Dennis, you were sidelined for nine months. But you were fit and healthy again by the time the winter preparations started. How relieved do you feel? And how has this enforced spell on the sidelines changed you?
"It was obviously an extremely long and difficult time for me. Not playing for so long and not even being able to train is extremely challenging mentally. I wouldn't go as far as saying that it's made me a different person, but you do obviously approach certain things in a different and more conscious way. I'm happy that I'm now able to train fully and that I'm feeling good. The most important thing for me in 2019 is simply to stay healthy and to be able to train and play. The rest will happen in its own time."
Did you ever have any doubts?
"I was also out injured for five months during my time with the U19s. That was extremely tough, even though you can hardly compare it because it was still at junior level. But since then I've known that I can come back from a long spell out just as strong as before and I'll do the same again now. You can't afford to think too negatively in such moments. You always need to remain positive."
You had an inflamed pubic joint then. That's also a complicated injury and one where's it never clear how long is needed to make a full recovery.
"Yes and that's the tough thing about it. When you break a leg, you know precisely that you will be out for a certain number of weeks but then everything will be okay again. Not in this instance. It was the same last year with the pubic bone injury. After a certain amount of time I didn't have any more pain but things still weren't quite right inside. I wasn't quite there yet."
"It wasn't easy for me"
You'd actually been operating under the assumption you'd be back for the start of the season.
"I'd even thought that I might be able to play on Matchday 34, and certainly by the start of pre-season at the latest that I'd be 100 percent fit and raring to go. But the setback during my rehabilitation training meant that there was no choice but to wait until late in the autumn. It's absolutely brutal when you're expecting to be sidelined for a period of two to three months but then it turns into nine. The setback was the icing on the cake. It wasn't easy for me, but I'm fit again now."
How important was it for you to gain match practice with the U23s in the Regionalliga?
"It was important, especially mentally. For me to see for myself that everything was holding up when I made a movement that I otherwise didn't make in training. Obviously you become slightly more cautious when something tweaks, but I was in good hands with our physiotherapists and athletics coaches. The matches with the U23s gave me certainty that everything was okay and I was ready to start again."
But do you now pay close attention to your body?
"Definitely. I wouldn't have even played against Wolfsburg (editor's note: the match where injury was sustained) if I'd had experience with muscle injuries beforehand. That always makes you smarter. The lesson I learned from it was to listen to my body. It's better to pause for 90 minutes than 277 days."
"Manchester was a highlight for me"
How important was the Manchester City match for you? That feeling of being able to play on the biggest stage in Europe?
"I view it as the coach's reward for the performances last season. The fact that the coach gave Nadiem (editor's note: Amiri) and me the opportunity to play in the Champions League and to do so in the away game against Manchester City was obviously a highlight for me. Although I obviously wasn't back to 100 percent at the time. But playing in such matches is incredibly good for your own game, getting competitive experience and for your head. That's why it was a super gesture."
In a sense, the match in Manchester was kind of a new start. For outsiders, your star began to rise in August 2017 when you played in the Liverpool match at Anfield Road, which you started. Now you have to begin from scratch again.
"No, I'm absolutely not starting from scratch again. I know what I'm capable of when I'm fit. And the coach knows too. The coach and the whole club have always given me their trust and backed me. If I'm 100 percent fit, I'm sure I'll get some games in the second half of the season."
In which position?
"To put it mildly, I really don't care at all. The main thing is that I get some playing time."
"We could be in a much better position"
What do you think the entire team is capable of in the second half of the season? As a player, you have a different perspective when you're out so long.
"I think we could be in a much better position than we are at the moment. We gave away a lot of points in the first half of the campaign. We drew or even lost games that we should've won by a margin of two or three goals based on the balance of play and the chances we had. I don't think any other team apart from Borussia Dortmund created more goalscoring opportunities in the first half of the season than we did. When you see the way we played and the way our opponents played, then it's bitter to see how many points we gave away. It must be our objective to do better in the second half of the season. And if we manage to do so, we'll finish in the top four."
It speaks volumes for your development that you're so courageous, so self-confident.
"When you finish in the top four in two successive seasons, you're certainly entitled to aim for the same thing the following year too. Especially when you see the way in which we play football."
Because success is within reach?
"It's simply a matter of effectiveness. It would be good to need only four chances to score a goal. It doesn't always need to be seven. It's obviously better than not creating any opportunities at all and not knowing what that's down to. It's an easier objective to fulfil than needing to play better."
Is there a special incentive and motivation for you personally to qualify for the Champions League again, given that you only made one appearance this season?
"Every player wants to play in the Champions League. We want to get there as a team and not because I only made one appearance in the competition this season. It's obviously always fantastic to play in the Champions League. But I'm only 20 and I hope that I'll have more than 10 years left to achieve my objectives."
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