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Hrubesch’s Choice: The State of German Goalkeeping

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Toni Turek. Sepp Maier. Harald Schumacher. Andreas Köpke. Oliver Kahn. Jens Lehmann. Manuel Neuer. Germany have been a footballing nation characterised by their great goalkeepers ever since taking up football as a sport, with one of the game’s great goalkeepers’ tenures in the Germany goal generally replaced swiftly with another great.

Of the seven listed goalkeepers, only one – Jens Lehmann – hasn’t picked up an international winners medal of some variety. While this, of course, is hugely dependent too on the outfield players in front of the goalkeepers, it speaks volumes of the success of German goalkeeping. Virtually every great goalkeeper has received international recognition in some form, whether with the World Cup or European Championship winners’ medal.

But who’s next? Of course, at the age of 29, Manuel Neuer still has a while yet in the German number one jersey, with his previous great predecessors characterised by their longeivety; Maier playing internationally until 35, Köpke and Kahn until 36, and Jens Lehmann even until 38, but with the Under 21 European Championships taking place in the Czech Republic this summer, even greater scrutiny has come upon the young ranks of German goalkeepers, many of whom who have the talent and potential to stretch a glove into the pantheon of goalkeeping greatness. In quite a shocking turn of events – at least from an English perspective, given Roy Hodgson and Gareth Southgate’s rather measly pickings in goal – Horst Hrubesch’s Germany U21s have named three (four if you count the provisional squad) who are arguably stronger than those picked in the senior squad by Joachim Löw.

That’s right; Roman Weidenfeller and Ron-Robert Zieler are arguably (see: definitely) inferior goalkeepers to their understudies Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Bernd Leno and Timo Horn. Even Loris Karius, the unlucky individual not to make the final cut for Hrubesch’s side, has had a better season than the full international pair, becoming a true match-winner for Mainz over the course of the past year.

Germany’s first team isn’t exactly in crisis; having won the World Cup last year, they’re probably going to qualify for Euro 2016 with reasonable ease, and the absence of Manuel Neuer from Löw’s squad seems to be purely down to the ease of Germany’s fixtures in the coming weeks. However, the strength of Germany’s youth goalkeepers certainly bodes well for the future after Neuer and in the long term, with a number of relatively talented players becoming Bundesliga mainstays of recent years; it almost feels odd to imagine a Bundesliga without excellent goalkeepers such as Kevin Trapp, Rene Adler and Sven Ulreich playing for some of the league’s lesser – purely in terms of position – clubs.

So, what of the trio of young goalkeepers hoping to eventually carve out an international career for themselves? Who’s the one who’ll become the eighth name on the list at this article’s beginning? Where will their careers go? What have they achieved thus far?

Marc-Andre ter Stegen

Arguably the most established of the three at club level, Marc-Andre ter Stegen won the treble with Barcelona just last week (becoming only the second German goalkeeper to win a league/cup/continental treble after Manuel Neuer achieved it with Bayern in 2013), having already been a standout performer at the top stage with his hometown club Borussia Mönchengladbach. The 23 year-old has only played 21 times for Barcelona this season – his rival for the number one jersey Claudio Bravo starting in La Liga with ter Stegen trusted for cup and continental competitions – but with ten clean sheets and just sixteen goals conceded, he has continued an already impressive career when given the chance.

Ter Stegen’s playing style is perhaps more notable than stats – impressive as they are – however. Comfortable on the ball (despite a few notable mishaps against the United States and Braunschweig, which are no signifier of his quality as ball-player), and excellent as a sweeper keeper; arguably at a level close to, if not equivalent to, Manuel Neuer; ter Stegen was the clear replacement for Victor Valdes at Barcelona, and is probably the most like-for-like replacement for Neuer if and when the Bayern goalkeeper retires from international duty.

Besides that, though, keeping 45 clean sheets in what was, a few years ago, a relatively leaky Borussia Mönchengladbach defence over the course of 127 appearances for his boyhood club was an excellent achievement for a player who was a couple of months short of nineteen years of age when he made his debut in a 5-1 drubbing of local rivals 1.FC Köln. An introduction to a pressure cooker like a local derby obviously stood the youngster in good stead, as he managed to help the Foals scrape survival in a relegation playoff against Bochum, having kept a clean sheet against eventual title winner Dortmund. This continued throughout the rest of his spell with the club, with notable performances against Bayern in following seasons and progressively better finishes as a team as Borussia and ter Stegen developed into becoming established at the top end of the Bundesliga table.

That ter Stegen will have a great career is no wager; winning a treble and representing your boyhood club, and having done that by the age of 23, is an achievement in itself, but given current circumstances, it looks likely that the young Mönchengladbach-born goalkeeper could potentially end up the best goalkeeper of a generation.

