On Friday night the Bundesliga resumes with leaders FC Bayern München, three points clear of Borussia Dortmund and FC Schalke 04, visiting fourth-placed VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Bayern conceded only ten goals in 17 Bundesliga games before the winter break, as well as progressing in the UEFA Champions League, and key to those achievements was new keeper Manuel Neuer, who had arrived in a much-discussed move from Schalke. Six months on, the 25-year-old Germany No1 speaks about Bayern's season so far, the title race, and why he could not help upsetting the Russian Prime Minister with his transfer.
How were the first six months at Bayern? Is it a completely different environment compared with Schalke?
Manuel Neuer: It's pretty similar.
I haven't changed my profession but here I can talk openly about winning trophies, about winning the league, winning the German Cup, and even winning the Champions League. So we can communicate that to the public. Apart from that, both teams are top teams. Bayern have competed internationally more than Schalke, and in the end I can say that I don't regret my move.
How hard was the decision to go to Bayern?
Neuer: Of course it was a difficult decision. I'm 25 years old, I lived in Gelsenkirchen for 25 years, and I played for Schalke for 20 years; to then make your first big step and leave the city to change to a new club, and make a change in your life, was certainly something big for me at that moment. That's why it was a burden for me.
Schalke chairman Clemens Tönnies has said that during your time there Vladimir Putin was a great fan of yours – and that he was against the decision to sell you. Did you know about this?
Neuer: Yes, I knew about it. But Clemens Tönnies or Mr Putin don't live the life of Manuel Neuer. I live my life and I have to take decisions for my life. That's why I took that decision.
Let's talk a little about Friday's opponents Mönchengladbach ...
Neuer: We are looking forward to this match, we have had great preparations so far. We know that Gladbach have had a great first part of the season and we know what to expect away from home. We will need to give our best and we need to approach the game with great focus.
Are Dortmund your only realistic title rivals or are Schalke contenders as well?
Neuer: I think Dortmund are our toughest rivals, but there are other teams that can play a role and Schalke are among them – they also had a great first half of the season. So we need to be alert and shouldn't underestimate any team in the second part of the campaign. But in the end it's all up to us.
Do you think it is still possible in this world of football to be a fan of Schalke and play for Bayern at the same time?
Neuer: I didn't say I'm a fan of Schalke at the moment. I have my fingers crossed for my former team-mates at Schalke, and of course I want Schalke to be successful – it's a club where I played for 20 years, where I basically know everybody who works there, and where I myself worked every day. That's why I prefer to see Schalke at the top rather than Dortmund.
Last year Bayern had the problem of conceding too many goals, whereas this year they look much better. What, from your experience, has Jupp Heynckes done and how did you concentrate on improving this in training ?
Neuer: Well, we went on a run of ten matches without conceding a goal, and it was important that the players thought in a different way – meaning that we try to win the ball back as fast as possible, starting up front with Mario Gomez and going all the way back. We all want to win it back fast. Maybe before everybody thought differently, but I can't say that because I wasn't here. But it is important that we keep a clean sheet. And knowing our quality in attack, we can score goals – that's why the first part of the season ended as it did.
What do you think of Heynckes changing his team, especially in central defence? Would you prefer to have the same personnel in defence all the time?
Neuer: Well, it's not really a problem for me. At the beginning of the season we rotated the team – Rafinha played at right-back, Jerome Boateng, Daniel Van Buyten and Holger Badstuber in the centre; they rotated and it worked out fine at the start, we played well. And if anyone came in it just continued to work well. We have the quality in the team to make it work successfully, and when it isn't successful you normally know what the reason is. But in general I think a stable team is always more successful than a team which is always changing.
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