By Juan T. Herrera / @JuanHSports
With the 2018 World Cup on the way, Germany’s head coach Joachim Löw has an important decision to make regarding who will start in goal for the team in Russia.
Although Manuel Neuer has usually been the starter for the German national team, the 32-year-old goalkeeper has only recently returned to training after missing nearly a year of action.
Neuer initially suffered a foot injury in April of last year that sidelined him for four months. After making his return in August, Neuer managed to play four games for Bayern Munich before suffering yet another foot that would force him to miss most of the 2017-18 season.
After missing several months of action, Neuer was recently a part of Bayern’s match day squad against Eintracht Frankfurt in the DFB-Pokal final. It was the first time Neuer had been on the roster since his injury, however, he did not play and was only an unused substitute.
Despite his recent struggles with injury, Löw decided to select Neuer for his preliminary 27-man squad for the upcoming FIFA 2018 World Cup.
Although Neuer is Germany’s captain and also the team’s long-time starting goalkeeper, there are serious concerns as to whether or not he will be in form by the time the World Cup starts in June.
The 32-year-old goalkeeper has not played in an official match since September and while he’s been sidelined with injuries, Barcelona’s Marc-Andre ter Stegen has made a serious case to be Germany’s starting goalkeeper in Russia, although he fully understands the legacy of Neuer between pipes.
Ter Stegen helped lead Barcelona to its 25th La Liga title with 19 clean sheets this season. Only Atletico Madrid’s Jan Oblak had more clean sheets this year in La Liga.
The German goalkeeper also had 98 saves in 37 games with Barcelona, the fifth most in La Liga this season. Although Ter Stegen only has 19 appearances with Germany, he has already proven he can play at an elite level in a major international tournament.
The 26-year-old goalkeeper played a pivotal role in Germany’s successful run through the 2017 Confederations Cup. Ter Stegen was a starter in four of the matches at the tournament after Löw decided to bench Bayer Leverkusen’s Bernd Leno.
In those four matches, Ter Stegen collected 22 total saves, the second most at the tournament. The German goalkeeper also earned a clean sheet against Chile in the final of the 2017 Confederations Cup, where he was named Man of the Match.
Although Ter Stegen has played behind Neuer for most of his international career, now would be the best time to give the Barcelona FC goalkeeper his first start in a World Cup.
Ter Stegen has spent nearly a year working with the German national team’s starters and he has really built chemistry with his backline. It’s also worth mentioning that Ter Stegen has been playing at an elite level this year for one of the best teams on the planet.
The bottom line is Löw shouldn’t play Neuer as a starter if he isn’t at full health. With the depth his squad has at practically every position, there shouldn’t be any cracks in the starting 11. This German team has the potential to win a second-straight World Cup, but playing with an injured goalkeeper won’t help their cause.
However, benching Neuer also means that you lose a player who’s been the captain of your squad since 2016.
When Neuer is healthy, he is arguably the best goalkeeper on the planet. He’s an elite shot-stopper with exceptional reflexes. There are few goalkeepers around who can play the "sweeper-keeper" position as well as he does.
Neuer is also able to create passes forward to help set up his teammates for counterattacks. His exceptional dribbling and passing abilities help distinguish him from other German goalkeepers including Ter Stegen.
The Bayern Munich goalkeeper was also a huge part of Germany’s successful run in the 2014 World Cup. Neuer earned four clean sheets throughout the tournament and also picked up 24 saves, good enough for the second highest total in the entire competition that year. Thanks to his spectacular performances, Neuer was also presented with the Golden Glove award as the tournament’s best goalkeeper.
Since the World Cup, Neuer has proven he is an elite goalkeeper capable of leading his teams to success. Under normal circumstances, Neuer would be Germany’s undisputed starter in goal at the World Cup. However, his lack of playing time recently should raise some red flags.
Most goalkeepers wouldn’t get the same treatment Neuer is getting. They would have likely been left off the roster or left on the bench during the World Cup. However, Neuer isn’t a typical goalkeeper and he has earned this special consideration.
Löw is set to name his final 23-man squad for the World Cup on June 4th. His decision will likely be critical for Germany in their pursuit of a second consecutive the title and for the betting public looking for world cup tips to pick a winner.
Although the German head coach is confident Neuer will be ready to go, Ter Stegen shouldn’t be overlooked. Löw and Germany need their best goalkeeper in goal at the World Cup and at the moment that might not be Manuel Neuer.
Freelance journalist who tweets too much about sports and music. University of Maryland Alum.