Many fans of the German national team remember the battle between Oliver Kahn and Jens Lehmann for the post between the sticks. Neither keeper could stand the other and both fought hard between 2004 and 2006 in order to get the role of Germany’s number one goalkeeper for the World Cup in 2006. Back then Lehmann ended up being picked by Jürgen Klinsmann. The former Arsenal man revealed later on that his experience of playing abroad in the end decided the hard fought competition in his favor.
Fast forward 15 years and we might have another battle between two equally worthy opponents on our hands. Manuel Neuer has been Jogi Löw’s first choice for almost a decade and the 33-year-old has been awarded the national team’s captaincy after having played 90 matches for his country.
However, his six year younger opponent is not content at playing second fiddle behind him. Ter Stegen voiced his grievances publicly in an interview with Marca, causing both Neuer and the higher ups at Bayern to retaliate in the press.
A look at the numbers
The reason why both goalkeepers feel that they should play might be the fact that there’s very little separating them if one takes a closer look at the stats. Neuer saves around 2.3 shots per match, letting in 0.8 goals per match on average.
Barca play a more attacking kind of football, which means that ter Stegen is kept slightly more busy. The former Gladbach man has kept out 3 shots per match on average, conceding one goal per game. Both numbers are slightly higher than Neuer’s, but there are no significant differences between the two. When it comes to crosses collected per match ter Stegen fares slightly better than his opponent, having collected 1.5 crosses per match (compared to Neuer’s 1.2).
Both keepers are comfortable with the ball at their feet. Neuer re-defined the role of the goalkeeper in the Bundesliga, becoming an active part of play and often times intercepting balls before danger could emerge. Whilst that sort of goalkeeping was uncommon 10 years ago, nowadays it has become common place.
Given Barca’s style of play, it isn’t surprising that ter Stegen touches the ball 49 times per match, placing an average of 36 passes. Neuer on the other hand side has only 39 touches per match, passing the ball an average of 27 times per match. Add to that both keepers have an excellent pass completion rate, and you’ll start wondering how on earth these two can be separated.
Ter Stegen – Mr. Champions League
When it comes to football in European football’s elite tournament, there’s finally something separating the two goalkeepers. Whilst the numbers are similar for the two of them here as well, ter Stegen does better in two distinct areas. The 27-year-old has saved four of the last six penalties in the Champions League. Neuer has saved four out of eleven penalties.
Furthermore, ter Stegen has only been at blame for one of the goals he has conceded in his 53 appearances in that competition. Bayern’s keeper has been at fault for 13 of his team’s conceded goals in his 101 appearances in the Champions League.
Germany’s national team coach has been criticised in the past for sticking too long to certain players. Ahead of the 2018 World Cup Löw waited and waited to see if Neuer would return from injury. In the end the keeper got fit for the tournament just in time. Neuer was rewarded with the place between the sticks, even though there were considerable doubts regarding his readiness.
Given that Löw has made Neuer his captain it seems like he is willing to stick with him. However, there’s little doubt that ter Stegen’s unhappiness is going to increase if he stays the number two choice.
A new battle between two goalkeepers being given equal time might be the solution, but that could undermine Neuer’s position as the team captain. If Neuer performs well and puts in a brilliant performance at the EUROs in 2020, Löw sticking with Neuer won’t be a talking point. However, if he doesn’t play to the utmost of his abilities, the critics in the German press are going to be merciless.
Whichever way one turns, Löw is caught with a catch 22 scenario on his hands.
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