Thursday 26 April 2018

Manuel Neuer: It’s boring being Bayern Munich goalkeeper

By Jack Pitt-Brooke

Blackburn Rovers was one thing but Bayern Munich will be quite another.

The Bundesliga leaders come to Arsenal tonight for the Champions League last 16 first leg tie with a strong claim to be Europe's second best side. They bring with them quality, experience and motivation of two lost Champions League finals in three years.

Bayern are well set to take the Bundesliga title back from Borussia Dortmund this year, 15 points clear of the second-placed champions with just 12 games left. Only Barcelona average more points per league game than them among the elite leagues. And it is easy to see why. Behind all their pace, creativity and attacking fire-power, they have the best defence in the game.

Bayern have conceded seven league goals all season. That is less than half than the tightest teams from Europe's other leading leagues. Juventus have let in 17, Malaga 21 and Manchester City 24. In 11 away league games, they have conceded just once.

They are so good at the back that Manuel Neuer, their brilliant goalkeeper, admitted yesterday it can occasionally be dull playing in goal for Bayern.

"Sometimes you can say it is boring being in goal," Neuer said. "But actually it is important I am in communication with the defence. The secret with Bayern is that the whole team defends well, covers spaces well, when we lose the ball we go and win it back, you can see that yourself with only seven goals conceded so far."

That improvement is part of coach Jupp Heynckes' reaction to the frustrations of last year, when Bayern finished second in the Bundesliga, lost the German Cup final to Dortmund and were, of course, beaten by Chelsea on penalties in the European Cup final on their own ground.

"Last season we had a good season but if you do not win a title it is still not enough," recognised Heynckes, who will be replaced by Pep Guardiola in the summer. "We have improved this season, we are better defensively and at switching play. The thing that pleases me is that every player has to realise that they have to defend and attack."

This is Heynckes' third spell with Bayern and he admitted that their trophy haul has not been as much as would be expected so far given their stature. The players are determined to change this now. "I have been with Bayern Munich for two years and even the year before that we didn't have a title. But the important thing is that the players really have the focus and want to do something about it."

Two years might not sound like much of a drought to Arsenal but the fact is only one of tonight's teams can count themselves in Europe's elite.

Bayern's players and coach yesterday sounded the usual respects for Arsenal in general and Arsène Wenger and Jack Wilshere in particular, with Heynckes expressing sympathy for his embattled opposite number.

"You have to take into consideration Arsenal are competing with Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City," he said. "Over the years they have been selling their best players and these other teams get in absolute top world stars, so I don't think it is fair to blame Arsène for that."

Bastian Schweinsteiger remembers Bayern facing a rather stronger Arsenal side at this stage in 2005. "The last time I was here at Highbury for a 1-0 defeat, but they are now in a new stadium," he said. Bayern lost that night but progressed 3-2 on aggregate. "I'd say Arsenal are among the top 10 in Europe. Yes the days of Thierry Henry and Tony Adams have gone and maybe some are pining for them but they are still a very good team. Jack Wilshere is an excellent player, with really good quality going forward. I don't know why they haven't won titles for a few years because they have capability."

But there is unsurprising self-belief in the Bayern camp. "I would say we're very confident," Schweinsteiger said. "There is a great spirit within the team, obviously this is a very difficult game, but we have this inner calmness and patience and we do think we can get through."

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