- Robert Lewandowski and Manuel Neuer were crowned The Best in December
- Both continue to provide a record-breaking supply of goals and clean sheets
- We put this star duo under the microscope ahead of the FIFA Club World Cup final
In a sport that boils down to scoring goals at one end and keeping them out at the other, FC Bayern München have long relied on two masters in those respective trades.
They have been at the club for a combined total of 16 years, and both have stood accused in seasons gone by of having passed their peak. In truth, given the scale of their previous achievements, and the fact both are now well into their 30s, it would be entirely understandable if that were the case.
But Robert Lewandowski and Manuel Neuer, at 32 and 34 respectively, are playing better than ever. Recognition of that came in December, when they were crowned – for the first time – as The Best FIFA Men’s Player and The Best FIFA Men’s Goalkeeper.
If anything, they have continued to improve in the weeks since. Both have set impressive new Bundesliga records and, yesterday, served up their respective specialities once again as Bayern opened their FIFA Club World Cup campaign with a couple of Lewandowski goals and a Neuer clean sheet.
With keeper and striker alike sure to be key men in Thursday’s final against Tigres UANL, FIFA.com looks closer at these modern-day greats.
A supreme centre-forward, the Pole has evolved and improved over recent years to become a leader and team-focused all-rounder in Bayern’s squad. “It has gone so far that he can almost enjoy an assist now,” Thomas Muller reflected with a smile recently.
Goals remain his stock in trade though and, right now, there is no-one in world football more adept at scoring them.
22 – At the halfway point in the current Bundesliga season, Lewandowski had already amassed a remarkable 22 goals. In the league’s entire history, no-one had ever managed such a remarkable tally at the halfway point, with Gerd Muller’s record of 20 from 1968/69 having been eclipsed.
In his words
“For years I’ve been hearing that this is the best Lewandowski. It doesn’t matter how old I am. I can still get better, improve my skills. I try to be the best Lewandowski every season.”
In the words of others
“He’s one of the most complete strikers around, if not the best No9 in the world. He has everything you need up front. He can head the ball, finish and hold it up.”
By the end of 2014, Neuer was already a world champion with club and country, and had been lauded for revolutionising – if not perfecting – the role of sweeper-keeper. But the years that followed were blighted by injuries and, at times, indifferent form.
Suggestions that he was on the slide have been emphatically disproved, however, and Neuer’s heroics were a key factor in Bayern reclaiming the UEFA Champions League last season and setting up this second tilt at the Club World Cup.
198 – The number of clean sheets Neuer has kept in the Bundesliga alone. His 197th, registered last month against former club Schalke, saw the 34-year-old set a new record, surpassing the long-standing benchmark set by Bayern legend Oliver Kahn.
In his words
“It has to be said that I have a lot of confidence in the people in front of me. You can see that we just have a great team on the pitch, and for me personally it’s because of this that I’m never afraid to do what I have to do in the game. Instead, I’m very brave and always try to make the right decision.”
In the words of others
“He’s just getting better and better. He’s like a red wine that matures each year. He anticipates pretty much every shot, wherever it comes from, and makes the save. He’s the best goalkeeper in the world, and I think he’s even the best goalkeeper of all time. We’ve always had good goalkeepers in Germany, at Bayern, when you talk about Sepp Maier or Oliver Kahn, but I think Manuel Neuer has taken goalkeeping to a new level.”