Timo Horn

Horn, almost exactly a year younger than ter Stegen, has had a relatively similar career, but for a few key differences. Obviously, Horn hasn’t made the move to a giant yet, but perhaps on a deeper level, the Cologne born ‘keeper represents his local club of 1.FC Köln, Borussia Mönchengladbach’s arch-rivals. Making his debut in the 2. Bundesliga, after the Billy Goats were relegated in 2012, Horn has impressed at both of the top levels of German football since taking over the Köln number one jersey, being linked with a number of top clubs (including Spurs, Liverpool and, like any remotely decent German goalkeeper at present, Dortmund), and of course keeping 45 clean sheets, like ter Stegen did at Borussia, in just 106 games (73 of which were, admittedly, against second tier strikers).

Horn has perhaps been one of the brightest sparks of a positive first campaign back in the Bundesliga for Peter Stöger’s side, however despite the early promise he has shown, there is still much in his game to be improved.

While brilliant as a shot stopper and incredible at dealing with crosses, Horn isn’t as comfortable on the ball as either of his rivals for the Under 21 jersey, which could become a problem in later years at clubs less defensive than 1.FC Köln; where for Köln, he doesn’t have to deal with everything which goes in-behind the defensive – largely because Köln’s defence have been impenetrable at times this season – and in more possession-based systems, Horn may have to quickly learn to add this aspect to his game. A distribution success rate of just 61% in the past season may slightly prevent Horn from being mentioned in the same bracket as ter Stegen and Leno when considering a potential Neuer successor.

Bernd Leno

Bernd Leno is easily the most experienced of Hrubesch’s trio of goalkeepers in terms of sheer games played – an astonishing 175 for Bayer Leverkusen at the age of 23, and even ignoring the 57 appearances he made in the 3. Liga for the reserve team of his previous club, VfB Stuttgart. Having mixed it in the top half of the Bundesliga for his entire Leverkusen career, and with an already vast experience of playing against European outfits in both the Champions League and Europa League, Leno could be argued to be the best shout for Hrubesch’s side this summer. Like Horn, he’s not as comfortable on the ball as ter Stegen, but as one of the Bundesliga’s best shot-stoppers, Leno more than pays dividends for Leverkusen in other areas.

A great deal of Roger Schmidt’s original success at Bayer Leverkusen has to be put down to the way in which Leno marshalled his defence and, following the famous goal scored by Augsburg goalkeeper Marwin Hitz in February, Leno actually didn’t concede a domestic goal for another two months.

With 61 clean sheets and 207 goals conceded throughout his time at Leverkusen in all competitions, Leno has a seriously impressive record and could go on to become one of the great Bundesliga goalkeepers in the coming years. However, despite all his excellent performances for Leverkusen in recent years, Leno remains undecorated with major success, which is perhaps one major omission from his career to date. With a rival at arguably the world’s biggest and most successful club at present, Leno may wish to address this if he wishes to challenge to replace Neuer as Germany number one; whether that means magically turning Leverkusen into a trophy-winning club, something they distinctly aren’t at present, or moving onto pastures more successful.

Either way, though, one thing is clear. Horst Hrubesch and Joachim Löw, and by extension the rest of Germany, have never had it so good on the goalkeeping front. It’s genuinely difficult to separate this trio in meaningful terms given their similar records in Bundesliga action, and that certainly speaks volumes about the standard of both German goalkeeping coaching and youth coaching, as well as boding well for future national team coaches. If ter Stegen, Leno or Horn don’t join Turek, Maier, Schumacher, Köpke, Kahn, Lehmann or Neuer, somebody else will. That’s certain.

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Conor is a lifelong fan of Swindon Town. He hosts Dreierpack Podcast, a podcast about the Bundesliga, and writes about Borussia Mönchengladbach for the Bundesliga Fanatic.

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Everton 0-2 Manchester United: Three talking points from Goodison Park

Jake Jackman

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Manchester United

Manchester United managed to return to winning ways with an impressive away victory against Everton. This is a fixture that has caused United with problems down the years and Wayne Rooney was the focus of attention in the build-up as it was going to be only his second appearance against the club since leaving in the summer. It was a quiet one for the forward, as he picked up a yellow card and didn’t threaten as much as he would have hoped. The visitors took the three points thanks to strikes from Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard. Here are three talking points from Goodison Park:

Jesse Lingard continues to impress and deserves his place in the starting eleven

The 25-year-old has been a slow developer, but he looks ready to step up a level and become a regular starter for Manchester United. He has been a good squad player for the club since breaking through as a young player, but he is now ready to make the move up to be a more important player at Old Trafford. He ended 2017 in impressive form and has started the new year in the same vein.

The attacking midfielder scored the second goal of the evening, as he struck an excellent effort to beat Jordan Pickford and put the result beyond doubt. He wasn’t short of confidence and looked to take shots at every opportunity. Lingard attempted five shots and his direct approach is one of the reasons he is in the team, as United need more goals from their midfield.

