Manuel Neuer (c.) is set to fend off competition from Alexander Nübel (l.) and Marc-Andre ter Stegen (r.) for Bayern Munich and Germany respectively for some time yet. - © DFL
Manuel Neuer (c.) is set to fend off competition from Alexander Nübel (l.) and Marc-Andre ter Stegen (r.) for Bayern Munich and Germany respectively for some time yet. - © DFL
bundesliga

Is Manuel Neuer still the best goalkeeper for Bayern Munich and Germany?

Manuel Neuer will face fresh competition for the Bayern Munich No.1 jersey - and perhaps with Germany too - from new arrival Alexander Nübel. Far from deciding it's time to slow down, however, the veteran captain of both club and country is out to prove he's still the best goalkeeper around.

When Bayern announced in January that Nübel would join the club ahead of the 2020/21 campaign, it led to plenty of speculation about Neuer's future. Would he seek a change of scene after the guts of a decade collecting all the silverware there is? If not, could Schalke keeper Nübel dislodge him as the record German champions' last line of defence?

As has so often been the case, Neuer's response has been emphatic. The 34-year-old signed a new contract with Bayern in May, and then went on to lift the Bundesliga title for the eighth time as well as the DFB Cup for the sixth time in his career. He's still in the hunt to repeat his treble success of 2012/13 too, with Bayern set to resume against Chelsea in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League in August.

Watch: Manuel Neuer's top five saves in 2019/20

Neuer has been written off before - he missed the majority of the 2017/18 campaign through injury - but as usual, he is ready to knuckle down and show why he has come to be viewed as the world's best goalkeeper.

"What coach wouldn't put his best players on the pitch?" he asked German sports magazine 11Freunde. "I'm convinced that I'm the best, even though I'm no longer 17. Whoever is number one with Bayern and the national team is constantly in a competitive situation. In that sense, little changes for me when a new keeper joins us."

Neuer is well used to competition, having held off the challenge from Barcelona's former Borussia Mönchengladbach netminder Marc-Andre ter Stegen to retain his starting place with Germany.

Statistics suggest that the 2014 FIFA World Cup winner is still performing at an extremely high level. Neuer kept out 73 percent of the shots that came his way in the 2019/20 Bundesliga, behind only Yann Sommer of Borussia Mönchengladbach (76 percent) and Alexander Schwolow of Freiburg (74 percent) in the league-wide ranking. Both Neuer and Nübel saved 84 shots over the season, but the latter repelled 68 percent of efforts on his goal.

Marc-André ter Stegen saved a penalty from Germany colleague Marco Reus when Barcelona took on Borussia Dortmund in the 2019/20 UEFA Champions League group stage. - via www.imago-images.de/imago images / Team 2

An outstanding rival 

Ter Stegen, meanwhile, is doing everything he can to get ahead of his rival in the pecking order with Germany, having kept 14 clean sheets in La Liga this season. The 28-year-old boasted shutouts against Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla for a total of 81 saves in 36 league starts. That's a timely reminder to Neuer that he will have to be at his best if he is to remain Joachim Löw's first-choice netminder for the rescheduled UEFA Euro 2020 tournament.

That Neuer continues to deliver, though, is no surprise. Inspired by the likes of Ajax and Netherlands legend Edwin van der Sar, he revolutionised the goalkeeping role due to his ability with the ball at his feet as well as his brilliant shot stopping. Often acting as a sweeper-keeper well outside his area, Neuer made his name with Bayern and Germany by both intercepting attacks and building them.

"With his playing style, Manuel Neuer brought goalkeeping to another, higher level," Germany goalkeeping coach Andreas Köpke told 11Freunde. "As a result, the goalkeeping position has gained hugely in significance and is being seen as a more important role."

Manuel Neuer’s last domestic game in 2019/20 saw him lift the DFB Cup after Bayern Munich followed up the league title by beating Bayer Leverkusen in the final. - Kevin Voigt/Kevin Voigt/Jan Huebner/Pool

The data indicates that Neuer's nimble footwork and remarkable technique is continuing to contribute to Bayern's attack. Eighty-five percent of his attempted passes found their target in the 2019/20 Bundesliga season, with an impressive 51 percent of his long passes locating a teammate compared to Nübel's 34 percent.

While his team at both club and international level dominate their opponents for much of a game, Neuer is rarely found wanting if the opposition suddenly threatens his goal out of the blue. His save percentage rate suggests as much, while the 34-year-old also made just one error that led to a goal in Bayern's successful defence of their Bundesliga title.

A winning mentality

For Köpke, such higher-than-usual concentration levels make this "complete" goalkeeper stand out from the rest, coupled with his ability to swiftly get back to his best after injury.

Back-to-back fractured metatarsals ruined Neuer's 2017/18 season, for example, but he still recovered in time for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Various injury problems also dogged him the following campaign, but he nonetheless played 26 league matches - with the last of 10 clean sheets coming in a crucial 5-0 thrashing of title rivals Borussia Dortmund in April 2019.

Watch: Learn more about Neuer’s rise to stardom

The 6'4" custodian rose to the occasion again in 2019/20, with three of his league-high 15 clean sheets coming in a 4-0 success over Dortmund in November, a 0-0 draw with high flyers RB Leipzig in February, and the 1-0 win at Dortmund on Matchday 28.

"Manuel stands for the continuous success of FC Bayern, for responsibility and world-class standards," Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic said after the five-time European champions extended Neuer's stay until 2023.

Few could argue with that assessment, although it would be understandable if the man who made the move from his hometown club to Munich in 2011 were to drop off a little. Goalkeepers often get better with age, however, and - in the style of former Bayern keeper and future club CEO Oliver Kahn - Neuer looks like he's in for the long haul.

Still out in front

Like the player he hopes to one day succeed, Nübel starred with Germany U21s before leaving Schalke for Bayern. The 23-year-old will likely have to wait a little - and learn from one of the world's very best - before stepping into his shoes.

Ter Stegen, meanwhile, could potentially meet Neuer in the last eight of the Champions League. He, too, could be forced to raise his game even further if he is to add to his 24 caps and displace his rival, who started seven out of Germany's eight Euro 2020 qualifiers.

Neuer, after all, told 11Freunde that there is "no going back" once a player retires. He promised that if professional football does become a burden, he will emulate Bayern icon Philipp Lahm by going out at the top.

At the moment, though, Neuer said he still has "great passion" for the game, and pointed out there is "always something" left to win. Another Champions League medal will be high on his agenda, as well as the rescheduled European Championship next summer. With close to 400 games for Bayern behind him and fast approaching 100 caps for Germany, he is no mood to take a back seat.