25.04.2019 02:33 h

Bayern target Nuebel in spotlight ahead of Ruhr derby

Schalke goalkeeper Alexander Nuebel was a bench-warmer at the start of the season, but ahead of this weekend's derby in Dortmund, he looks set to walk in the footsteps of Manuel Neuer.

Nuebel, 22, has been one of the few players to have shone in a dreadful year for Schalke. His performances between the posts have kept relegation at arm's length and reportedly piqued the interest of Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich.

With Schalke now just one place above the bottom three, Nuebel hopes to restore some lost pride for his current club when they take on old rivals Borussia Dortmund on Saturday.

Nuebel, who joined Schalke from Paderborn at the age of 18, began the season playing second fiddle to more experienced goalkeeper Ralf Faehrmann.

Runners-up last year, Schalke slumped into a relegation fight this season. When Faehrmann fell out of favour, Nuebel grabbed his chance by the horns.

Promoted to number one in January by then Schalke coach Domenico Tedesco, Nuebel earned plaudits for his performances, even as Tedesco's reign began to implode.

Amid a growing chorus of boos from the terraces in Gelsenkirchen, he has been one of the few players to receive recognition from the fans.

After a 3-0 defeat to Mainz in February, Schalke fans taunted the players, chanting: "Apart from Nuebel, you can all go".

His form has also earned him comparisons with Bayern's superstar keeper, with Bild newspaper nicknaming Nuebel "mini-Neuer".

Neuer too was the standout player in a forgettable season for Schalke back in 2011, just before the Germany number one moved to Munich.

Speculation is now rife that Nuebel may follow the same path.

"Alex is allowed to think about a move, contracts are not one-sided," Nuebel's agent Stefan Backs told Sport1 earlier this month.

"If Schalke get a big transfer fee for Alex, like they did with Neuer, then it will be a good bit of business."

With Nuebel's current contract set to expire in 2020, Schalke may have to sell him at the end of this season if they are not to lose him on a free transfer.

Nuebel himself has reportedly put off any contract discussions until after the Under-21 European Championships in June, but he has been peppered with contradictory advice of late.

Last Sunday, former Bayern and Liverpool midfielder Dietmar Hamann urged the young keeper to join Bayern.

"Even a year training next to Manuel Neuer is better than being first choice keeper at Schalke," he said.

Bayern's number two Sven Ulreich, on the other hand, said that a move to Bayern would "make no sense" for Nuebel.

"I don't think that, at 22 years old, he will want to be Manuel's number two. If he comes, he will want to play," Ulreich told SportBild magazine on Wednesday.

At Schalke, at least, Nuebel is guaranteed game time, having held on to his number one spot even after Tedesco was replaced by interim coach Huub Stevens.

"It is always difficult when a coach leaves, and I have had four coaches in four years at Schalke," Nuebel told WAZ newspaper last month.

"The exciting thing about this club is that you get ups and downs."

Nuebel has certainly had that at Schalke. Having watched from the bench as the club recorded their highest league finish in eight years last season, he is now the hero of this season's horror show.

With a six-point lead over third-from-bottom Stuttgart, a win over Dortmund in the derby could see Schalke all but secure survival on Saturday.

If they do so, it will be down in no small part to their 22-year-old goalkeeper.