Lingard is an entertaining player to watch and isn’t afraid to take responsibility and run with the ball. He completed three dribbles against Everton and caused problems every time he got on the ball. Creatively, he will be hoping to improve during the coming weeks, as he made only one key pass on Monday. At times, his decision making could be improved, but he is headed in the right direction and his form in front of goal means that Jose Mourinho can’t drop him.

Everton need to sign a new striker

They didn’t have to deal with the return of Romelu Lukaku to Goodison Park as he was missing through injury, but it was clear that Everton need to sign a new striker in January. Oumar Niasse led the line against Manchester United and there was some good movement from him and the rest of the attacking players, but they caused few problems for the opposition when they had the ball.

The 27-year-old hasn’t fully convinced any of the three managers that he has played under at the club and it is unlikely that he is going to be the answer up front. There is no criticising his effort, as he was a willing runner and tried to impress, as his four successful dribbles show. However, he doesn’t have the required ability to deliver the level of performance that Everton want from their main striker.

Everton have been heavily linked with Besiktas striker Cenk Tosun and there had been speculation that a fee had been agreed, but the Mirror report that the deal is no in danger of collapse. It is a risk to sign a striker from Turkey and expect them to replicate the same form in the Premier League, but he appears to be the club’s primary target at the time of writing. If they can’t get his transfer over the line, they must move on to other targets. The current striking options aren’t good enough for a team with the Toffees’ ambition.

Paul Pogba showed why he is important to Manchester United

The French international continues to be doubted by many that like to point towards his huge transfer fee, but his influence can’t be understated. Paul Pogba is the most important player in the current Manchester United team. The club haven’t lost a Premier League game when the midfielder has played since October 2016. Meanwhile, United have lost five matches without him during this period.

Pogba is a forward-thinking player and is always looking to play positive passes. During the match, he completed five key passes and assisted both goals. As a creative presence from deep, there are few better players in the Premier League and there is hope that he can step up to the next level during 2018. He has been touted as a future Ballon d’Or winner and there is no reason why he can’t do that at Old Trafford.

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Three talking points from Newcastle United’s comeback against West Brom

Jake Jackman

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Newcastle

Newcastle United fought back from 2-0 down to end their losing streak in the Premier League against West Bromwich Albion. They played poorly for much of the game, but their performance in the last 30 minutes has given them something to build on. This was a precious point and one that could be looked back on as a turning point at the end of the season. The Baggies will be disappointed that they weren’t able to hold on to the lead and it is crucial that they appoint a new manager sooner rather than later. Here are three talking points from the match:

Aleksandar Mitrovic needs to start

This has been a hotly debated topic on social media as Newcastle supporters have been demanding that Mitrovic is given a chance to start in then Premier League. Since Rafa Benitez was appointed as manager at St James’ Park, his relationship with the striker has been rocky. The Spaniard is a control freak and likes to have players that he can trust. He doesn’t trust the 23-year-old and that is why he has been on the sidelines. There is no doubting his talent, but he can’t be relied upon to carry out the manager’s instructions.

In recent matches, Newcastle have offered little in the final third, with Joselu being one of the players that has received most criticism for that. He offers little goal threat and needs to be taken out of the firing line to save what is left of his confidence. Mitrovic offered a lot more when he came on, as he ran the channels and worked hard pressing the opposition defenders. His link-up play was better than Joselu’s and he managed to score, although it was disallowed for an earlier offside. Benitez needs to change something in his attack and the Serbian deserves a chance.

Salomon Rondon has a lot more to offer West Brom

There was a lot of excitement when Salomon Rondon signed for West Brom and he has yet to live up to that billing. His performance against Newcastle suggested that he has more to offer the club and that a new manager could be what he needed to fulfil his potential. During the match, he won three aerial duels, completed two dribbles and made one key pass. It was a great display from the striker as he showed intelligent movement and link-up play, playing a huge role in the Baggies attack.

In the first-half, the Venezuelan international hit the bar from range, as he displayed incredible technical skill to scare Karl Darlow in the Newcastle goal. The one disappointment will have been his role in the equalising goal, as Matt Ritchie’s free-kick was deflected off the striker, but there was little he could do about it. Overall, it was an encouraging performance and continued his positive momentum since the sacking of Pulis.

Newcastle miss Jamaal Lascelles

There would have been many Newcastle supporters that would not have had Lascelles in their starting eleven this season, despite the centre-back being their captain. The second-half of the Championship season was underwhelming for him, as he made several mistakes and looked nervy in possession. However, he was suffering with a hernia problem and in reflection, it was clearly affecting him on the pitch. This season, he has been one of the stars of this Magpies team and moved into the thinking of Gareth Southgate.

