German goalkeeping is in a weird spot at the moment. One of the best — if not the very best — goalies in the entire world, Marc-André ter Stegen, still hasn’t got the decisive nod from national team manager Joachim Löw, who’s sticking with the former best keeper in the world, Manuel Neuer. This high-stakes drama distracts us from the fact that when it comes to sheltering good-to-elite-level goalkeepers, the Bundesliga might be the best league in Europe. So let’s check in on this year’s crop of ‘number 1s. If we map out all the GK’s who’ve played at least 900 minutes (roughly 80 percent of the available playing time), with the number of goals conceded on the X-axis, and the useful shot-stopper metric Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA) on the other, we get a pretty illustrating plot of the current field of Bundesliga ‘keepers. Let’s have a look at a few of the nice nuggets of information in the image above.
The Bundesliga’s finest (between the sticks)
I’ve told you this before, I’m telling you now and will tell you in the near and far future: Yann Sommer is an elite goalkeeper. With Neuer no longer the world-beater of yesteryears, the Swiss international has quietly picked up the mantle of the Bundesliga’s best Torwart. Sommer, captain of league leaders Borussia Mönchengladbach, will turn 31 in less than two weeks (congrats, Yann — quite the season the Foals are having, huh?). If there’s still a chance for him to defend the goal at one of the world’s most famous clubs, a potential move must happen sooner than later. The chances of a summer move like that are quite slim. Sommer’s way too good to serve as a back-up at, say, a Liverpool or Manchester City. The 10–15 clubs bigger than Gladbach, status-wise and money-wise, are pretty much set when it comes to their No. 1s. Squint long and hard and there’s a case to be made that Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund (more on that later) could hit the goalie market next summer. But it remains to be seen if the stellar, all-round Sommer tops much, much younger options like André Onana (Ajax, 23) and Alessio Cragno (Cagliari, 25) at age 31. All this to say that there’s a pretty good shot that Sommer becomes a true club legend at Mönchengladbach, especially given that he just extended his contract through 2023. The Swiss goalie is currently in his sixth season at Die Fohlen. Turns out that Ter Stegen’s replacement at Gladbach wasn’t all that bad, either.
Neuer could get out-Neuer’d
Remember when Bayern München laid down the big bucks for a young but very impressive Schalke goalie, athletic for his size, lightning-quick when coming out of his own goal, handling the ball equally solid with both feet with a monster throwing arm to set up counter-attacks. ‘Member? Well, history could repeat itself in an eerily similar way. The 22 million euros — a lofty sum, at the time — Bayern paid to acquire Neuer have been worth an umpteen-fold. Don’t let the injury-riddled, confusing seasons Neuer’s had since 2017 cloud your memory of the former homegrown-kid of Gelsenkirchen. During Germany’s World Cup run and his dominant years at Bayern in the Pep Guardiola era, Neuer basically reinvented fans’ view of a ‘complete’ goal-keeper. His rangy, fearless sweeper-keeping for club and country changed the dynamics on the field. But now a recurring foot injury and an additional calf injury seem to have changed Neuer’s skillset in a permanent way. He’s still fine. But not even close to the best he was once considered between the sticks. Weirdly, the young goalkeeper whose tools resemble those of Neuer most currently guards the goal at, yes, Schalke 04. Alexander Nübel took over starting duties in January and hasn’t looked back. The 23-year-old goalie has been linked heavily with a future move to Munich. With reason, as you can see below.
Goalkeeping matters, pt. 411.743
Borussia Dortmund want to challenge the perennial dominance of Bayern. But Dortmund have a keeper not a lot people trust. RB Leipzig want to challenge the perennial dominance of Bayern. And Leipzig have a super-solid goalie at the back. One guess which team’s defense can hold up enough to truly challenge in the German title race…
Club hero having a rough year
When FC Köln were relegated at the end of the 2017–18 season, Timo Horn had his pick of which club at which he’d continue his solid career. There weren’t that many reliable goalies who (A) were on the right side of their twenties — Horn was 24 at the time — and (B) had amassed more than a hundred starts in a top European league as a sample size of their ability. But Horn remained loyal to Die Geissböcke in the second tier of German football last season. The Billy Goats’ current starting line-up — who have not covered themselves in glory in the first third of this Bundesliga campaign — suggests that, at the least, they’re set between the sticks. But Horn has struggled this season, especially in crossing situations. Köln absolutely need a revival of the old Timo in goal to have a shot at staying up.
A cult club needs a cult hero
Rafal Gikiewicz is one of the standouts during Union Berlin’s surprising, heartwarming start to their first-ever campaign in the highest tier of German professional football. Gikiewicz is a truly well-rounded goalie: he possesses excellent reflexes and reach on his own line, and is also mobile and confident enough to rove around the penalty box when danger is imminent. Sounds like he’d be a good addition to most clubs, right? Hold on, because this isn’t even the best part about Gikiewicz’ breakout year: He’s 32 years old, and this is his first year as a starting goalie in a big European league. The Polish goalkeeper’s current contract is set to expire next summer, so this late-bloomer can ready himself for a late-career payday.