Manuel Neuer is set for three more seasons at Bayern Munich after penning a contract extension until 2023. The German international has established himself as one of the greats of the modern era and is well-placed to win an eighth consecutive Bundesliga title.
The 34-year-old’s career honours also include the 2012/13 Champions League and 2014 World Cup, but his performances in recent seasons have raised questions over whether he remains the same peerless operator he was during those mid-decade glory days.
Alexander Nubel’s pending arrival from Schalke suggests Bayern are keen to insure themselves against any dip in form from their club captain over the coming years, as well as planning for Nubel to replace Neuer as Bayern’s long-term heir. Now feels a good time to ask: Is Neuer still an elite goalkeeper when compared to his contemporaries widely considered to be at the top of their trade?
We have some advanced data that says he might be.
Neuer Heading Back in the Right Direction
Tuesday’s potential title-sealing 1-0 win at Borussia Dortmund saw Neuer chalk up his 12th Bundesliga clean sheet of the season.
Aside from the 2017/18 campaign, when injuries restricted him to three top-flight outings, he has reached double figures for shutouts every year of his senior career – dating back to 2006/07 when he managed 13 from 27 games at former club Schalke.
However, simply looking at clean sheets is not enough to evaluate goalkeeper performance, particularly in a team that dominates domestically like Bayern. The model behind Stats Perform’s Goalkeeper Rankings allows us to accurately simulate and assess a goalkeeper’s strengths and weaknesses and directly compare them against others in their league. Essentially, we’re able to simulate how a given keeper would perform against all shots in a league rather than only the shots they face. In addition, it is possible to simulate how a new goalkeeper would increase or decrease the number of goals conceded compared to existing players in the squad.
Looking at the most recent rankings (through 28 matchdays) Neuer ranks in third place in the Bundesliga this term, with 0.25 simulated goals prevented per game. Only Yann Sommer (0.32) and Peter Gulasci (0.30) prevent more per match.
2019/20 Bundesliga Goalkeeper Rankings Through Matchday 28
|Rank||Goalkeeper||Simulated Goals Prevented / 90 (min 10 games)|
Compared to last season, where Neuer’s 0.10 simulated goals prevented per game was only enough to rank him eighth in the Bundesliga, it is clear that his form this season has improved.
2018/19 Bundesliga Goalkeeper Rankings
|Rank||Goalkeeper||Simulated Goals Prevented / 90 (min 10 games)|
In addition, having stopped around four of every five shots for the majority of his Bayern days, Neuer’s save percentage plummeted to 60% last season, while his 23 goals conceded outstripped Stats Perform’s expected goals on target (xGOT) number of 20.1.
xGOT gives an indication of the number of goals a goalkeeper should concede based upon the quality of shots on target they have faced. In this instance, the metric indicates that in 2018/19 Neuer conceded almost three more goals than the quality of shots he faced suggest he ought to have done.
This term, Neuer has those numbers the right way round once more. Although the 28 goals that Bayern have shipped is already Neuer’s highest figure in the Bundesliga since his final season at Schalke (where they leaked 44 in 2010/11), the quality of shots he’s faced suggests Bayern ought to have conceded around 32 goals, and his overall save percentage is back up to a more respectable 72%.
Comparing his shot map this season to his previous campaign, the goals that he has conceded (indicated by the red circles on the shot maps) have been high-quality chances. This contrasts to last campaign, where low-quality chances were getting past him.
In fact, looking back at his performances since 2013, last season was the only campaign where Neuer underperformed vs. expectation, suggesting that some of the recent criticism levied at the German could be more due to a blip in form that came straight after an injury-blighted season, rather than a particular dissipating of his talents.
While his performances this campaign have not reached the same heights we saw for peak Neuer in the mid-2010s, they are a good sign for the German.
Manuel Neuer's Performances Since 2013/14
|Season||Games Played||Goals Conceded||xGOT Conceded||Goals Prevented||Save %||Clean Sheets|
The table above omits 2017/18 as Neuer only made three league appearances due to injury.
Is Ter Stegen Pressing a Case for Die Mannschaft?
Having stood apart as Germany’s No. 1 for the best part of a decade, Neuer has seen Barcelona’s Marc-Andre Ter Stegen make an increasingly strong case to displace him in the national team.
Neuer’s fitness woes, coupled with a disappointing 2018 World Cup performance has played a part, while Ter Stegen has arguably established himself as Barca’s most important player not named Lionel Messi.
This campaign, Neuer is statistically outperforming his rival. While Neuer has prevented more goals that he ‘should’ have, Ter Stegen has conceded 29 times when the quality of shots on his goal suggest he should have only let in 26.
