Borussia Dortmund defender Mats Hummels is looking forward to the start of the second half of the Bundesliga season with high hopes and expectations. His side are on course for a return to the UEFA Champions League next season, while they are still in the hunt in the UEFA Europa League and DFB Cup.
There is therefore plenty for Hummels and Dortmund fans to look forward to in the coming five months, as he explained in this exclusive interview with bundesliga.com.
bundesliga.com: Mats Hummels, Dortmund's training camp in Doha is over already, and before that you had a fortnight off. What did you do with your free time?
Mats Hummels: I took a holiday and spent a bit of time with family and friends, just to free my mind a bit. It did me the world of good. I managed to relax totally, both psychologically and physically, and that has certainly freed up some energy for the second half of the season.
bundesliga.com: Your friendly games have also been very successful, including a 4-1 win over Bundesliga rivals Eintracht Frankfurt. Do you prefer playing evenly-matched opponents or easier ones in warm-up matches?
Hummels: I'm a big fan of facing tough opponents in warm-up games. As a defender, it basically puts me to the test more. Easy friendlies, which maybe you win 15-0, are not so great. If you were to ask one of our forwards, then maybe they would say the opposite (smiles). Overall, though, you can't read too much into friendly games. The win over Frankfurt was good, of course, but it doesn't have any real significance.
bundesliga.com: How much are the team looking forward to the restart?
Hummels: The atmosphere within the team is really fantastic. We're all refreshed and we're showing the necessary amount of aggression, without going over the top in the tackles. Everyone wants to prove a point and there's a really good atmosphere and team spirit, which we're going to need for a successful restart.
bundesliga.com: Indeed, Dortmund are still in three competitions. What are your objectives for the second half of the season?
Hummels: Of course our primary aim is to remain in the hunt in all three competitions for as long as we can. We've got two tough draws in the DFB Cup and the Europa League, but at the same time they're ties we can look forward to. If we get through them, then we can be happy with what we've achieved. As for the Bundesliga, we want to defend second spot at all costs and increase our advantage over the teams behind us.
bundesliga.com: And what are your personal objectives?
Hummels: I basically want to maintain the level of performances I have been showing and play the way I was during the Hinrunde. The two or three mistakes which led to us conceding goals are things I must of course prevent in future, and I'll be happy to do that – that's the aim of every defender. As a defender, you are often the final link in a chain of mistakes and it's easy to pin the blame on me or one of us, and sometimes that would be justified.
bundesliga.com: You have actually had to listen to a fair bit of criticism about your performances – how do you deal with that?
Hummels: If I perform badly, then that angers me more than anybody. If I don't feel that's the case and mistakes are being pinned on me, then that's not such a big deal because what matters most to me is the success of the team, and I want to contribute to that. That's always the main objective, but still some bad performances are going to bug me for the rest of my life, and that's something I can't and don't want to change.
bundesliga.com: Dortmund still have chances to win a title this season. You've already won everything domestically, and also the World Cup. How do you motivate yourself?
Hummels: It's not something I even consider. Even in training, I'm motivated to win things. I've never reached a point where I had to think of what I might need to give me even more motivation. That's just not something I need.
bundesliga.com: You like to measure yourself up to the best. If the whole team were to do that, would that mean you would be looking at FC Bayern München?
Hummels: Bayern are always a good example, or a role model, and I don't just mean in the current season. They've been playing at an incredibly high level since 2012, and doing so consistently. I reckon they are up there with Barcelona and Real Madrid as one of the three best teams in the world. You've just got to respect them. That doesn't mean we've got to be afraid of them, though. Over 90 minutes, you've got to stand up to them and make them realise that you can also beat them.