Bayern Munich’s on-loan Real Madrid midfielder spoke to Diario AS ahead of the two sides’ Champions League semi-final tie.
What thoughts went through your head when Bayern Munich drew Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-finals?
When you get this far in this competition, it almost doesn’t matter to you which team you draw. Each of Real Madrid, Liverpool and Roma are strong opponents who you need to be at your best against if you want to go through. What matters most is that we stay calm, have confidence in ourselves and put in two good performances.
What’s the mood at Bayern ahead of this classic European fixture?
We’re feeling good. I think we shouldn’t look at it as a chance for revenge [for Bayern’s defeats to Real in recent seasons], but two more games on the road to that final. When two clubs like these meet it tends to be a unique occasion, but we have to stay focused on the core ideas of going into the tie on our game, in good physical shape and ready to compete all out against a side as tough as Real Madrid.
Is there an ideal recipe for counteracting the Champions League’s galvanising effect on Real?
It’s true that they seem to go into the Champions League in a different frame of mind and somehow manage to get that bit extra out of themselves. They know what’s needed to challenge for this trophy year in, year out. They’re the competition’s legendary club. But Bayern have no reason to be intimidated. Their history is there for all to see, and they’ve shown more than once that they can meet Real head on.
What did you make of the controversial late penalty in Real’s quarter-final with Juventus?
I only saw the goals, because we were playing Sevilla the same evening. That’s Real Madrid: they never give up on victory until the very end. Nobody expected Juventus to take a 3-0 lead, but in the end Real never stopped looking for the result they needed and the penalty in stoppage time was their reward for everything they did to make it through the tie.
Are you excited to return to the stadium you called home?
Of course. These two games are really special for me. I played there for three years, I was very happy, and it’s somewhere that has given me so much: above all, friends and good memories. It’s very special, but I’m focusing on my team and preparing the best we can.
You’ll have the chance to show the Bernabéu what a big player James is in this Bayern team.
I’m not thinking about that; I’m focusing on using my strengths to help my team-mates and on doing my bit to get us that ticket to Kiev. We want to make the final and we’ll go out there against Real with our sights set firmly on that. Nothing else matters.
Have you exchanged any messages with your old colleagues at Real Madrid?
No, I haven’t spoken [to any of them] at all. We’ll get the chance to talk, but for the moment we haven’t.
How do you stop Cristiano Ronaldo?
He’s a goal machine, and he’s demonstrated that time and again. His figures speak for themselves. Hopefully we can have two good nights at the office and defend well as a unit to stop him from being at his best against us. Mind you, we not only have to keep an eye out for him, but also the rest of the team. They’re not just about Cristiano: they have top players in every department. It won’t be easy at all.
You’ve had a really good run in the Bayern side under Jupp Heynckes; as the season reaches its business end, how do you feel physically?
I feel in terrific shape. And the more I play, the more I can bring to the team, and the coach knows that. I just want to play, and I’m very happy with the game time I’ve managed to get on the board throughout this season.