First meets third when Bayern Munich take on Freiburg on Bundesliga Matchday 11. It's also a meeting between the finest goalkeeper ever and this season's best: Manuel Neuer and Mark Flekken. Whose hands and feet will prevail?
Freiburg remain this year’s surprise high-flyers after 10 matchdays and are the only team still unbeaten - joining clubs like Liverpool, Napoli, and AC Milan, as the only ones in Europe still without a league defeat. It is not without reason that coach Christian Streich’s charges are in third place in the table with 22 points, only three behind Bayern at the top of the table.
Next up, the men from the Black Forest face off against the record champions. "It's a battle for the top spot, I can't deny that," said Streich about the match, adding: "Let's see how many [games like this] we’ll have, but having one now is nice."
Flekken has played a major role in Freiburg's success. The Dutchman and his team have the best defence in the Bundesliga (only seven goals conceded) and he has saved 83 per cent of the shots he’s faced this season - a league high. The reward for his strong performances: Louis van Gaal called him up to the Netherlands national team squad for the first time for the October internationals against Latvia and Gibraltar.
Flekken started the season as Freiburg No.1, just like last year. However, last season he suffered a left elbow injury (torn ligaments and tendons) during the warm-up for the cup match in Waldhof Mannheim and was out for months, which is why Freiburg signed Florian Müller on loan from Mainz. It was not until the last three matchdays that the 28-year-old, who arrived from Duisburg in 2018, was back in the box.
"It was clear to us that Flekki would be in goal for us at some point. He is a really good goalkeeper, he has a good charisma, he is a good guy and has great potential," Streich said.
Flekken's strengths are in one-on-one situations, but he is also good with the ball. His command of his penalty area has been earmarked for improvement, however.
The same cannot be said of Neuer. The Bayern keeper has once again been a rock for his team this season. The world’s best goalkeeper has parried an above-average 73 per cent of shots on his goal and conceded 10 goals in as many Bundesliga games, whilst keeping three clean sheets. Last season, he shipped 42 goals (only 68 per cent of shots stopped) - more than ever before in a Bayern shirt. Only in 2010/11 at Schalke did he let in more (44).
In terms or experience, however, the Germany keeper is streaks ahead. Neuer has played 448 Bundesliga games since his August 2006 debut for Schalke away to Alemannia Aachen. That is the most among currently active players (historically, he’s in 28th place, just one behind Stefan Kuntz on 449). Flekken, on the other hand, has only been on the field 24 times in the Bundesliga.
Moreover, Neuer has his sights set on a very special record this season. Having recently set a new best-mark for most clean sheets (207 and counting), he also has 301 Bundesliga victories to his name - only Oliver Kahn (310) has more. In the silverware department, the five-time IFFHS World's Best Goalkeeper has got his mitts on almost every top prize in club and international football.
Watch: Manuel Neuer - Bayern's undisputed No.1
When Bayern take on Freiburg, a lot is at stake. Will Die Breisgauer catch Bayern in the table and extend their club record unbeaten start, or will the defending champions continue their march to a record-extending 10th straight title? The two goalkeepers will certainly play a big part in the outcome; the two men will have their teams’ fate in their hands.