After sampling the delights of the UEFA Champions League last term, Bayer 04 Leverkusen are now setting their sights on UEFA Europa League glory. Under Robin Dutt, the Werkself made it to the round of 16 in 2011/12, their challenge ended by a Lionel Messi-inspired FC Barcelona.
Dutt's successor Sascha Lewandowski tells UEFA.com he is determined that Leverkusen "go as far as possible" on the continental front, ideally all the way to next May's UEFA Europa League final in Amsterdam.
UEFA.com: How pleased are you with pre-season so far?
Sascha Lewandowski: We are fully on schedule and have worked really hard in the last few weeks. The team and the coaching staff are a real unit. In pre-season we place special value on playing teams like Napoli or Liverpool, to try to get competitive situations. Also, the players learn more and get to know our system better.
UEFA.com: How are the new signings doing?
Lewandowski: Our signings – Philipp Wollscheid, Daniel Carvajal, Junior Fernándes, Jens Hegeler and Hajime Hosogai – have made a good first impression and have been well received by the team. A unit has developed here. We have completed our transfer business and await the new season.
UEFA.com: What is the mood like in the camp?
Lewandowski: The team is a unit, and the boys work very hard and are very thorough. The coaching staff are having a lot of fun and hope this will continue to develop over the course of the season.
UEFA.com: Before the Bundesliga starts, the first round of the domestic cup takes place. What are your hopes?
Lewandowski: We play at [FC] Carl Zeiss Jena, and of course we are favourites for that tie. We want to still be in the competition after the winter break. As everybody knows, the cup is the shortest route to Europe and the cup final is a goal for every club.
UEFA.com: What are your goals for this season?
Lewandowski: Leverkusen always have the goal of qualifying for Europe. This means we plan to reach the UEFA Europa League. Should things work out really well, we could compete for a place in the UEFA Champions League. But the Bundesliga is very even and that is why we should take it match by match.
UEFA.com: Who do you think will win the Bundesliga? Which team could be the surprise package?
Lewandowski: This is always a nice question. The usual suspects to win the title are, of course, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern München. Surprises are supposed to surprise you, so let's just be surprised.
UEFA.com: Last season you played in the UEFA Champions League, this time it is the UEFA Europa League. Do you have a specific target for the competition?
Lewandowski: Playing in the UEFA Champions League last season was a reward for the great season before. This term we want to reach the knockout stage no matter what and then go as far as possible. I know the final is being played in Amsterdam – that would be quite an experience.
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