analysis | 2016-09-12
Why Barcelona chose Marc-André ter Stegen ahead of Claudio Bravo
Reflecting on what made the club pick the German ahead of the Chilean sweeper
In the 2010/11 season, Borussia Mönchengladbach's goalkeeper Logan Bailly was going through a tumultuous time, which included him punching a corner into his own net in a defeat against Kaiserslautern. The club looked destined to relegation, and it was then that the manager, Lucien Favre benched Bailly for a 19 year old Marc-André ter Stegen, against Köln on the 10th of April. The young German did not disappoint, and the defense boasted a previously unseen solidity. He kept four clean-sheets out of a possible five in the last five matchdays as Mönchengladbach avoided relegation. During this run, he shot to prominence with a last man standing display against Borussia Dortmund, making a plethora of world class saves as his club secured a famous 1–0 victory.
In the next season, he excelled even more and earned the #1 shirt as a 20 year old. That season, he kept 15 clean sheets in a league that has 34 matches. Against Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena, Ter Stegen produced an inspired display whilst his counterpart Neuer made the error that condemned Bayern to a 1–0 defeat. Gladbach, propelled forward by ter Stegen and Reus, embarked on a surprise title challenge, falling short in the end. He won Kicker’s ‘Bundesliga Goalkeeper of the Season’, in a league with so many promising and established goalkeepers.
The above graph averages and compares ter Stegen’s days at Gladbach versus Bravo’s days at Real Sociedad. Saves per match is not compared, whereas saves per goal conceded is compared, so to as remove any debates about the respective club's performances.
Fast forward a few years, ter Stegen became the youngest keeper after Casillas to win a Champions League, wearing the #1 for Barcelona, albeit playing only in the cup tournaments. The current issue is that of the primary goalkeeper, and both goalkeepers are at lockhorns, informing the club their desire to be the first choice.
Bravo has served the club well the past two seasons, winning two leagues. He is now 33, and the question begs, was it worth to sacrifice ter Stegen in favour of Bravo given the conditions set by both keepers, that one of them would leave if the other becomes first choice?
Keeping in mind and respecting Bravo’s services to the club, it is logical to continue with ter Stegen. That idea is also backed by the signings of the window, four promising 22 year olds. The club's long term planning is starting to show- and 24 year old Marc fits that particular plan perfectly.
Irrespective of the quarrelling between preferences, these past two seasons have made it evident how ter Stegen is a better fit for Barcelona. He is agile, a good shot stopper, but the part where he aces Bravo is with his feet. As El País reported, in one training session, during a ball control exercise, someone shouted. "Leo!", "He touches it better than you!", referring to ter Stegen. The Argentinian replied: "Not better... much better!". That kind of praise from the greatest player in the world carries massive weight. As observed in numerous matches, more in the Champions League, ter Stegen has ripped apart opposition pressure with his sublime passing, and averages 0.2 key passes per game he plays for Barça, in the club's last successful European campaign he averaged more accurate long passes than world class midfielders such as Toni Kroos.
The sweeper keeper role, that Victor Valdés made his own during his Barcelona years, comes naturally to ter Stegen. He acts as the 11th outfield player, making it easy for the team’s formation to shuffle and absorb pressure from the back at crucial moments and then distributing the ball to any corner of the field with ease and poise. As the graphic below shows, ter Stegen is, by far the goalkeeper with the best feet in all top five leagues.
Messi has been impressed too: “Ter Stegen surprised me a lot from the first day, He could be the best in the world in a few years.”
“Ter Stegen is sensational, a great future goalkeeper,” said Neuer. “He is agile and knows very well how to solve the most complicated situations.” Iniesta adds: “He is well-rounded in every aspect of his game.
He was instrumental in the club winning the Champions League, saving a late Sergio Agüero penalty vs Manchester City and making key saves in the away leg of the semifinal against a rampaging Bayern Munich, one of them, the double save where he cleared off Lewandowski’s shot off the goalline won the best save of the tournament. It would be foolish for the club to even consider selling ter Stegen, given how perfectly he fits the Barça system (few goalkeepers do) and given how young he is.
It's difficult for Barca to buy a goalkeeper or centre back. They have to be good with their feet and confident with the ball. They need to be able to cover a lot of space. Most defenders would get scared seeing a whole half empty behind them while their team dominates the opposition’s half, in front.. One attack and your brain is in a frenzy- chaos, confusion ensues. Very few can handle that. Same with goalkeepers. They have to control a whole half, not just the posts. De Gea is great with shot stopping, but is not a fit for Barça. Feet. Marc Andre ter Stegen is the Xavi of goalkeepers, if there ever was one.
Comparing the two goalkeeper’s years at Barça (data averaged out to two seasons), it is seen how Bravo concedes less goals, but not to forget the fact that ter Stegen plays knockout competitions, and one of them is of the highest order, the Champions League. Bravo plays in a league where table ties are solved by head to head and not goal difference, while ter Stegen plays against the best of Europe, one needs to take this data part with a pinch of salt.
Bravo is an amazing goalkeeper, and has served the club with exquisite prowess, winning matches on his own, his performance in 4-0 win at the Bernabéu last season is often overlooked, earning vital points that has helped the club win two back to back leagues, something that hasn’t happened since the Pep days. But the future is Marc’s, and Bravo must understand that.
Moving back to ter Stegen, Monchengladbach's coach Favre once spoke of him “He is intelligent, ambitious and has a big personality. As a teenager he realised it was important for a goalkeeper to be involved in constructing moves for the team, and he loved to love to train with the outfield players. He can feel football, he can smell it, he has great anticipation.”
As said before, ter Stegen’s distribution is exceptional, just like Neuer’s (statistically even better), and his commanding presence gives confidence to his defenders. He has lightning-quick reflexes and good positional sense. Barcelona can't let go of Zubizarreta's parting gift as sporting director, MatS can be the boss between sticks for at least a decade from now on.
Anything wrong? Send your correction.
WRITTEN BY: Kaustav Phukan
Culé since Rivaldo arrived his Blaugrana twilight and another buck toothed Brazilian started kicking a ball about in Catalonia. Majoring in Physics in Amsterdam, comes from the football crazy Eastern Himalaya.