If they are fit, they are in the team: Niklas Stark and Karim Rekik. In the current season, both centre-backs have played in total 13 games together. Only injuries keep out 23-year-old Stark and 24-year-old Rekik from the team. However, since the second half of the season has started, neither player has missed a minute of football. They have played in not only a three at the back but also as a pairing in a back four. Before the huge game against Bayern München on Saturday (23.02.19, 15:30 CET), the two defenders spoke to herthabsc.de about the upcoming game, tactical flexibility and mutual advice.
Herthabsc.de: There is no other team you have played more than Bayern this season – assuming you start on Saturday. However, you have only one victory in the last eight games against them. Does beating Bayern give you more satisfaction than usual?
Stark: It is definitely something special, to beat Bayern, because it simply doesn’t happen very often. Bayern are the best team in Germany and have been for many years. Therefore, it is not only me, but also the majority of other players who would like to beat them in the future.
Herthabsc.de: Karim, for you it will be your first game against them this season as you were injured before the winter break. Are you excited for the game?
Rekik: A game against Bayern, for me as a footballer is of course something I look forward to. For me, it doesn’t really matter which stadium we play in, but of course it is always special to play at the Olympiastadion in front of our fans. Now however, I am excited for the game in München!
Herthabsc.de: Both your first half of the seasons were relatively similar. You were both starting central defenders until your injuries in November. You did not return until the beginning of the second half of the season but have played in every game since. Did you expect to return to action that quickly, without any difficulties?
Rekik: ...We are both players, who are keen to be fit and well prepared for games. After we got injured, we both tried to do everything we could to become fit again quickly and to help the team again. It’s good that we were both able to and can play again together!
Stark: Of course it is nice, that we are both back. At the start, you always need a few games to get back into the swing of things for yourself and also with the team. The past few games have been good and we have communicated well on the pitch. We won duels and we can now continue to build on it.
Herthabsc.de: You both took different career paths before coming to Hertha BSC. Karim, you have already played in the top four European leagues, and Nik, you’ve played over 100 Bundesliga games. Can you profit from each other’s experiences and how do you learn from each other?
Rekik: It’s clear that the football style here is different to England, the Netherlands and France. However, it’s not only on the pitch, it’s also off the pitch that is different and you have to make sure you get yourself involved with it all.
Stark: It doesn’t matter to us, where Karim has played already or how many games I have played in the Bundesliga. As long as our performances on the pitch are good and we fight for each other, then it is all good. It’s doesn’t matter what languages you speak either, as long as you understand each other.
Herthabsc.de: Whether it’s three at the back or four: The team has played with different systems, also changing during games. How important is this flexibility and what difference does it make to your game as a defender?
Stark: As a defender, we can do the most to implement tactics as we have a good view of the whole pitch. Of course we have to fine tune ourselves into the each system, whether it be three or four at the back. However, we train hard and talk a lot. At the moment, it’s working well and everyone is fully focused on the tasks ahead.
Rekik: The flexibility is extremely useful because when things aren’t going well in a game, we can react and change things up. Every game is different and when the system doesn’t work well, the other systems can work better. Moreover, it is more difficult for the opponents to prepare for our games, if we can play in several systems.
Herthabsc.de: A home victory in the first half of the season, but lost in extra-time in the cup. How can you make it difficult for them at the Allianz Arena or even grab a victory?
Stark: I believe that it will be difficult to surprise our opponents. Bayern know that we will scrap and that we will be tough in the tackle. We haven’t lost to them in 90 minutes in our last five games. The defeat in the cup was very frustrating, no question. However, we played well and made life very difficult for them. That’s also our aim in Munich. Last year, we drew 0-0 there and we want to get another clean sheet this time!
Rekik: A draw would be a good result, but we could be disappointed with it, depending on how we play. I want to win every game, no matter who the opponent is.
herthabsc.de: Bayern München haven’t been as dominant this season as in the past, but are still in contention to win three trophies and are hot on Dortmund’s heels. What do you make of your chances on Saturday?
Stark: We will go to Munich full of confidence. We want to take something away – that’s the clear objective. But there is no point in talking about it before the game – every player would answer the same as I have (chuckles).
Rekik: Bayern just played very well against Liverpool. Even when they have played well earlier in the season, they haven’t always come away with three points. The best teams always improve when they have to. But if we have a good day and perform as well as we can do, of course we can get something from the game.
herthabsc.de: As usual, Robert Lewandowski will be a threat for Bayern. How do you plan to stop him and do you prefer playing against one striker or two?
Rekik: We have to take it as it comes. But obviously we will have to use another plan if they line up with two attackers.
Stark: (nods) It definitely makes a difference whether we play against one or two strikers. If the opposition only has one striker, we have to be more aware of the attacking midfielder and press him more. If they play with two strikers, we focus more on one-on-one duels. We have already shown that we can stop Lewandowski!