Sven Ulreich considered quitting Bayern Munich over the close season due to a lack of chances, but Manuel Neuer’s latest injury has propelled his understudy into the spotlight.
Germany standout and Bayern captain Neuer is out until January after undergoing surgery on Tuesday — his third operation in six months for a fractured foot.
The same day, Ulreich made only his eighth Bundesliga appearance in three seasons during Bayern’s 3-0 win at Schalke, with Wolfsburg up next on Friday at Munich’s Allianz Arena.
“You feel for Manuel, the whole team is of course disappointed and we hope he comes back soon,” said the 29-year-old Ulreich.
“I am pleased that I get to play and will do my best to replace Manuel.”
The problem is that while Ulreich is a talented shot-stopper, like most of the world’s goalkeepers, he lacks Neuer’s unshakable self-confidence in the box, footballing ability and timing.
Both the Schalke and Wolfsburg games are mere warm-ups for Bayern’s biggest test so far this season — next week’s trip to Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League group stage.
It is all a far cry from just a few weeks ago when Ulreich was eyeing the door, uttering: “It’s not my aim to sit on the bench as a No. 2 for the rest of my career.”
Now, he has Neuer’s considerable boots to fill with only Bayern’s third-choice keeper — 17-year-old Christian Fruechtl — as back up.
There are three players Bayern can ill afford to lose for a long time — primary goalscorer Robert Lewandowski, playmaker Arjen Robben and Neuer.
Ulreich, a former Germany Under-21 international, has only made a total of 14 competitive appearances for the Bavarian giants, mainly when Neuer was injured, since joining from Stuttgart in 2015.
– PSG test –
He faces his toughest challenge next Wednesday at the Parc de Princes against PSG’s star-studded ‘MCN’ attack — Kylian Mbappe, Edinson Cavani and Neymar.
“I am looking forward to testing myself against such a world-class team, but we are a world-class team, which I know from training,” Ulreich said confidently.
The stats are both a help and a hinderance when trying to ascertain how Bayern will fare with Ulreich as their last line of defence.
They have lost only one of the eight German league games he has played over 90 minutes.
However, his lone two Champions League group stage outings were last November’s shock 3-2 defeat at Rostov and a meaningless 2-0 win at Dinamo Zagreb in December 2015.
Likewise, against arch rivals Borussia Dortmund, he experienced highs and lows.
He saved two penalties in August’s 5-4 penalty shoot-out win at Dortmund to win the German Super Cup after being in goal for last season’s 3-2 German Cup semi-final home defeat.
Nevertheless, Bayern head coach Carlo Ancelotti has given him full support — for now.
“Whenever Sven was asked to do something, he did well. We have a lot of faith in him,” said the Italian.