Sven to the rescue! Ulreich was again making saves in Bayern's latest Bundesliga win against Hannover. - © © imago
Sven to the rescue! Ulreich was again making saves in Bayern's latest Bundesliga win against Hannover. - © © imago

Is Bayern Munich's Sven Ulreich ready to be Germany's 'third man' at the FIFA World Cup in Russia?


Described as "a godsend," by coach Jupp Heynckes and "Man of the Year" by Thomas Müller, Bayern Munich stand-in goalkeeper Sven Ulreich has significantly enhanced his chances of travelling to Russia as part of Germany's FIFA World Cup squad following a thus far outstanding club campaign.

Aware of the situation that faced him when joining the Bavarian giants from VfB Stuttgart in 2015, the 29-year-old - who made 176 Bundesliga appearances for the Swabians - accepted his role as back-up to the world's No.1 custodian, Manuel Neuer. Yet in this, his third season at Säbener Straße, Ulreich was handed an opportunity to fill in for the injured Germany supremo, and put a nervous start behind him to excel.

Watch: Sven Ulreich saved a last minute penalty against former side Stuttgart this season!

The question now being asked is: should Joachim Löw include Sven Ulreich among his goalkeepers for the defending world champions' tilt at a fifth world crown?

"Sven has put in some solid performances for Bayern over recent months," Die Mannschaft's coach said after witnessing one more fine display from Ulreich in Bayern's Matchday 22 win at second-placed Schalke. "He's particularly strong in one-on-one situations and has also improved in footballing terms. We have him on our radar for Russia."

On Ulreich's radar following his 41 appearances in all competitions in 2017/18 an incredible treble of Bundesliga, UEFA Champions League and DFB Cup can be spotted.

The first title on that list already secured, the former Germany Under-21 international is readying himself for a European heavyweight semi-final against Real Madrid while there is a domestic cup final in May against Eintracht Frankfurt to look forward to. 

Ulreich's teammates are all too aware of just how important the Baden-Württemberg man has been in a campaign that hit lift off once Heynckes was brought in to take over from Carlo Ancelotti last September. Indeed, that the 72-year-old's return produced a significant improvement in the previously nervous goalkeeper was no coincidence.

"My good games started when Jupp Heynckes arrived," Ulreich explained, in words appearing in Bild. "I immediately had his confidence, something I didn’t feel I had with his predecessor [Ancelotti]. Confidence is the most important thing for an athlete."

Some high-profile errors, particularly in the 2-2 draw against Wolfsburg on Matchday 6, left many wondering if the Baden-Württemberg native was up to the task of filling Neuer's giant gloves. "In October when I took over, Sven had no self-confidence and little recognition," Heynckes said.

"He got to work intensively with our goalkeeping coach Toni Tapalovic and we stayed in constant conversation. He began to realise what enormous potential he has. He has [since] been exceptional and is reaping the rewards for his hard work. He's now realising his massive potential and has been a godsend while Manuel Neuer has been out injured."

"Tapa's training is very good. We often watch scenes from training and games and it helps to study those," Ulreich added.

Prior to Saturday’s win against Hannover, when Ulreich kept his 12th clean sheet of the campaign, the custodian’s stellar performance in Bayern’s astonishing 6-2 DFB Cup win against Bayer Leverkusen led Müller to tell the TV cameras that his teammate deserved to be named, “Man of the Year!” Saving shots on his goal at a rate of 72 per cent while also stopping three penalties has raised his profile all the more.

Ulreich saved a Serge Gnabry penalty when Bayern defeated Hoffenheim in January. - © gettyimages / Matthias Hangst

Yet does that mean the 'keeper will be one of the chosen three for Germany in Russia? With Neuer approaching a playing return and expected to feature prominently at the finals and Barcelona's Marc-Andre ter Stegen likely to join the 32-year-old, Löw has plenty of options for a third goalkeeper.

Bernd Leno arguably leads the way, the Leverkusen man a part of Germany's FIFA Confederations Cup success last year and winner of one more cap during World Cup qualification in the victory against Azerbaijan.

Timo Horn of Cologne and Hoffenheim's Oliver Baumann would also fall into contention, but the latter options would arguably fall behind the impressive Ulreich, who has become a consistent performer at the very highest level on the domestic and European fronts over the past months and who is currently brimming with confidence.

Löw also likes a goalkeeper who can play, and with Ulreich boasting 35 touches per game and making an overall 559 passes from open play, the ex-Stuttgart man - who made a match-winning penalty save against his former employers in December - ticks plenty of boxes.

"The World Cup is the biggest thing there is. Of course that's also a goal of mine. But if it doesn't happen, I won't be sad," Bayern's man of the moment explained. Yet despite those words, Ulreich - who recently penned a contact extension at Bayern until 2021 - was nonetheless thrilled to hear Joachim Löw's words of praise following the goalkeeper's Schalke heroics.

"This is an award of the highest order. It's an honour. I'm happy when the national coach says things like that and tries to keep me on my toes."

There's no doubt Ulreich will be keeping his toes, and feet, firmly on the ground until Germany's FIFA World Cup squad is announced and should he make the shortlist, it would mean a first for Germany with two goalkeepers from the same club never before having made it to a major finals together.  

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