The Bundesliga has long been home to some of the world’s best goalkeepers and this season is no exception, with Manuel Neuer, Zack Steffen, Yann Sommer and Alexander Nübel all earning plenty of plaudits for their displays between the posts. But who is the league’s best?
bundesliga.com examines the four frontrunners…
Club: Bayern Munich
Widely regarded as the greatest goalkeeper of all time, the Bayern and Germany No.1 not only impresses with his fast-twitch reflexes and penalty area dominance, he has largely reinvented the role in the modern era as a “sweeper-keeper”, regularly charging out of his box to snuff out opposition attacks before they fully develop. But you know all that already.
Perhaps less deeply embedded in the public consciousness is that both Germany coach Joachim Löw and former Bayern boss Niko Kovac insisted on playing him as soon as he had recovered from injury over the past year or so – rather than being gradually eased back into action over a number of weeks, as is the norm in the professional game. As testaments to quality go, it does not get much better than that.
Watch: Manuel Neuer's roots
Löw took Neuer to the 2018 FIFA World Cup as his first-choice custodian, despite having missed most of the preceding season with a broken foot. More recently, Kovac picked Neuer in the 2019 DFB Cup final against RB Leipzig, even though he had not played for a month due to a calf strain. It paid off, with Neuer producing a number of stunning saves to deny Die Roten Bullen in a 3-0 win for Bayern. “You could see today why he’s the best goalkeeper in Germany,” Kovac said afterwards.
The numbers certainly back up that claim. Over the course of his Bundesliga career, Neuer has kept a clean sheet 48 per cent of the time – almost half of the games he’s played in! – while he has conceded a goal every 114 minutes on average. Nobody else currently in Germany’s top flight even comes close to those kind of figures.
He also outranks his contemporaries in other aspects of goalkeeping too: 75.8 per cent of all shots saved speak to his positioning and speed; he has unrivalled handling and aerial dominance, having caught 56.8 per cent of all balls fired at him; while his distribution is second to none, with his long passes forward finding a teammate 44.1 per cent of the time.
Watch: Bundesliga legend Oliver Kahn analyses Neuer and Yann Sommer
Yet arguably his greatest asset is also the most intangible: his intimidating presence. An unflappable character, a long-forged reputation as the world’s best and a 6’5” hulk of a frame filling the goal, strikers often wilt under the mental pressure. It is little surprise, then, that Neuer has stopped 28.7 per cent of all clear-cut chances for the opposition.
“For me it’s all about the overall goalkeeping game, your presence and getting involved,” he explained to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in 2015. “It’s as much about the three or four shots you stop as about the situations where you don’t even get involved as a goalkeeper – and in doing so you make the right decision.” All hail the king.
Club: Fortuna Düsseldorf
One of the pretenders for Neuer’s crown comes from an unlikely source: Düsseldorf. While Steffen may not have overtaken the Bayern captain just yet, there are signs that he is on the right track.
For starters, there is the USA No.1’s stunning Bundesliga debut on Matchday 1, when he made 10 saves – more than any other goalkeeper has managed in a single game this season – to help Düsseldorf to a 3-1 victory away to Werder Bremen. So impressive was Steffen’s display that he drew praise from Bremen head coach Florian Kohfeldt, who lamented his side being "up against a brilliant goalkeeper today".
It was no one-off either. After 11 rounds of matches in 2019/20, Steffen has saved a greater percentage of shots than Neuer (69.4 per cent to 66.7 percent) and also foiled more clear-cut chances (35.3 per cent compared to 14.3 per cent) than him. Indeed, in the latter measure, he is better than anyone else on this list (Nübel: 33.3 per cent; Sommer 28.6 per cent)
Still not convinced? Well, Steffen also kept out the only penalty he has faced this term, he has the second-most saves in the division after Matchday 11 (tied with Sommer on 43) and has kept two clean sheets. For context, Neuer, Nübel and Sommer each have three shut-outs, but they all play for teams expected to be competing for European places, whereas Düsseldorf’s primary aim is to avoid relegation.
As such, it is no wonder Fortuna considered it a major coup when they secured Steffen’s signature on loan from Manchester City over the summer. "Zack’s a modern goalkeeper who has everything," said club sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel, himself a former professional goalkeeper. “He's technically good, strong in one-on-ones and a great footballer. It's no coincidence that Manchester City have decided to give him a long-term contract."
Club: Borussia Mönchengladbach
Think Gladbach being four points clear at the top of the standings is a fluke? Think again. And Sommer is a major factor in the Foals’ gallop to the summit – so much so that he has been the best goalkeeper in the Bundesliga this term.
The signs were there long before Gladbach’s goalless draw with Schalke on Matchday 1, with the Switzerland No.1 earning a rave review from Chelsea coach Frank Lampard after the sides drew 2-2 at Borussia-Park in a pre-season friendly: “He’s a fantastic goalkeeper. He made some outstanding saves.”
He continued that form into 2019/20 proper and has blasted this trio of rivals out of the water in a number of key metrics. Goals conceded: 11. Average minutes per goal: 90 (Neuer every 61.9 minutes; Nübel 70.7; Steffen 52.1). Percentage of shots saved: 79.6. Long-range goals conceded: 0 (Neuer 2, Nübel 3, Steffen 2).
And while those stats point to extraordinary reflexes and shot-stopping skills, it is Sommer’s ability to actually play and form part of his team’s build-up that sets him apart. Just like Neuer. Well, that’s not quite true: he’s actually done it better than Neuer this term.
Sommer is more involved in games than any other goalkeeper, averaging 48 touches of the ball per match. He has also attempted more long passes (60) and done so with greater accuracy (54.4 per cent found a teammate) than anyone else.
You don’t just need to take our word for it either. Former Manchester United and Denmark great Peter Schmeichel is also a fan. “Yann Sommer is one of the most underrated goalkeepers in Europe,” he told Swiss publication Blick in October 2019. “He’s not the biggest [at a relatively tiny 6’0”], but he can play football. There aren’t many goalkeepers that can do that.”
Last but by no means least is Schalke’s Nübel. The youngest of this quartet at just 23, he is not here simply to make up the numbers. After all, this is a player who dislodged the vastly more experienced Ralf Fährmann - eight years his senior and Royal Blue captain at the time – as Schalke’s go-to goalkeeper.
Having come through the club’s youth academy to make it into the first team, comparisons with Neuer are inevitable – as is talk of him being the long-term successor as Germany No.1. If that sounds far-fetched, it isn’t.
Nübel has played 31 Bundesliga matches to date, keeping 10 clean sheets in the process. He has saved 68.6 per cent of all shots at his goal, kept out 23.1 per cent of all the opponent’s gilt-edged opportunities and completed 35.3 per cent of all his attempted long passes out from the back. While those numbers are not quite a Neuer’s level yet, they do stand up to close scrutiny.
Watch: Kahn analyses Nübel's game
And Neuer himself believes the young Schalke netminder has what it takes to follow in his footsteps: “He could be [my successor in the national team]. Things are looking good for him. He’s developed well, is first-choice goalkeeper at Schalke, did well at the  U-21 European Championship and is playing well. Obviously he still needs experience, but he’ll get that if he continues playing.”
While Nübel has yet to be called up to Löw’s senior Germany squad, Die Mannschaft goalkeeping coach Andreas Köpke admitted he is now very much on their radar. “The way he seemingly came out of nowhere is incredible,” he told Süddeutsche Zeitung. “He hit the ground running and he plays as if he’s been around for ages. He seemingly never loses his composure.” You’d better watch out, Manu!