However, his efforts last season make for much more impressive reading, as his 16 clean sheets helped guide Barcelona to their 26th LaLiga title. In the league, Ter Stegen’s exploits prevented just over seven goals throughout the season, enough to rank him 16th in goals prevented across all keepers in Europe’s top five leagues. This is all the more impressive considering Ter Stegen faced just 370 shots last season, far fewer than the majority of his peers ranked above him. Indeed, of all the players to have faced fewer shots than Ter Stegen, only Red Bull Leipzig’s Péter Gulácsi had a higher goals prevented number (12.5).
Ter Stegen has certainly showed enough reliability – he has consistently prevented goals both domestically and in Europe for Barcelona over the last three seasons through his shot-stopping abilities – to step in and replace Germany’s No. 1 keeper should Neuer’s upturn in form be temporary.
Oblak’s the Leader of the Pack
Looking beyond Germany’s top goalkeepers, there is a clear standout performer.
Jan Oblak’s virtuoso display at Anfield as Atlético Madrid ended Liverpool’s Champions League defence in March was enough to hearten any goalkeeping enthusiast over the intervening barren months. The Reds peppered Oblak’s goal with 34 shots in total, clocking up an expected goals total of 3.6, but the away side stood firm.
Such heroics are not unusual for the Slovenia star, who prevented 15 goals last season for Atléti in LaLiga, the most goals prevented by any goalkeeper across Europe’s top five leagues.
Goal Prevented Across Europe’s Top Five League 2018/19
|Rank||Player||Age||Team||Games Played||Goals Conceded||xGOT Conceded||Goals Prevented||Save %||Clean Sheets|
|1||J. Oblak||27||Atlético Madrid||37||27||40.3||15.3||78%||20|
|4||P. Gulácsi||30||RB Leipzig||33||27||38.5||12.5||77%||15|
|6||L. Fabianski||35||West Ham||38||55||65.9||11.9||73%||7|
Oblak finished with 20 clean sheets last season, a figure Neuer touched in the back-to-back 2014/15 and 2015/16 campaigns at Bayern. Remarkably, Oblak had 24 league shutouts in the latter, while he amassed 22 in 2017/18.
This season, Oblak has proven he is human after all. He’s saving fewer than three out of every four shots for the first time in his Atléti career and has *only* prevented a single goal in the league.
De Gea Coming Off His Peak
Manchester United’s David de Gea is also a player who would be counted as being at odds to the new breed of keepers between the posts, although a two-year dip in his imperious levels has left the Spain international facing similar questions to Neuer over the past couple of seasons.
If United’s second-place finish in the 2017/18 Premier League was one of Jose Mourinho’s greatest achievements, it certainly ranks as one of De Gea’s. He saved 80% of shots and kept 18 clean sheets, conceding 28 times in 37 matches. During the course of that season, De Gea’s heroics prevented United from conceded an extra 13 goals.
De Gea has already let in more in 2019/20 (30), while he shipped 54 in an increasingly error-strewn 2018/19. Although, perhaps it is as much a case of performances reverting to a mean and not bailing out some haphazard defending in front of him.
Safe Hands at the Back of Klopp’s Machine
Liverpool have transformed from great entertainers to a relentless winning machine since Alisson arrived from Roma in 2018, with Adrian’s flimsy showing against Atlético serving as an uncomfortable reminder of the recent past for the Reds.
Able to build from the back, Brazil’s No. 1 is comfortable with the ball at his feet, building Liverpool attacks with clipped passes out to the Reds’ marauding full backs.
Undoubtedly well protected by a stern defence led by Virgil van Dijk, Alisson is reliable when called upon. Last season, he prevented five goals as Liverpool conceded just 22 goals in the Premier League – the second fewest goals conceded in a single Premier League campaign by a side not to win the title – although the 11 he has conceded this season is slightly higher than the staggeringly low 9.7 xGOT Liverpool have conceded while he’s been in goal.
Indeed, the two goalkeepers (of those to have played 10+ matches) who have faced the lowest xGOT per 90 minutes across the top five European leagues this season are Alisson and Adrián, a testament to the solidity of the defence in front of them.
The numbers confirm the sentiment of Liverpool fans who were relieved that Alisson’s signed finally ended their goalkeeping conundrum of Loris Karius and Simon Mignolet, neither of whom managed to outperform their xGOT numbers during their time at Anfield.
|Player||Games Played||Goals Conceded||xGOT Conceded||Goals Prevented||Save %|