Bayern Munich’s No. 1 Debate: Manuel Neuer or Sven Ulreich?

Manuel Neuer is an undisputed club legend, but could injury cost him his place as Bayern Munich’s first-choice goalkeeper, following the emergence of the uncapped German goalkeeper Sven Ulreich?

The surging rise of Sven Ulreich at Bayern Munich has created a truly interesting debate regarding which goalkeeper should be entrusted in the No. 1 role at the Allianz Arena. Neuer has been an ever-present in Bayern’s goal since his arrival from Bundesliga rivals FC Schalke 04 in 2011, winning 15 major honours, 4 UEFA Goalkeeper of the Year awards and the 2014 FIFA World Cup with Germany, but has Ulreich made a strong case to become the club’s new preferred goalkeeper?

Although this is an extremely positive dilemma to face for Jupp Heynckes, it’s also a delicate matter to solve. Neuer has rightfully earned a permanent place in the hearts of the Bayern loyalists by virtue of his seven years of service and an almost unlimited stream of success. However, it’d be an undeniably pretentious act from Heynckes or Bayern’s next manager to restore Bayern’s beloved shot stopper in Ulreich’s place next season.

Ulreich has performed immaculately since being catapulted into the spotlight upon Neuer’s catastrophic injury in September. Scepticism loomed over Ulreich, who’d only played 10 competitive matches prior to the 2017/18 season. Could The Bavarians seriously compete for trophies with a goalkeeper that has been unable obtain a regular place in the starting line-up for the past two seasons?

Those doubts were firmly put to rest in the aftermath of Neuer’s injury announcement, but concerns surrounded him once again during the dying embers of Carlo Ancelotti’s reign as manager. He’d conceded twice in a lacklustre home draw against Wolfsburg, and followed this disastrous display with another in Bayern’s forgettable 3-0 drubbing at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain.

The jury was decided on the 29-year-old, although he’d soon prove that their preconceived perception of his abilities were well and truly incorrect. He’s went onto concede just 0.79 goals per Bundesliga fixture, less than any other goalkeeper who has made more than 20 appearances this season.

Only FC Schalke 04 goalkeeper Ralf Fahrmann has matched Ulreich for the highest number of league clean sheets this season (11), although Fahrmann has played five matches more than him. To conclude the statistical overview, Ulreich has also saved more penalties than any other Bundesliga goalkeeper, saving three of the four penalties he’s faced this season.

The former VfB Stuttgart goalkeeper is now perfectly poised to cap off a fairy tale season with a potential treble. Bayern Munich secured their record sixth successive Bundesliga title last Saturday, and remain in contention for both the UEFA Champions League and DFB-Pokal Cup.


Statistical Comparison: Manuel Neuer (2016/17) & Sven Ulreich (2017/18)

Manuel Neuer (16/17)

Statistics (Bundesliga) Sven Ulreich (17/18)

26

Appearances

24

0.50

Goals Conceded (Per Match)

0.79

1.69

Saves (Per Match)

1.38

49

Successful Claims/Punches

43

14

Clean Sheets

11

0

Penalty Saves

3

84% Distribution Accuracy

76%

Looking at the statistical table above, Manuel Neuer was narrowly superior last season to Sven Ulreich this season. This is largely down to Ulreich’s initially susceptible period following Neuer’s injury, but this statistical analysis does prove that Ulreich is equally capable to mirror the qualities of Neuer.

For example, Neuer has always been a domineering presence due to his accurate distribution and ability to emerge from his goal and successfully outwit or defeat the opposition in one-on-one battles. Bayern supporters were anxious that this quality would be excluded from their system with Ulreich occupying the net, but he’s also replicated the ‘sweeper keeper’ role portrayed by Neuer.

The 2017/18 campaign is yet to be completed, which means Ulreich has the opportunity to improve his season statistics. Bayern are blessed to have two exceptionally talented goalkeepers, both have uniquely quick reflexes, great distributional skills and play the role of a ‘sweeper keeper’ immaculately.

It’s an extremely important role at the Allianz Arena, because a goalkeeper with poor distribution would infectiously destruct their style of play. The outfield players rely heavily on the goalkeeper to form the first line of attack, and Ulreich has proved adequate cover for Neuer in fulfilling this role, but I truly believe he deserves to maintain a regular starting role, regardless of Neuer’s return to fitness.

Below: Sven Ulreich’s form in the UEFA Champions League prior to their second leg tie against Sevilla.

Statistics Source: Squawka


The Verdict

I believe in reality Manuel Neuer will regain his first-choice role at Bayern, but more playing opportunities after Neuer’s return to full fitness should be made available for Sven Ulreich. The question is – will Ulreich be satisfied being restored as second-choice goalkeeper or will he spread his wings and move elsewhere if a regular starting place can’t be guaranteed.

Burnley are currently facing a similar dilemma with the emergence of Nick Pope potentially threatening Tom Heaton’s previous role as first-choice goalkeeper. This has also been translated onto the international scene with Pope receiving his first England call-up, but I can’t see Ulreich displacing Neuer for Germany if he’s fully fit for the World Cup in Russia.

Here’s who our Twitter followers believe should be Bayern Munich’s first-choice goalkeeper:

Germany and Bayern Munich legend Lothar Matthaus does believe Sven Ulreich deserves to retain his starting place ahead of Manuel Neuer. Here’s his recent opinion post from Bundesliga English:

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