return of goals and assists?

Raffael: For me personally, the latter has a higher value. Of course when you score it helps the team most directly, but those who make the decisive pass are often undervalued, despite them playing a major role in a team’s success. That’s why I like the fact that in Germany combined goals and assists are measured. If you have the chance to shoot yourself or pass to a team-mate in a better position, what would you do?

Raffael: Of course I’d pass! I’m a striker, yes, and strikers love scoring goals, but if I see that my team-mate is in a better position than me, then teeing them up nicely is far more important than scoring myself. That’s just the way I see things and when the team player in me triumphs over the striker.