Why not Neuer? Germany axe Bayern veterans but Barcelona's Ter Stegen being left to rot

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Joachim Low retired Jerome Boateng, Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels, so why is he staying loyal to his No.1 when he has a superior replacement?

Despite a dismal World Cup, Joachim Low remains at the helm of Germany. He was handed a second chance by the German football association, but the same olive branch has not been offered by Low to 2014 world champions Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels and Thomas Muller.

In a surprising statement on Tuesday, Low ended the international careers of the trio, despite Boateng and Hummels being 30 years old and Muller just 29.

"2019 is the year of the new start for the German national football team," the coach said after German media outlet Bild broke the news. "It was important to me personally to explain to the players and managers of Bayern my thoughts and plans today.

"They are all still world-class players who are at the forefront of their club and guarantee success. They are great players who played for the national team at a great time. They have spent countless years for Germany and the national team.

"I thank Mats, Jerome and Thomas for the many successful, extraordinary and unique years together. In the national team, however, it is now important to set the course for the future."

The humiliation of the World Cup followed by relegation from their UEFA Nations League group saw fans calling for a sea-change in the national team. Now, they have exactly what they wanted - almost.

Almost, because of one major sticking point. A sticking point that existed even before the squad was chosen for Russia last summer.

Low has long been criticised for picking his preferred players on name rather than form, sticking with elder statesmen and the tried-and-tested rather than giving youth a chance. This axing of Boateng, Hummels and Muller is an attempt to distance himself from those claims, but he has somehow retained the squad's oldest player. Manuel Neuer is the only player left that was 30 or older when Low announced his most recent squad in November.

Neuer was once the best goalkeeper in the world, a title he officially held for four successive years from 2013 to 2016 when he was the undisputed No.1 in the FIFPro World XI. Last year, he wasn't even a nominee. But there was a German goalkeeper among the five shortlisted shot-stoppers. One unblemished by the World Cup failure.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen's heroics with Barcelona saw him in the conversation as the best goalkeeper in the world, even if his international manager didn't see him as the best for his country - despite Neuer missing almost all of 2017-18 through injury.

Ter Stegen is confident that he has the ability to be Germany's first-choice goalkeeper, even if Low does not share that confidence. Otherwise, why would the coach not have culled Neuer like he has done in defence and attack?

Ter Stegen Neuer GFX 1:1

The Barcelona goalkeeper repeated his claims this week, hailing all that Neuer has done for his country, but urging Low to choose him ahead of the 32 year old.

"The situation in the German national team is what it is," Ter Stegen told Goal and DAZN. "Good performances in the club are the prerequisites for being able to claim the goal of the national team.

"Regarding this, I think I am in a good position with my personality and quality. It is important that I continue to show good performances at Barca and stay fit. I want to put pressure [on Neuer]. We talk to each other in a normal and good way, talk about game situations, give each other feedback.

"I appreciate Manu and what he did for Germany. He has played great tournaments, I have great respect for him. But that does not mean that I do not want to go into the goal. I've already said in the past, I want to make the change on the goalkeeper position. I work for that."

Low's decision to retire Boateng, Hummels and Muller can be backed up with evidence that none of the Bayern Munich trio are at the level they once were, but if they have declined, surely Neuer has declined even further?

Since returning from injury, Neuer has been a shadow of himself and has the lowest saves-per-game and second-lowest saves-per-goal statistics in the Bundesliga this season. 

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Ter Stegen, on the other hand, is making twice as many saves-per-game in league football this season and has the second most clean sheets in La Liga in 2018-19, continuing his superb form from before Russia 2018. It was that repeated excellence that led to Ter Stegen's latest public airing of his frustration at being overlooked, prompting comment from the Germany head coach.

"This year we have a little restart and Marc will get his chances in the qualification for Euro 2020," Low told DAZN. "The Euros are next summer, we have a little time left until then. Both goalkeepers are on a great level, so this year we'll see what happens. Surely Marc will also get a few games."

If Low really wanted to start anew with Germany in 2019, Ter Stegen wouldn't have to wait for that chance, he would be the automatic first choice with Neuer resigned to early retirement. Instead, it's a new coat of paint for Germany, but the same old Low underneath.

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