Ter Stegen or Neuer? Germany, Low Have Goalkeeper Call to Make at World Cup

Manuel Neuer hasn't played a competitive match in months and is coming off a troublesome foot injury. Meanwhile, Marc-Andre ter Stegen was stellar for Barcelona this season. What should Jogi Low do?
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"If he goes to the World Cup, he is the No. 1," was the verdict from Joachim Low, regarding Manuel Neuer featuring for the defending champions in Russia this summer.

While there is no doubting the talent of the 32-year-old, question marks remain regarding his fitness having only made four appearances all season due to a troublesome metatarsal injury.

Germany is the only nation to name two Champions League winning goalkeepers in their provisional squad ahead of the World Cup, and Marc-Andre ter Stegen is more than likely next in line to don the gloves for Die Mannschaft should Bayern Munich's star fail to do so this summer. Yet, after his performances in recent seasons, he arguably deserves the position outright, regardless of Neuer's fitness concerns. 

Despite being at Barcelona since 2014, having completed a €12m move from his boyhood side Borussia Monchengladbach, it's the improvements over the previous two seasons that has ter Stegen be included in the bracket of among the world's best goalkeepers; adding substance to his style.

After shirking the tag of cup 'keeper following Claudio Bravo's ill-fated transfer to Manchester City in 2016, the door was open for ter Stegen to stake his claim in becoming the outright No. 1 at the Nou Camp, which he duly accepted, keeping 17 clean sheets across all competitions.

If the previous season was great however, this past season the 26-year-old has been nothing short of outstanding. Only Atletico Madrid's Slovenian stalwart Jan Oblak kept more clean sheets than ter Stegen's 19 across Europe's top five leagues, with the German going on to register 24 shutouts in 48 appearances to help Barca to a league and cup double. This led Sky Sports' Guillem Balague to state: "ter Stegen has arguably been Barcelona's best performer after Messi."

The high praise from Balague is testament to not only the improvements ter Stegen has made to his game, but also his level consistency to perform in such a demanding environment for the past 24 months, which could work in his favor as the uncertainty surrounding Neuer's participation in Russia continues to linger. 

With just 360 minutes of competitive action under Neuer's belt this season - the most recent coming in mid-September - the past 18 months since suffering the metatarsal injury in April the previous campaign has hardly been the ideal preparation heading into a World Cup.

Having lit up Brazil four years ago with a revolutionary approach to goalkeeping - a cavalier approach that the likes of ter Stegen now incorporates into his game - it would be a huge gamble by Low to rely on a man with so little match practice.

While the talent of ter Stegen is evident, his trophy haul in recent seasons for both club and country is equally impressive, suggesting there is a winning mentality and ability to successfully cope with pressure should Germany reach the latter stages of the World Cup.

In his first season as Barca, ter Stegen experienced the positive aspect of his initial cup 'keeper status, playing in both the Champions League and Copa del Rey final as the went on to claim their second treble. A further two La Liga titles, three Copa del Rey's, a Super Cup and Club World Cup would follow in the next three seasons.

Neuer's injury struggles have also led to ter Stegen being given more opportunities at international, with the majority of his 19 caps stemming since the beginning of 2017, four of which coming in the Confederations Cup success.

Part of a squad boasting the talents of Leon Goretzka, Timo Werner and Leroy Sane - all of whom are selected for the World Cup this summer - ter Stegen unsurprisingly stood out, taking the place of Bernd Leno after the opening game before keeping his place for the remainder of the competition, even earning the Man of the Match award in the final. 

Ahead of Germany's only warm-up game before Low has to trim his provisional squad to 23 players for this summer, Neuer is expected to make his first appearance for Germany in almost two years when it faces Austria this Saturday.

As one of Neuer, ter Stegen, Leno and Kevin Trapp look set to miss out on a place to Russia, the game against their European counterparts will be pivotal in deciding not only who goes to the World Cup, but who starts the first game against Mexico, as Low's side bid to become the first side since Brazil in 1968 to win consecutive tournaments.

The prospect of ter Stegen being his first choice this summer is one that doesn't faze Low, who stated: "I have no qualms about entering the tournament with Marc-Andre ter Stegen as No. 1."

While Germany's captain is given every possible opportunity to prove his fitness, ter Stegen will be waiting in the wings when he perhaps deserves his place on center stage.