Manuel Neuer is still the best goalkeeper in the world

Lars Baron

Despite every other player in the squad, Manuel Neuer is the player that Bayern Munich can least afford to lose.

You'll be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn't rank Manuel Neuer among the top three goalkeepers in world football, and this season has seen his stock rise even higher.

Saves/90 Touches/90 Pass % Back Zone Pass % Forward Zone Pass %
2.42 42.63 86% 92% 45%

That Neuer was so impressive this season is even more remarkable when you consider that he routinely spent the majority of league matches without much to do. Given the possession Bayern enjoyed this season, this team's dominance was at times so comprehensive that Neuer's input was limited to organising the back-line and offering a passing option for his defenders.

Of course, the modern goalkeeper is more than a shot-stopper these days, and it's here that Neuer really imposes himself. For starters, his distribution has continued to be almost faultless this season; how many times have we seen him leap to grab an incoming ball from a corner before hurling it down the wing for a quick counter-attack? German national team assistant Hansi Flick once claimed in a Kicker article that Neuer could easily play outfield, and Pep Guardiola's use of a high defensive line has often expanded the goalkeeper's duties to the role of libero.

Games against Augsburg and Arsenal had Neuer performing his best impression of a midfielder as he strayed outside his box to recycle possession, while that ridiculous Hertha game saw him complete more passes than any opposition player. Comfortable with the ball at his feet and boasting a passing accuracy that could rival many midfielders, Neuer played a vital role in helping his team-mates press and stifle opponents in their own half.

The usual downside of the sweeper-keeper role is that any momentary hesitation or slip-up is noticeable - and potentially disastrous. One example that springs to mind is Neuer's lunging tackle that forced David Alaba into goal-line heroics at home to Braunschweig. As an isolated incident, it serves as a reminder of how reliably the goalkeeper usually monitored his area to tackle and intercept wayward balls this season.

Neuer's more traditional shot-stopping abilities didn't falter on the comparatively rare occasions on which he was called into action. His 14 clean sheets in the Bundesliga was three fewer than the 17 he managed in his first two years at Bayern, and yet watching him in action suggested that this season hasn't blunted his combination of intelligent positioning, stunning reactions, and raw athleticism. Even the 4-0 loss at home to Real was hardly the fault of the German international, who could do little about each of the Spanish side's goals, while his outstanding performance in the 1-0 loss against Augsburg prevented the scoreline from being much higher.

Neuer's aim for next season will be to maintain his dynamic approach while continuing to ensure that he avoids the occasional risky challenge - something he has largely excelled at this season. As far as his other attributes are concerned, it really is hard to find fault with his performances. Overall, this season provided further evidence that - no disrespect to Tom Starke or Lukas Raeder - Neuer continues to be the player Bayern can least afford to lose right now.

Grade 2013-2014: A
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