Finally. Almost a year later, Manuel Neuer played again with Bayern Munich. Recovered from his shin injury, which occurred during a ski vacation in the Alps after the 2022 World Cup, the boss of the Bavarian defense returned to the field. A return to competition far from ideal since, after a victory in the league, Bayern Munich was knocked out of the German Cup in the second round by a third division club this week. But the real shock is expected against Dortmund this Saturday in the Bundesliga (6:30 p.m.) for the meeting that makes you salivate every year.
What will be the level of a legend who has experienced everything and won everything, for club and national team, but who must prove, like everyone else despite an XXL business card, that he still has the level to meet the demands of the very high level?
Manuel Neuer is a great goalkeeper. However, his meter 93 is perhaps not as long as the many lines on his list of achievements when we put them down on paper. In the national team of course, where the captain of the Mannschaft won the 2014 World Cup after some of the most accomplished performances in history as a goalkeeper (his round of 16 against Algeria revolutionized the job). He was also rewarded with a third place in the Ballon d'Or that year.
But also in the club with which he has 434 appearances: at Bayern Munich, the German goalkeeper has become a huge champion. 11 Bundesliga, 6 German Cups, 6 German Super Cups, 2 Club World Cups. And, above all, he managed to lift the Big Ears Cup twice. The holy of holies in the club. Manuel Neuer, who has won everything, made his return last weekend in a defense which has suffered since the start of the season, and which has just lost De Ligt to injury. In the league, Thomas Tuchel's men occupy second place in the standings, behind Xabi Alonso's surprising Bayer Leverkusen. They certainly have the best defense in the Bundesliga, with seven goals conceded. The trouble is that four of these goals were conceded in two matches against Leipzig and Leverkusen, that is to say in shocks of the German championship.
As for the Champions League, the reigning German champions have conceded five goals in three matches. Defensive statistics well below expectations for a club which has an ancestral tradition of being a serious candidate for final victory every year. The return of Neuer, historic boss of this defense, was supposed to bring serenity to a team which badly needs it. But the early elimination in the German Cup, Wednesday against Saarbrücken (German third division), showed that the captain's return was not enough.
Yes, Neuer is very experienced and many clubs would dream of securing the services of a player with such an important footballing experience. However, there is another side of the coin. The Bavarian captain is 37 years old. Suffering an injury at this age, and managing to return to your best level, is not always easy. Hugo Lloris could attest to this, he who, injured at the end of last season with Tottenham, is now confined to the role of third goalkeeper in a club where he was captain for years. Especially since this fracture to the tibia suffered by Neuer is not the first contracted by the world champion in recent years: the season before, he had already missed several matches after a shoulder injury, and the season from before, at the knee. If he wants to show that he is in good shape, the 37-year-old goalkeeper will have to succeed in stringing together matches.
At Bayern, the threat of competition will not come from Sven Ulreich, the second goalkeeper destined to remain so. On the other hand, the idea could arise in the minds of Bavarian leaders to recruit a younger goalkeeper in the event of poor performance. As for the selection, there is no guarantee that he will manage to dislodge Ter Stegen from his starting place, the Catalan goalkeeper coming out of a very high-level exercise and very keen to keep it. Moreover, during the last international break, the German coach, Julian Nageslmann, said that “even when Neuer returns, Gundogan will remain captain”. If the Neuer page has not yet been turned, the winds of change are slowly being felt.
Of course, Manuel Neuer will not get any younger. But, despite the uncertainties mentioned above, nothing indicates that the Bayern Munich captain will not return to his best level. And the first reason for this is that he has already achieved a prodigious comeback at over thirty, during the exercise. 2017-2018. Injured in the foot, the former Scahlke 04 player then missed the entire season before returning to competition for the 2018-2019 season. The Bavarians won the championship that season, before winning in the final of the Champions League during the final eight the following edition (2019-2020). He had also disgusted the French clubs, in the semi-final against Olympique Lyonnais (3-0) and in the final against PSG (1-0). Hardworking, with great mental strength, the Bavarian goalkeeper seems to have all the weapons to regain his best level.
Starting against Darmstadt last weekend, during his team's 8-0 victory, Manuel Neuer produced a boss game. With the captain's armband around his arm, the reigning German champion reassured everyone thanks to his well-thought-out reminders and offered Bayern the fourth clean-sheat of the season. His foot save in the 35th minute to preserve the goalless score at 0-0 was decisive. Against Darmstadt, fourteenth in the Bundesliga, his comeback went perfectly. This good impression left was spoiled by the elimination in the German Cup on Wednesday. For the Klassiker against Dortmund on Saturday at 6:30 p.m., Bayern Munich supporters hope to see the best version of Neuer at work.