Bayern Munich’s defense has been shaky, at best, since the club returned to the field following the winter break. Pundits and fans alike have been shifting the blame around from the defense, to the midfield, to various individual players, and to the coaching. However, is the solution to a lot of the current woes simply the return of the Greatest Goalkeeper of All Time in Manuel Neuer?
Nobody here is putting any blame here on Sven Ulreich. When Bayern brought Ulreich to Munich for the second time this summer, everyone was thrilled that the club would have a solid backup for Neuer following Alexander Nübel’s loan to AS Monaco. He is a spectacular backup for the club, but he’s not Neuer. He’s not the best, and when you’re not the best, you’re always going to be compared to the best.
Ulreich has made seven appearances this season with six of those coming in 2022 in Neuer’s absence. In those six matches, Bayern have conceded nine goals. Now, again, nobody is blaming Ulreich for the volume of goals he’s conceding. Many of them can be blamed on catastrophic defending or, quite frankly, a hilarious own goal.
In all transparency, Neuer has conceded 28 goals in 28 games in all competitions this season. This total includes the 0-5 thrashing in the DFB Pokal against Borussia Mönchengladbach. Take out that one game, and Neuer has conceded a much more palatable 23 goals in 27 games.
I happen to be a big believer in the fact that a returning Neuer will be a big boost to Bayern and, perhaps, solve most of the defensive issues. Why is that?
Confidence. Neuer, who turns 36 at the end of the month, plays with an otherworldly confidence that only comes when you are the best at what you do.
His presence in the Bayern goal affects how Bayern as a team plays. Neuer’s ability as a sweeper keeper eases the pressure on the Bayern backline letting them know that, Oh! Neuer is back there! He’s so good with the ball at his feet that he acts as a third centerback when Bayern are in possession, easing the pressure on the central midfield and fullbacks.
Obviously, it’s not only Bayern player who are affected by Neuer being in goal. While again not dissing #SvenTheWall, trying to score against Neuer is simply a harder quest than trying to score against Ulreich.
Nearly three and a half years ago, I wrote a piece for Bavarian Football Works titled The decline of Manuel Neuer: Bayern Munich, Germany should be worried. At the time, Neuer was working to comeback from his lengthy foot injury, but his confidence in himself was gone. He lost the command of his box, was making questionable decisions, and had one of the worst shot-stopping percentages in the Bundesliga.
Then, it flipped like a switch. Neuer became fully fit, and with it, he began to cement himself as the world’s best goalkeeper once again. His confidence is on display when he plays as much as it ever was.
Will Neuer’s return to the starting lineup be enough for the Bavarians to lock things down at the back? It might be, but it’s enough to give at Bayern fan hope that that Bundesliga and Champions League glory is back on the horizon.