'Ronaldo is unique – but Neuer has a chance'

Lothar Matthaus believes the Ballon d’Or is between the Bayern goalkeeper and Real Madrid forward and claims Arjen Robben has had a better year than Lionel Messi

The Fifa Ballon d’Or is a straight duel between Manuel Neuer and Cristiano Ronaldo, according to former Germany captain Lothar Matthaus.

The Real Madrid forward remains the favourite to retain the prize ahead of Monday’s gala in Zurich, ahead of the Bayern Munich goalkeeper and Barcelona star Lionel Messi.

Matthaus, who led Germany to World Cup glory in 1990, believes Neuer’s exploits in Brazil last summer have given him an excellent chance of lifting the trophy – but acknowledges Ronaldo’s “unique” form.

“Neuer certainly has a realistic chance because he has reshaped goalkeeping. I would say he’s almost reinvented it. For me, it’s a duel between Ronaldo and Neuer,” he told Bild.

“Winning the World Cup should be above everything else and the triumph in Rio is an advantage for Neuer. But then you see Ronaldo won the Champions League and scores goals like they’re from an assembly line.

“Ronaldo’s performances are unique. The only things that compare are Messi during his best spell and Brazilian Ronaldo in the early 2000s.”

Matthaus does not believe World Cup Golden Ball winner Messi is likely to win, however, and feels the Argentina captain is fortunate to have made the final three.

“With all due respect, Messi has not had a good 2014. There were other players who were better. Arjen Robben is missing from the top three, as are one or two other world champions.”

'Neuer is like Beckenbauer'

The goalkeeper has been likened to the legendary Germany sweeper for his unique ability to play with the ball at his feet and dictate attacks from his own half

Klaas-Jan Huntelaar has compared Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer to Franz Beckenbauer and tipped him to win the Ballon d’Or.

The Germany star has won the support of a host of high-profile names, including Uefa president Michel Platini. to win the award ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Neuer won the World Cup with Germany, but most strikingly showcased a unique ability to play with the ball at his feet, often starting attacks well outside of his penalty area for both club and country.

Huntelaar has been impressed with the keeper’s quality with both hands and feet and added he remains a likeable person off the pitch.

It’s strange because the goalkeeper is usually the lone wolf in a team,” the Schalke strike said in an interview with Bundesliga.com.

“They’re still important, though, and ‘Manu’ has shown how important he is for his team. He was practically an outfield player during the World Cup – he was the Beckenbauer of the team.

“His performances helped Germany reach the latter stages and I wouldn’t begrudge him the award. You can have a good time with him, he’s a good bloke. I hope he wins, but he’s up against some pretty stiff competition. Let’s see what happens.”

Schalke and Bayern are both currently in Doha, Qatar for a nine-day training camp ahead of resuming their respective Bundesliga campaigns on the back of the international break.

'That's wrong' – Guardiola denies Varane interest

Reports emanating from Spain said the former Barcelona boss was ready to launch a move for the France centre-back, claims he insists are wide of the mark

Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola has rejected reports linking him with a move for Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane.

An article in Spanish newspaper Marca claimed the former Barcelona coach had made the centre-back a priority transfer target.

The ex-Lens player was a regular under Jose Mourinho at the Bernabeu, but Carlo Ancelotti has often preferred Pepe and Sergio Ramos at the heart of his back four.

Guardiola was quizzed over the rumours at a press conference in Doha, Qatar, and swiftly dismissed them out of hand.

He said: “This paper also wrote that Sevilla’s sporting director will come instead of Matthias Sammer, and Sammer extended his contract. Marca don’t have my number, maybe they have Jorge Mendes’ number. Of course that’s wrong.”

The 43-year-old has featured heavily on the back pages of several newspapers in his homeland over the past seven days, with a separate piece linking him with a return to Barcelona.

The Spanish side’s former president Joan Laporta is reportedly ready to stand for president at the summer elections, with Guardiola’s appointment as sporting director apparently key to his campaign.

There are just 18 months remaining on his current deal at Bayern, but he remains relaxed over the situation. “We still have time, I have 18 months left,” he added.

Guardiola then reiterated his backing of Manuel Neuer to win the Ballon d’Or, while also giving his thoughts on Robert Lewandowski’s debut season at the Allianz Arena.

All three are fantastic players, of course they all want this award. I hope Manu will win it. He’s played fantastic in the last year. For me he is the best keeper in the world.”

He continued: “I talked to him. The first year at a new club is never easy. The most important thing is that he had many chances. He integrates well, within the game and the team. I’m very satisfied with him.” 

Bayern are currently in Qatar for a nine-day training camp before resuming Bundesliga duty against Bochum on January 23. 

Bayern have not planned any signings, says Sammer

Die Roten are not looking to bring anyone to the club as replacements for Xherdan Shaqiri or Pierre-Emil Hojbjerg, both of whom have departed the club this month

Bayern Munich sporting director Matthias Sammer has confessed that the club have no plans to sign players during the January transfer window.

This month the Bavarian giant’s have allowed Xherdan Shaqiri to leave the club for Inter, while Pierre-Emil Hojbjerg has joined Augsburg on loan until the end of the season despite signing a new contract.

However, the Bayern executive feels the club are still in a good shape and do not need to consider bringing in any replacements.

“Nothing is planned and unless something happens, we won’t do anything,” Sammer told TZ.

The reigning Bundesliga champions are currently in Doha for a training camp with the only established first-team players missing due to injury being captain Philipp Lahm and Thiago Alcantara, and Sammer spoke about their aims in Qatar.

“We have a few players to integrate. Holger Badstuber has returned. During the training camp we hope to bring David Alaba back (to fitness) as well,” he added.

Bayern currently have an 11-point advantage at the top of the Bundesliga and take on second-placed Wolfsburg in their next competitive outing on January 30.

Squad unrest Bayern's biggest danger, says Strunz

The former FCB midfielder fears the stiff competition for places could cause trouble and is hopeful they can avoid a repeat of last year’s slump should they win the Bundesliga

Former Germany international Thomas Strunz believes unrest in the dressing room could prove to be Bayern Munich’s biggest danger in their quest for silverware after the winter break.

Bayern have been plagued by injuries this term, with players such as Philipp Lahm, Holger Badstuber, David Alaba, Javi Martinez, Thiago Alcantara, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Franck Ribery all spending time on the sidelines due to physical problems at some point.

However, several players are nearing their comeback – or have already returned – and Strunz fears the stiff competition for places could lead to unhappy egos in the Allianz Arena dressing room.

“I see just one real danger when I look at the club’s objectives this season,” Strunz wrote in his column for TZ. “When all the injured players return to full match fitness, there could be some unrest in the dressing room.

“I have no doubt that Bayern will win the Bundesliga title at an early stage. In Germany, they are their own biggest enemy.”

Strunz then went on to stress that he’s keen to see how Bayern will deal with the lack of tension in the domestic league when the Champions League nears the business end.

“Bayern won the domestic title quite early last season and they lost focus a bit after that. They couldn’t replicate their best form again in the Champions League as they were missing three or four per cent. The people in charge know that there cannot be a repeat of this.

“Maybe they will get a bit tense because they desperately want to do things differently this time around. It will be exciting to see how that pans out.”