Since the centre-back suffered an injury against Bournemouth, Newcastle have picked up only one point and conceded ten times in only three and a half matches. In the 10 matches prior, the Magpies had only conceded nine goals and it has become evident that Lascelles is key to their survival hopes. They miss the organisation and leadership that he offers, as it brings a calmness to the rest of the team. The sooner he is back, the better for Rafa Benitez and this group of players.

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Aleksandar Mitrovic’s career at Newcastle United is reaching another crossroads

Jake Jackman

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Mitrovic

It is clear to anybody watching that Newcastle United need a top-tier striker if they are to make the step up to the next level. In the long-term, Rafa Benitez will have one on his shopping list, but there may be a temporary solution within the current squad. There has been a lot of clamour from supporters on social media for Aleksandar Mitrovic to be given a chance in the first-team. The Serbian international has had a turbulent career since signing for the Magpies, but there is no denying that he has talent and has the potential to be a good Premier League centre-forward.

Newcastle face a difficult test against Manchester United this weekend and their main problems lie in attack, with the team failing to score in their last two Premier League fixtures. Joselu was a cheap summer signing from Stoke City and although he has shown some encouraging signs, he isn’t the natural goalscorer that the side needs. Dwight Gayle was the club’s leading scorer in the Championship last season, but there remain doubts about his ability to replicate that form at the highest level. Both have been given a chance to make the starting spot their own and they have failed to convince. Mitrovic could be the best option of the three.

Since Benitez arrived towards the end of the 2015/16 campaign, he has had a mixed relationship with Mitrovic. There was hope that the arrival of a world class manager would bring the best out of the striker and see him develop into the player that everyone hoped he would be when he joined from Anderlecht.

Their working relationship got off to a good start as the Serbian scored the first goal of the Benitez era. Mitrovic was a handful against Sunderland in the North East derby and got the equaliser to prevent an early embarrassment for his new manager. Despite the club’s relegation during that season, the young striker was one of the rare bright spots as he scored nine Premier League goals in a poor team.

He scored on the final day in the Magpies’ convincing win over Tottenham. It came too late to save them, but the performance on that day and the reaction from the supporters was enough to convince Benitez to stay on as manager, as he saw the potential of the club. It wasn’t the only thing that the manager saw that day. The naivety of Mitrovic’s character was on display as he earned a needless red card. There was no reason to make the challenge and that action has led to his current position in the Newcastle squad. That is a squad player that can’t be trusted.

Newcastle put together a strong squad to attempt to achieve promotion back to the Premier League at the first attempt. Dwight Gayle arrived and there was a competition to be the starting striker at St James’ Park. The number nine shirt was vacant, with Gayle and Mitrovic both vying for it. The former was given the honour and that was the first sign that it would be a frustrating campaign for the Serbian. He will have been annoyed by his role, but he only had himself to blame as his stupidity against Tottenham earned him a four-match suspension to serve at the beginning of the new season.

Benitez couldn’t build a team around a striker that wouldn’t be available for the start of the season. The Newcastle boss is a perfectionist and he needs to have full trust in each of his players to carry out his instructions. The unpredictability of Mitrovic means that he doesn’t have that with the striker. Last season, the 23-year-old started only 11 of the 46 Championship matches. Considering he is an international that cost £13 million, it was expected that he would take the second tier by storm. The reality was that he wasn’t mentally ready to take on that role.

During the summer, there were rumours linking Mitrovic with a move away from St James’ Park. Benitez would have been unlikely to oppose an exit if a fair offer came in, but the lack of funds given to the Spaniard in the transfer market meant that he couldn’t afford to lose the Serbian. It put him in a difficult spot, as he knows he isn’t wanted, but he is doing little to force his manager to change his mind.

Against West Ham United, Mitrovic was given his first chance of the season from the bench and what followed was a microcosm of his Newcastle United career. He missed a great chance, scored the next and then elbowed Manuel Lanzini. Although he wasn’t sent off on the day, he was later hit with a retrospective ban and he has only been seen once since.

One of the prominent reasons why supporters want to see him back in the starting eleven is his form for Serbia. Although he hasn’t been playing regularly for the Magpies, he has been a key part of his national team’s success in qualifying for the World Cup. The 23-year-old scored six times in qualification and his consistency during the process suggests that he can become a very good player. Neither Gayle nor Joselu are scoring regularly and the feeling is that Mitrovic would offer a bigger goal threat.

The recent poor form in the final third has led to the supporters revisiting the Mitrovic issue. He splits the fan-base, but there are a lot of questions that have yet to answered. The growing calls for the striker to be given a chance will only increase with every game. Benitez needs to put an end to this issue once and for all. The manager may well be right in his judgement, but he needs to give the player one more chance. If it works out, then Newcastle will benefit. If it doesn’t, then it will be known, once and for all, that the striker doesn’t have a future on Tyneside.

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