With nine goals to his name at the halfway stage of 2015/16 - already more than he managed in the entirety of the last campaign - Salomon Kalou’s form up front has been one of the key reasons Hertha Berlin sit third in the Bundesliga standings.
In a revealing exclusive interview with bundesliga.com the former Chelsea FC star discusses why he loves the atmosphere in the Bundesliga, his side’s rise up the table and his aims for 2016...
'Our preparation in the summer was important'
bundesliga.com: Salomon Kalou, what do you think are the main reasons for Hertha Berlin’s impressive first half of the season?
Salomon Kalou: Primarily, we’ve become a real force on home turf again, as we recently showed against Mainz. Every game we win at the Olympiastadion brings more confidence and so then we begin to play better away from home because we approach matches relaxed, but full of confidence.
bundesliga.com: Was there one particular game in the first half of the season you would describe as the catalyst for what was to come?
Kalou: I actually think our preparation in the summer was important in that sense. Even back then I had the feeling that we were getting better and better and that we would have a good season. Last season, for example, we often didn’t have enough quality to create really good chances. This season, though, we’ve done that much better and have been dangerous in front of the opposition goal. For the strikers, whether it’s me or Vedad Ibisevic, it’s a lot easier to make the most of our potential.
bundesliga.com: And how important has summer signing Vladimir Darida from SC Freiburg been to Hertha’s upward curve?
Kalou: We needed a player to keep things ticking over in midfield and give us a bit more creativity, both of which are things Vladimir does very well. He’s a great player. He loves having the ball, linking up with other players and finding holes in opposition defences. Playing with him is a lot of fun.
'Our main aim was to do better than last year'
bundesliga.com: And that means you probably feel less isolated up top…
Kalou: Of course, and since Ibisevic has been playing for us, we have gone with two up front, which has played to my strengths. I can show what I’m capable of slightly more now.
bundesliga.com: Even so, could you have ever imagined that Hertha would be so high up at the winter break?
Kalou: No, of course not. Our main aim was just to do better than last year, which we have already exceeded.
bundesliga.com: And have you noticed a certain level of excitement in the city?
Kalou: Well, you certainly notice that the fans are dreaming about qualifying for Europe. But you have to remember that even when things weren’t going too well for us last season, an average of 60,000 fans still came to the Olympiastadion, which always impressed me. People in Berlin love sport and love football. And, of course, with good results, there’s always a certain happiness around.
In the Bundesliga 'every away game is a highlight'
bundesliga.com: After a year-and-a-half in the German top flight, are you happy in the Bundesliga?
Kalou: Absolutely. This is a fantastic league, with stadiums which are almost always full and a fantastic atmosphere. The fans enjoy themselves and come along for the experience. It’s never boring.
bundesliga.com: Apart from the Olympiastadion, which other stadiums have impressed you most?
Kalou: Certainly in Dortmund, in Gelsenkirchen [FC Schalke 04] or at the Allianz Arena it’s always incredibly loud. Even the smaller stadiums like Augsburg are great, and because they’re small, there’s a really good atmosphere. Every away game is a highlight.
bundesliga.com: Has the winter break come at the right time or would you have preferred just to have carried on playing?
Kalou: We’re playing pretty well at the moment, but also without changing the starting 11 too much. As a result, your legs do start to get tired and I’m pleased now to be able to have a bit of a breather.
bundesliga.com: Finally then, what are you going to be hoping for in 2016?
Kalou: Health, and to carry on in the second half of the season as well as we did in the first. If we do that, we’ll end the season in a good position.
Salomon Kalou was speaking to Alexis Menuge.