Bastian Oczipka: A battle for places, until the very end

For Schalke, their first defeat in 13 matches was nothing to be down about and there’s no time to be anyway. The players have just returned from Leipzig and are already undertaking fitness exams. After these tests, Bastian Oczipka took the time to reflect on the weekend’s match and to look forward to the next one. The defender spoke to us about the 3-1 defeat in Leipzig, the atmosphere around the team and the upcoming test against Hannover 96.

Bastian, during the fitness tests, they really did find out what you were made of, but what makes them so exhausting?

The tests themselves are just running performance exams that are part of the training schedule twice a year. Normally they take place during the winter and summer breaks, so that we have the data for when training starts again. After all, we should always be able to pass these tests. That’s to say that no one should feel overloaded or under-burdened. This year, however the winter break was too short, and so it was only now that we were able to find time in our training schedule to cope with the strain they put you under. Although they’re not that long, the intensity is really high. Everyone gets so pumped up (laughs).

Speaking of being pumped up, you can hear the loud music coming from the gym. Has the defeat in Leipzig been stricken off and you’re all now looking forward to the game?

For sure. At the end of the day, the match on Saturday was nothing too bad. We started the match well, and had a lot of the ball in the first 30 minutes, which I think shocked the Leipzig players. We quickly got in behind their defence and stayed on the front foot, which we had planned to do. But we started playing into their hands and they gained in confidence.

How did you play into their hands?

In the second half, we invited the Leipzig team to press. We passed short in the middle and they pressed and countered. Their counter is always hard to play against. In the first half we simply played around the press but in the second half we did the opposite, and it was really effective. So then you look at it and maybe we deserved the 3-1 defeat.

Of all the teams in the top third, only Leipzig and the run-away leaders Bayern won this weekend. Everything is still very close between second and eleventh place.

And it will stay like that for the whole of the second half of the season. No team will be able to rest on its laurels. So we can’t let ourselves be influenced by what’s going on in the table. We have to focus on what we’re doing day in, day out. That was our attitude during the winter training camp. During the break, it’s not as though we all said goodbye and thought ‘we are second and everything is great at the moment.’ For us it is important to keep the points ticking over and not focus on where we are in the table. Until the very end, there will always be a battle for places. In any case, the league will remain exciting.

How do you feel about the improvements you’re making as a side?

We had a super first half to the season, but the game against Leipzig clearly showed that as a team we are still in a transition phase. We made mistakes that we really shouldn’t have made. In particular, here we played against a team known for their strong counter and the way we played allowed them to exploit us. We cannot let that happen again in the second half of the season.

Your first home game of 2018 is on Sunday against Hannover in the VELTINS-Arena. In the first half of the season, the reds were able to close out a 1-0 victory. Are you looking forward to the rematch?

I am sure that we will be able to improve on our performance from last time. Hannover is a tough opponent and generally very tricky to play against. Just this weekend they showed this again, coming from a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2. They almost play man vs. man across the entire pitch. They did that against us too but we did not manage to find the right way to combat it. But as we just talked about, we have developed a lot as a team and we will be able to cope a lot better in these sorts of situations. Hopefully, we will show that on Sunday.

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