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Hrubesch’s Choice: The State of German Goalkeeping

The Boot Room

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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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Crystal Palace

Tottenham’s Fernando Llorente would be the perfect addition for Crystal Palace

The Spaniard still has plenty to offer in the Premier League.

Josh Kerr

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Fernando Llorente
Photo: Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur striker Fernando Llorente is among five players expected to leave the Lilywhites this summer as manager Mauricio Pochettino prepares for a summer clear out.

According to The Mirror, Pochettino is ready to listen to offers for the likes of Toby Alderweireld, Moussa Dembele, Danny Rose and Moussa Sissoko.

The 33-year-old has undoubtedly struggled in his time since joining Spurs from Swansea City in 2017. The former Spain international has scored just one Premier League goal and five in 31 appearances, in all competitions, following the move.

Elsewhere in London, the incredible resurgence of Crystal Palace has been orchestrated by the outstanding Roy Hodgson, who has earned plaudits from all corners as his Eagles side finished the season sitting pretty in 11th in the Premier League table.

The former England manager was able to guide the London outfit to safety, despite the team sitting bottom of the league without a win and even a goal after seven games. Avoiding the drop was also achieved without the support of misfiring striker Christian Benteke.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

The Belgian’s miserable form could leave Hodgson searching for further attacking options in the summer and Llorente would prove the perfect addition at Selhurst Park.

The Spaniard was monumental in his first season in England for Welsh outfit Swansea, firing 15 league goals during his short spell in South Wales.

It could be a real coup for Palace if they play to Llorente’s strengths, and he could be the signing that gets the best out of Benteke, knowing there’s a direct replacement for him if he isn’t meeting the required standards.

The former Sevilla striker was limited to few opportunities under Pochettino, starting just one league game for Spurs. His next move must prioritise finding a manager who believes in his ability and suits the striker’s style of play.

Llorente’s prowess in the air is difficult to match and with Wilfred Zaha and Andros Townsend supplying the Spanish forward he could be a real goal threat next season.

At the age of 33, Palace would not have to break the bank to add an established attacking option. For a potential small fee, Hodgson should undoubtedly swoop.

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Eight appearances, zero goals: What’s next for failed Tottenham loanee Georges-Kevin N’Koudou?

The 23-year-old has struggled since his move to the Premier League.

Max Cohen

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Georges-Kevin N’Koudou
Photo: Getty Images

When Tottenham Hotspur winger Georges-Kevin N’Koudou signed for Burnley on loan in January, there were high hopes that the 23-year-old attacker could finally prove his worth in English football.

However, N’Koudou has tremendously struggled for both playing time and form during his brief time at Turf Moor, and it appears there is no future at White Hart Lane for the Frenchman.

The winger has made just eight appearances for the Clarets and has registered a grand total of zero goals and zero assists.

Frustratingly, Sean Dyche has selected Georges-Kevin N’Koudou in the starting eleven only twice during his loan spell.

The disappointing reality that most of his appearances have come as a substitute is a major factor behind the winger’s ineffectiveness, as it is exceedingly difficult to make an impact on loan when starts are hard to come by.

(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Things were beginning to look up for N’Koudou in late March and early April when he made consecutive starts against West Bromwich Albion and Watford.

Both matches ended in victory for Burnley, and the winger caught the eye with lively performances full of direct running and pace.

However, when Johann Berg Gudmundsson returned from injury, N’Koudou found himself dropped out of the matchday squad entirely for three matches straight, encapsulating his inconsistent season.

Although the Spurs loanee has returned to make two substitute appearances in Burnley’s recent matches against Brighton and Arsenal, his months at Turf Moor have overall been a frustrating failure.

Signed by Mauricio Pochettino in August 2016 amid much fanfare for £9.4 million pounds, the winger penned a five-year deal in anticipation of a fruitful Tottenham career.

Just under two years later, the challenge of adapting to England seems to have proved too fearsome for the young N’Koudou.

With no future at White Hart Lane next season, a transfer back to his native France might provide the best move for the promising yet ineffective Georges-Kevin N’Koudou.

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West Ham’s decade-long lack of goal scorers summed up by startling figure

Max Cohen

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Photo: Getty Images

During West Ham United’s scoreless draw with Manchester United on Thursday, commentator Peter Drury made an acute observation that revealed the Hammers’ dreadful decade-long goalscoring record.

According to Drury, the last time a West Ham striker scored more than ten goals in a Premier League season was back in the 2006/07 campaign.

That year it was twice-capped England international Bobby Zamora who achieved the feat, bagging 11 goals as the east London club finished 15th.

Yet in West Ham’s ten top-flight seasons that have followed, no Hammers striker has hit the vaunted 11-goal mark, a striking statistic that is a damning indictment of the club’s poor recruitment.

A Guardian investigation conducted in January 2017 found that West Ham had signed an incredible 32 strikers in the seven seasons since David Gold and David Sullivan bought the club.

This list includes massive flops such as Benni McCarthy, Mido, Marouane Chamakh, Mladen Petric, Simone Zaza, and Jonathan Calleri. Shockingly, all of these strikers scored a combined one goal for West Ham.

This season, Marko Arnautovic is on the brink of finally breaking the decade-long duck. The Serbian sits on ten league goals to date, and will have one final opportunity to end the drought against Everton on Sunday.

The fact that it has taken this long to come close to bringing an end to the embarrassing spell is simply unacceptable for a club of West Ham’s stature. The lack of goalscoring strikers is a massive worry for the Hammers that has held them back during their disappointing 2017/18 campaign.

West Ham have scored just 45 goals in 37 matches, an abysmal goal-to-match ratio that has resulted in a poor goal difference of negative 22.

If Arnautovic is to hit 11 league goals for the Hammers this season, then West Ham can finally put a decade of striking embarrassment behind them.

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