In an exclusive interview with DW, RB Leipzig goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi discusses the club’s debut season in Europe, the increased competition to secure Champions League football next season, and life after Naby Keita.
DW: Reaching the Champions League was a significant achievement for RB Leipzig. Despite going out in the group stages, do you feel the experience has been good for the team?
Peter Gulacsi: We definitely grew as a team during the Champions League and even though we went out earlier than we hoped, I have to say the experience really matured us. What people have to remember is how young our team is and we were playing in the Champions League for the first time, so it was a huge learning curve for every level of the club. We had some really good games in the group stages such as the 4-1 win in Monaco, but then we had games where we could have taken more. We're pleased that our European journey hasn't ended though and we've got a big opportunity to keep going in the Europa League and build on our experience, which will only continue our development as a team.
Despite the club's lack of European football pedigree, you're among the favorites to win the Europa League. Do you think Leipzig has what it takes to have a long run in the competition?
It's too early to say and we'll have to take it game by game. We are faced with Napoli, who are one of the very best teams in there and that will be like a Champions League game. For a club like ours, it's a big thing just to be there and looking at the teams that are left in the competition - Atletico Madrid, Arsenal, AC Milan, Lyon - we can't assume anything. Having said that, it's a fantastic opportunity to still be in Europe and we'll be doing our best to have a long run.
Gulacsi says RB Leipzig's achievement of finishing second in the Bundesliga last season was 'one of a kind'
For the first time, the club has had to juggle domestic and European competition. Has it been a challenge?
It's been a challenge and something new for most of the team. I think we've coped with it really well and it helps that our players are young and we have a decent sized squad that can handle the demands. The coach is able to replace quality with quality and that's a big advantage if we're going to continue to progress as a team and reach our goals. We need to keep collecting points in the league, stay in the top four and give ourselves another chance in the Champions League next year.
This time last year Leipzig were giving Bayern Munich a run for their money in the Bundesliga. Now you're 13 points off the pace in the league and out of the Champions League and German Cup. Is it time to focus on Bundesliga again and close the gap?
What we achieved last year was one of a kind, so we shouldn't judge ourselves too harshly if we don't get as close to Bayern this year as we did last time. As I said before, we are a long way behind them in our evolution as a team. They have unbelievable individual quality in their squad and if we can start the second half of the season well and go second in the league again it will be a great compliment to the team.
The team ended 2017 on a pretty bad run, no wins in the final five Bundesliga games of the year. Why do you think that was and did the winter break come at a good time for you?
The winter break has definitely given us the chance to recharge our batteries and come back fresher and stronger for the business end of the season. We played a lot of games and it's normal that you can't keep the same intensity week after week, especially at such a high level. We have work to do in the league and having the time to reflect on how we can improve as a team can only be good for us, physically and mentally.
Gulacsi in action against Schalke, who beat Leipzig 2-0 on the opening day of the season and are now second in the table
Your next game is a crucial one at home to Schalke. What have you made of the season they're having?
If you had told them at the start of the season that they'd be where they are now they would have taken it. Their coach has made some changes to the team and they've become much harder to beat. So we know that will be a tough game, but the race for the top four this season is very competitive, with seven or eight teams trying to push for a Champions League place. Schalke are one of those teams and if we want to finish where we did last year we need to win these kinds of games.
The club will lose Naby Keita to Liverpool, one of your former clubs, in the summer. How much of a loss will he be?
Naby is a fantastic player, we all know this. He has been very important to us for the past couple of seasons and that's exactly why Liverpool wanted to sign him and why they are willing to spend big money to get him. For us, ideally we don't want to lose our best players but at the same time this is football and we have a great squad here. I'm sure the club will do what's necessary to ensure we continue to move in the right direction.
Peter Gulacsi was born in 1990 in the Hungarian capital Budapest. From 2007 to 2013, the goalkeeper was at Liverpool, but struggled to make an impression in the first team and was loaned to several clubs. In 2013, Gulacsi moved to RB Salzburg, and two years later to RB Leipzig. The 27-year-old's contract runs until 2022. Gulacsi has won 14 caps for the Hungarian national team.
This interview was conducted by DW's Michael Da Silva.