Schalke boast two of the finest young German goalkeepers in the land in Alexander Nübel and Markus Schubert. How do they stack up?
Nübel started the season as Schalke No.1, and captain. In his first 15 Bundesliga appearances, the 23-year-old made 54 saves, keeping four clean sheets and conceding 18 goals, before being handed a four-match ban for his sending off in a 1-0 win against Eintracht Frankfurt.
At that stage, Schalke were fourth in the standings, with the joint-third-best defence in the division.
Respective 1-1 and 2-2 draws with Wolfsburg and Freiburg were then followed by a 2-0 home win over Borussia Mönchengladbach and a chastening 5-0 loss to defending champions Bayern Munich. Nübel was duly reinstalled, keeping clean sheets against Hertha Berlin and Mainz but then conceding eight goals across two games with RB Leipzig and Cologne.
It was confirmed in January that Nübel will join Bayern Munich on a free transfer this summer, and he had plenty of time to contemplate that move after being left out of the team – either side of the coronavirus interruption – between Matchdays 25 and 28.
The Royal Blues have found goals hard to come by in recent months, and their record of 45 conceded in 28 matches put a renewed focus on their goalkeepers. In 20 appearances to that stage of the season, Nübel boasted a better ratio of games to goals shipped, with an average concession of 1.4 per match compared to Schubert's two per game.
It was a tough time in May for Schubert but the 21-year-old had excelled before then with more saves per match than the more senior custodian (six to three), shots repelled with his hands (78.4 per cent to 74.3 per cent) and long-pass accuracy (33.3 per cent to 32.1 per cent).
Watch: Schalke's defeat to Bayern might have been heavier if not for Markus Schubert
It should also be remembered, of course, that this is Schubert's first season in the German top flight. He only joined Schalke last summer following a breakthrough year with Dynamo Dresden in the second tier. Schubert was also an understudy to Nübel at the 2019 European U21 Championship, with the latter starring as Germany finished as runners-up to Spain.
Nübel made his Bundesliga debut on Matchday 34 of the 2015/16 season at the age of 19, before outgrowing the reserves for good and ousting Ralf Fährmann as first-choice netminder during the second half of 2018/19.
Following the appointment of Wagner in the summer, Fährmann was loaned out to Norwich City of the English Premier League, while Nübel was handed the captain's armband.
The manner in which Nübel took the added responsibility in his stride for one so relatively young only heightened comparisons with one of Schalke's most decorated academy products: Manuel Neuer. He has his hands, feet and head – and will soon be learning from the Germany No.1 in the flesh.
Just like Neuer before him, Nübel will leave Gelsenkirchen for Bayern – after penning a five-year deal.
"It's a bold direction for him to take, but he can really develop his game learning from Manuel Neuer," said goalkeeping great and future Bayern CEO Oliver Kahn.
Watch: Oliver Kahn analyses Alexander Nübel's game
In the meantime, Nübel will be determined – given the chance – to remind the watching world why Schalke have shown him so much faith down the years. He'll also want to remind people why he deserves a shot at playing for Germany's most successful club and why he is the future of his country's vaunted goalkeeping stable. No one that knows him well expects anything less.
"Alex Nübel hasn't done anything wrong," commented the club's sporting director, Jochen Schneider, prior to the 5-0 loss to Bayern.
"He hasn't caused a song and dance, he hasn't gone on strike – he's still 100 per cent a Schalke player.
"The fans might be disappointed, but no one should forget his sensational performances last season. We might be playing in the second division now but for him."
Whether it's in with Nübel and out with Schubert or vice versa for the remainder of the 2019/20 campaign, the Royal Blues are in safe hands. And four hands are definitely better than two.