Thanks to Manuel Neuer (left) in top form, Bayern won the Champions League final against Paris
MANU FERNANDEZ / AFP
Some great players stayed great because they existed twice: Lothar Matthäus began his career as a midfielder who plowed across the pitch and forced goals.
He finished her as a strategist on the libero position.
Cristiano Ronaldo became a world star as a winger who could dribble faster than almost anyone else.
Today he shapes football primarily as a goal scorer in the center.
Manuel Neuer did not suddenly become a Libero, although one could have imagined that too.
The national team and Bayern captain is still a goalkeeper.
But he's still no longer the old man.
Neuer changed his game.
And that's why he found himself out of a career slump.
In the Champions League, which begins for Bayern in the evening with the game against Atlético Madrid (9 p.m. / live ticker SPIEGEL.de; TV: Sky), he is now one of the best keepers again.
It was not in sight.
During and after the 2018 World Cup, Neuer's movements seemed comparatively wooden after a long injury break, and his mistakes increased.
Among other things, the SPIEGEL wrote of Neuer's crumbling nimbus, which he had developed in the years before with sometimes absurd parades and his style-defining way of clearing long balls as the last man.
Neuer was honored as a world goalkeeper four times.
At the time of his first metatarsal fracture (a second followed shortly after recovery), Neuer was 31 years old, and until then his goalkeeping game had been based on speed.
With his injuries he lost his explosiveness, jumping power and reaction.
Suddenly he was no longer seemingly insurmountable, he repeatedly owed goals when running out or after set pieces.
And it was precisely at this time that there was a debate as to whether Marc-André ter Stegen from FC Barcelona was not slowly becoming the better German keeper for the national team.
That was almost exactly a year ago.
Nobody discusses it today.
Because Neuer is playing at an extremely high level again.
After the Corona break in the spring, he even improved again.
In the Champions League final against Paris Saint-Germain, Neuer played a major role in Bayern's triumph with some outstanding parades.
PSG coach Thomas Tuchel spoke of "distortion of competition" after the game.
It was said that the newer is the old one again.
But that wasn't true.
The old hero's new strength
Outfield players notice changes in their style because they often change their position in the process.
With goalkeepers, the change is at the level of nuances.
They're less obvious.
In fact, Neuer has gone through a development process since the 2018 World Cup.
In his mid-thirties he matured again.
His game, which was previously characterized by many excursions, has become more serious.
Rather than relying on his speed and reflexes, Neuer worked on anticipating deals.
He no longer reacts as much as he used to, he acts.
If a striker appears in front of him, Neuer runs towards the ball to reduce the angle to the goal.
Then this 1.93 meter tall man spreads his arms and legs so that he hovers across the sward and it seems extremely difficult to hit the goal.
Shortly before the end of the match against Paris, he cleared the free-standing Kylian Mbappé, whose facial expression was somewhere between horror and admiration even after the referee's offside whistle.
The strength in one-on-one is Neuer's new trademark, almost nobody in Europe masters this discipline of goalkeeping as he does.
Manuel Neuer: going through a maturation process
Photo: Marco Donato / dpa
However, it becomes problematic for Neuer when shots from the middle distance.
The 34-year-old also likes to force opposing strikers into hand-to-hand combat because he no longer has the responsiveness of days gone by.
It's because of his timing.
Before closing, he taps on the floor and seems to swing his arms behind his back.
This movement is a relic from times when Neuer still lived from his explosiveness in the jump.
But today, as physical superiority is waning, this charging movement takes time.
It often only ends when the ball is on its way.
If the shot is fired from a shorter distance, Neuer can no longer get close enough.
In six of the eight goals conceded this Bundesliga season, the distance between Neuer and the shooter was at least five meters.
Bayern conceded all hits from the penalty area.
Neuer hides his weaknesses
In addition to forcing direct duels, Neuer tries to hide this weakness by reading the shooters - and setting traps for them.
In the final phase of the Uefa Supercup against Sevilla, he saved Bayern with a parade against Youssef En-Nesyri in extra time;
he cleared the left corner for the shooter who just didn't want to go into a direct duel with Neuer, at the moment of the shooting he threw himself there.
Neuer forced the shooter to shoot the ball into his corner, so to speak.
In his old years, Neuer became even more of a trapper.
The same pattern was seen in the Nations League against Switzerland.
Before conceding the third goal, Neuer seemed to remain in the right corner, before the shot he jumped into the left corner.
Because Haris Seferovic's conclusion was too central, but Neuer was already jumping into the corner, he parried the ball forward unorthodox.
In the subsequent shot by Mario Gavranovic, Neuer was powerless.
Over the years, Neuer seems to have become more pragmatic.
This even applies to his legendary excursions.
If he runs out of his penalty area today, then no longer like at the 2014 World Cup, to go into a running duel with the opposing winger and pull him off the edge of the sixteen.
In the meantime, it is enough for him if he shields the ball from the opposing attacker, as he did at the weekend in Bielefeld, and then quickly takes the following throw-in himself.
Icon: The mirror