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In praise of ter Stegen

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The goalkeeper has excelled to become one of the best to ever play between the sticks for Barcelona

FC Barcelona v Olympiakos Piraeus - UEFA Champions League Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Given the absurd transfer fees in the current market, it seems baffling that Marc-Andre ter Stegen was brought to the club for just €12 million back in 2014. The German, alongside Claudio Bravo, was acquired as a replacement for club legend Víctor Valdés and the shoes left by the Spaniard were pretty big ones to fill.

Valdés had made over 350 appearances for the first time and was synonymous with Guardiola’s era at the club. Despite frequently making mistakes, Valdés was idolised by many Barça supporters due to the way he could play with his feet as well as his gloves. Back when Valdés was playing, this quality was rare and there was genuine concern that the club would struggle to find a keeper of that quality.

ter Stegen and Bravo arrived at the club in different stages of their career. Bravo was more experienced and his move to Barça was the reward for years of good work with Real Sociedad and the Chilean national team. ter Stegen meanwhile was an up-and-comer. Despite his youth, the German was aware of the significant step up he was making.

The young keeper was selected as the cup keeper, playing Copa and Champions League games, while Bravo was the first choice in Liga. No ambitious player would be satisfied with this but in ter Stegen’s first season he found himself with Copa and Champions League winner medals. His performances in the cup competitions helped propel Barça to their first treble since 2009.

Three seasons later and ter Stegen is firmly number one. Claudio Bravo has departed for Manchester City in the same summer where it was mooted that ter Stegen may be the one making the switch to Guardiola’s City. That notion seems mad now given the keeper’s importance to the team but there was genuine questions of whether Barça would keep Bravo or ter Stegen.

ter Stegen and Barça are a match made in heaven with the keeper playing the role of the eleventh attacker. Last season, the German made an average of 33.3 passes per game in the league and just 4.6 long balls. This season he has made eight appearances and kept five clean sheets. But the stats do not do justice to ter Stegen’s role in the team.

His off the ball work is superb and while his high-risk game was punished in his early Barça career, he has come on leaps and bounds since then. Smartly choosing when to charge or when to stay at home. The German’s positioning helps him excel in his sweeper keeper role.

He is also an excellent shot stopper. Barça’s style can allow quick attackers such as Antoine Griezmann to get in behind and ter Stegen is regularly called upon to rescue his side. A quick YouTube search shows some of the saves already on his highlight reel. Instinctive saves, making himself big to close the angle, not going down too early. These are all in ter Stegen’s skill set and he matches it with his playmaking.

While keepers such as Bravo are good at the playmaking side and others are good shot stoppers, ter Stegen has grown into the perfect blend of both. Keepers such as Manuel Neuer and David De Gea are for many people the two best in the game right now but ter Stegen is breathing down their necks.