By Kris Voakes
As if the prospect of a Champions League semi-final between Bayern Munich and Real Madrid wasn’t enough, the two clashes over the next eight days will also see perhaps the two greatest goalkeepers in the world come up against each other.
Manuel Neuer, the No.1 of Die Roten, and Madrid skipper Iker Casillas are always in the mix where debates over football’s leading shot-stoppers are concerned, and rightly so. While Casillas has been key in two Champions League triumphs and four La Liga crowns, he was also handed the World Cup in 2010 and European Championship in 2008 as captain of Spain. Neuer, meanwhile, may not have received truly notable silverware so far, but he is tipped for big things as his talent and reputation continue to grow.
The pair have not been adversaries since the 2010 World Cup semi-final, which saw Carles Puyol’s header beyond Neuer send Spain to the Johannesburg showpiece at Germany’s expense, so Tuesday night’s first leg will be a fascinating opportunity for the football world to see how the duo compare two years on.
With more than just team success to be judged when looking at a goalkeeper, Goal.com decided to put the relative qualities of the two glovesmen under the microscope, with a helping hand from Bayern and Germany legend Sepp Maier, and ex-Madrid and Spain keeper Paco Buyo.
|THE GERMAN & THE SPANIARD: HEAD-TO-HEAD
||DATE OF BIRTH
|MENTAL ATTRIBUTES (Marks out of 5)
It is often said that mentality is one of the biggest factors separating a good goalkeeper from a great one, and Buyo is clear in his assessment as to which has the better score in this area.
"Neuer alternates good performances with big mistakes," says Buyo. "He's not consistent enough, although on his day he can have a great couple of matches and be key for Bayern. Casillas is very reliable and always focused enough to produce a great save even if it's the only shot he has to stop in the whole match. He's a very complete keeper."
However, Maier has a strong argument in favour of his countryman, saying: "For a comparison, Neuer is still too young, you have to wait. When he is as old as Casillas, he'll have the successes too. The older Neuer gets, the more experience he'll have, and the better he'll become. The boy is just 26, he doesn't have experience."
Also on Neuer's side is the huge improvement he has made to Bayern's back line. Having been a little short of a joke at times last season, suddenly FC Hollywood's rearguard has looked much more organised with the former Schalke man between the sticks.
|COMMAND OF AREA
|Here, the Spaniard edges ahead, with Buyo explaining some of Neuer's issues. "He is decent enough in the one-on-ones because of that big body of his, but he's not very good technically. And he's not very good dealing with crosses either, which is ironic because he's so tall."
Maier retorts: "Neuer plays in a good team, and plays international football regularly too. That has a positive effect on improving your performances. Nothing against Schalke, but he'll get better playing in the Champions League than he would playing for them in the Europa League. That is no real competition, it's a loser's league for me."
On the Madrid skipper, Buyo adds: "Casillas is at the top technically, fantastic on one-on-ones. He has also improved a lot dealing with crosses, which was the weakest aspect of his game in the past. His only liability now is when he has to use his feet, but otherwise he's probably the best keeper in the world at the moment."
After his years at the top of the game, San Iker has developed significantly to become more consistent in several areas technically. While still slightly short in one or two aspects, he's now regarded as one of the greatest keepers in the Blancos' history.
| PHYSICAL ATTRIBUTES (Marks out of 5)
|Not being the build one would normally equate with a top-class goalkeeper, Casillas has fought about his weight - or rather, height - for over a decade now.
Neuer stands 12 centimetres taller than his Spanish counterpart at 1.94 metres, but also has the speed to make the most of his huge frame. Buyo explains: "He's a very tall keeper who uses his body as if he was playing handball."
Meanwhile, Italy shot-stopper Gianluigi Buffon, who for many years has himself staked a claim for the title of the world's best, said recently that he hopes to meet the man he regards as the true No. 1 at the forthcoming Euro 2012 finals.
"Ciao Manuel! You are the best goalkeeper in the world, I hope that both of us are in the Euro final," said Buffon through Sky Sport. "I'm at the end of my career, you still have so much in front of you. I look forward to facing you."
|SPEED OFF THE LINE
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So clearly, Casillas' years at the top have seen him build a great reputation, with his impressive showings in the 2002 Champions League final and the runs to the Euro 2008 and 2010 World Cup finals leaving a mark on the minds of many.
On the other hand, Neuer's slightly better mental and physical attributes put him on a par at present, with plenty of time on his side to boost his profile in big games, with an increase in concentration necessary to help him make that kick on.
But who will get the chance to play on the biggest stage of all at the Allianz Arena on May 19? Only one of the pair can step out onto the Munich turf come the night of the final. Will it be Neuer or Casillas?