RB Leipzig are getting ready to embark on their first UEFA Champions League campaign, just 12 short months on from winning promotion to the Bundesliga. Yussuf Poulsen, with five goals and four assists, was crucial to the eastern upstarts' success, but even he never expected such a meteoric rise.
bundesliga.com sat down with the Denmark international to get his thoughts RBL's winning mentality, what their goals are for the coming campaign, and what the arrival of Jean-Kevin Augustin means for his place in the team…
bundesliga.com: Yussuf Poulsen, it perhaps wasn't surprising to see RB Leipzig play well last season, but few expected you to play quite so well and finish second. What made the team so strong?
Poulsen: Our greatest strength last season was our mentality, our will to win. This team spirit was fed by our promotion to the Bundesliga and then the fact we proved we were able to stay near the top for the entire campaign. Our mind-set often decided tight games for us.
bundesliga.com: Leipzig have deliberately put together a youthful squad. Is experience overlooked?
Poulsen: I think you have to first clarify how you define "experience". Is experience only the sum of Bundesliga games the players have played, or does experience also mean the extent to which a team has developed together over two or three seasons? Over the past few seasons we have only added two or three players to the starting line up ahead of a new season. As a closed unit we have grown together, and learned what we can accomplish together.
bundesliga.com: This summer no top performer has left the club, but new talents like Jean-Kevin Augustin [from Paris Saint-Germain] have joined. Will RBL be even stronger next season?
Poulsen: This'll be a very difficult season for us, but I believe we can be even stronger than last year. Last season, we didn't have much possession and scored most of our goals on the counter-attack. In the second half of the season we were more successful against teams in the bottom half of the table due to our build-up play. This shows how quickly we've developed. Now we're in the Champions League we must up our game again.
bundesliga.com: Has a goal for the season been formulated by the club and the team?
Poulsen: There has been no discussion on a fixed seasonal goal, and I don't think it will be necessary. We just need everyone to have the same hunger that they did last year. The hunger to win every game - and this applies to the Bundesliga as well as the Champions League and DFB Cup. We know we have huge quality, but we have to show it. We have extra games to deal with, but we'll manage it.
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bundesliga.com: As a full international [Poulsen has 19 caps for Denmark], a busy season is not new for you…
Poulsen: That's true, although I believe international football is another matter. Now, almost every other week you can expect a difficult game in international football. This season we will probably have about 15 or 16 regular first-team players, instead of just 11, because it'll be almost impossible to go the full distance in every game.
bundesliga.com: With RBL, you have gone all the way from the third tier to the Champions League. Was this a logical development for the club, and also for yourself?
Poulsen: Well, regarding Leipzig it was definitely their plan to make it to the Bundesliga in the medium-term. I remember [then-coach and now sporting director] Ralf Rangnick talking about it four years ago. When they moved to sign me they discussed the prospect of playing in the Bundesliga in three or four years. That we would get there so soon was not planned, though!
bundesliga.com: And what about your development?
Poulsen: It's very nice for me to be able to play internationally this early in my career, and in the Champions League as part of a great Bundesliga team. Quite honestly - I really would never have thought of that when I moved from Denmark to Leipzig in 2013.
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bundesliga.com: How did you see the Bundesliga last summer? Was anything different to what you expected?
Poulsen: A lot of it was how we expected - except us being so good (laughs!). The level of football, the speed of the game, the fans. I was aware of it and I wanted to be amongst it. The fact we were as good as we were was a surprise.
bundesliga.com: From Allan Simonsen and Brian Laudrup to Yussuf Poulsen today, there have been many successful Danes in the Bundesliga. What is the reason for this?
Poulsen: It could well be that the mentality between Danes and Germans isn't radically different. Germany is probably the country most similar to Denmark, for most Danes anyway. Italy, Spain, France - these countries don't come close. Danes are perhaps a little more laid back and use less formal language, but with things like work ethic and discipline, we're very similar.
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bundesliga.com: You formed a quick understanding with Timo Werner…
Poulsen: For Timo, it could hardly have gone better for him, and then to win the Confederations Cup! I think the national team had to get used to him at first, as they weren't used to playing with such a quick striker, but it ended up working really well, as you could see in Russia. It worked quickly with us. We played 30 games together last season and now we both know what the other one will do without thinking about it.
bundesliga.com: You also have a good relationship with Bayern Munich's Joshua Kimmich from his time at RBL. Did you catch up with him after Germany's game against Denmark in Copenhagen [the two drew 1-1 in June]?
Poulsen: It was very bitter for us Danes that Joshua scored the equaliser in the 88th minute (laughs)! Of course we have stayed in contact, and after the game and also the next day on the phone we talked about how it went last season for the two clubs and, of course, how this next season could unfold.
bundesliga.com: RBL kick off their season against Schalke. A year ago you would have been the underdogs. Are you the favourites this time?
Poulsen: I think the only team in the Bundesliga who can claim to be the favourite at any time is Bayern Munich. We only drew 1-1 at Schalke last season, and we don't see ourselves as the favourites. Schalke may have had a difficult start to their season last time, but they are still a great team who should certainly threaten the European places.
Poulsen was talking to Andreas Kötter