Who is the best goalkeeper in the world?
For many of us, it’s Manuel Neuer.
The Bayern and Germany No.1 is the quintessential “modern” goalkeeper, after all.
Revolutionising the role of the “sweeper-keeper”, his speed, decision-making and footwork are often praised just as highly as his reflexes and shot-stopping.
But in recent months, the 32-year-old has looked a little out of sorts.
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Overall, it’s been a poor start to the campaign for Bayern, while the less said about Germany’s UEFA Nations League run, the better.
Following the retirement of Jupp Heynckes at the end of last season, new Bayern boss Niko Kovac has failed to live up to his high expectations with the club currently sat fifth in the Bundesliga – nine points behind leaders Borussia Dortmund.
Many players in the team have under-performed, including Neuer.
But alongside Jerome Boateng, his decline for club and country has been the most prominent.
So where did it all go wrong?
Neuer has had an absolute nightmare with injuries in recent seasons.
Towards the end of the 2016/17 campaign, he suffered a hairline fracture in his foot just weeks ahead of a Champions League quarter-final clash against Real Madrid.
Having rushed back from an operation to play in the defeat to Madrid, he seemed to exacerbate his injury and missed the remainder of the club’s campaign.
He didn’t play again until near the beginning of the 2017/18 season, but then suffered another injury setback and wasn’t seen again for nearly nine months, missing the rest of the campaign and finally returning to action in Germany’s pre-World Cup friendly against Austria – just two weeks before the start of the tournament.
Of course, Germany were humiliated at the World Cup, suffering their earliest exit in the competition for 80 years.
Neuer was their first-choice keeper in Russia – as well as their captain – but was undoubtedly rusty, having only played 360 minutes of competitive football all season.
Many felt Barcelona’s Marc-Andre ter Stegen or even PSG’s Kevin Trapp would’ve made a better choice. But for the most part, Joachim Loew’s side were collectively bad, with several key players under-performing.
Neuer’s lack of previous game-time was certainly not a catalyst of their early exit.
However, one of the more memorable moments of Germany’s group stage demise came in their crucial last match against South Korea.
With the defending champions trailing as the game entered the final minute of extra-time, Neuer went forward in a desperate attempt to help his team grab a late equaliser.
But after losing possession in the opponents’ half, he could only watch as the ball was launched forward towards Son Heung-min to tap into an empty net.
It was truly a moment of madness.
But things have not improved for him since the summer.
Following Bayern’s 3-3 draw against Dusseldorf at the weekend, he’s conceded a massive 14 goals from the last 17 shots he’s faced.
That’s not a statistic you’d expect from the world’s best goalkeeper.
What’s more, his WhoScored rating is a shockingly low 6.32 at the moment, while his save percentage is the worst among keepers in Germany’s top-flight so far this season.
Of course, Neuer isn’t the only player in the side at fault, with Bayern’s defence particularly woeful this term. Mats Hummels and Boateng are simply not the defenders they once were, while youngster Niklas Sule has looked wildly inconsistent.
Much like Neuer, Boateng has suffered his fair share of injury problems over the last few years and it’s clear they’re beginning to catch up to the once reliable centre-back.
It’s no wonder Bayern looked so keen to sell him to Man United over the summer.
So what happens next?
Kovac is the one under the most amount of pressure at the moment.
At the time of writing, Bayern’s manager is seemingly on the verge of being axed, with Arsene Wenger one of the favourites to replace him.
But even so, many former players and fans of the club believe the likes of Neuer and Boateng should be dropped for their upcoming games.
After all, the club have a competent back-up goalkeeper in Sven Ulreich waiting in the wings, who was more than capable between the sticks last season (his costly error against Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final aside).
With Neuer out of form, it seems only natural that David De Gea takes up the mantel as the world’s best goalkeeper.
But his poor form this season – which has spilled over from the World Cup – is putting his credentials under question too.
Perhaps it’s time we had a re-think?
- Joe Hart will stop at nothing to convince Pep Guardiola he’s good with his feet
- Remembering when Manuel Neuer became an outfield player at the 2014 World Cup
- Reliving the exact moment David De Gea went from Man United flop to world class superstar