analysis | 2015-05-22
Analyzing ter Stegen - The best of the German goalkeeper
In many ways, Marc-André ter Stegen is the perfect goalkeeper for Futbol Club Barcelona. Not just because of his style of play or from a tactical, strategic perspective but also as a symbol. In contrast to other goalkeepers he isn't a giant. His height measures between 1.87 meters and 1.89 meters, but it is frequently questioned. Insiders claim that his height is somewhere between 1.80 meters and 1.85 meters.
At an early age his height was made higher in official statements to make him more attractive to potential buyers. Having stood out at Borussia Mönchengladbach under Lucien Favre, he was then sold to probably the only club where those few centimeters don't matter.
When defensive midfielders were pit bulls and goalkeepers giants
FC Barcelona paved the way for a paradigm shift in these positions. In the mid 2000's the technically restricted- but not weak - and physically strong defensive midfielders were in fashion. There were some players who fitted the prototype of the intelligent and physically weak defensive midfield player, but the majority were towering physical powerhouses. Or the playmaking ones like Pirlo, who were paired with bigger, stronger players.
Since Guardiola's success with FC Barcelona this has changed. Real Madrid play with Kroos and Modric, Bayern have Lahm and Thiago, physically weak and small players but technically and tactically great defensive midfielders. Even BVB now play with Sahin and Gündogan. Many small teams also have a high-quality and physical solid defensive midfielder and double six occupations. Like Juan Manuel once said:
"Let's look at Andrés Iniesta. Anywhere else you would like to have a player who would support him by compensating for his weaknesses. But Barcelona provides a player by his side who resembles him and as a result there is a soundness that barely gets broke up. It's like matter: Nothing is more resistant than homogeneous material. Who is more homogeneous than Xavi to Iniesta? Or Cesc? Or Thiago?"
So it's understandable that, nowadays, the physical aspect no longer matters anymore at Barcelona in other positions too, but it's not the case in most other clubs. In addition to a certain philosophy which has been in place for decades, there's another reason why: the strategy.
FC Barcelona doesn’t need a simple one vs one reaction-goalkeeper. Barcelona's style of play requires a ball-playing goalkeeper, who gets the ball from the defenders and helps the build up play as an additional passing option who supports the ball circulation and passes the ball safely in open spaces when the opponent presses, without losing the ball constantly. Ter Stegen is that goalkeeper.
Ter Stegen plays the short pass after he attracts the opponent. He could use the defensive midfielder as an extra option while he fills in for the center back or the space making movement of the defensive midfielder to pass to the central midfielder.
Technically the best goalkeeper in the world?
The most striking thing about ter Stegen is his incredible passing ability. Especially in a team like FC Barcelona who play a short pass in nearly every situation, or at least with a precise and calculated long ball to a free player, searching a way out of high pressure scenario in a skillful way; his passing ability is very important.
Many goalkeepers nowadays can play the ball back to their players without pressure, but just a few can really position themselves and pass the ball to their teammates under pressure. The margin of error has to be low.
Ter Stegen finds the balance really well, apart from a few passing errors and unnecessary risks. His passes are generally accurate, they reach the teammates and he moves exactly to the dynamic of the opponent. A few times he lets the opponent run at him, goads the rival player to move towards him, and then passes the ball in an open zone (after changing direction) or makes a long pass (mostly without changing direction).
His passing technique is not only amazing for a goalkeeper. There are also a lot of shaky central midfielders and center backs in Europe’s top leagues who would be happy with such passing ability. Ter Stegen is maybe not as intelligent in his passing choices like Neuer, but his pass technique is better than that of his countryman.
"He plays the ball better than me," Messi has reportedly said.
What attracts a lot of attention when it comes to ter Stegen’s long passes is not only the enormous precision, but the variability of how they're played and the effect. Often he cuts the long balls by hitting the ball below, it gets a flight curve and is very easy to take down, because the ball loses speed and is easier to stop.
They don’t have an extreme pace like Xabi Alonso’s long balls which don't rotate as much, but are much easier to control. Paired with his enormous calmness on the ball, these qualities make ter Stegen an extraordinary keeper in terms of game building.
It’s also interesting how he uses that technique in his way of playing football. At times when the opponent is far away from him, he keeps the ball at his feet longer. He slowly moves up, tries to change the angle of the pass, looks for interfaces or waits for movements. He reacts fast and places a precise long ball or a good short pass with good pace. He’s two-footed and that helps him a lot.
However the best technical goalkeeper in the world also has weaknesses.
Ter Stegen attracts the opponent and right after he plays a long ball, the left central attacking midfielder moves out from the pressing of the opponent and then takes the ball.
Is ter Stegen too slow?
As mentioned above, ter Stegen can maintain the ball circulation under pressure thanks to his technique - he is even capable of competing in Barcelona's rondo exercises. Still he occasionally commits strategically suboptimal decisions. At least in my opinion, with unnecessary long balls too early and tries to pass the ball to players too far away on the pitch.
Generally, he is a good decision maker, but the long balls with a low precision aren’t solid.
Indeed it gives ter Stegen good balance when he uses it instead of a short pass, but in the long-term it isn’t safe to play a long ball often.
His search for a long ball gives Barça a lot of advantages in many situations. After a saved pass or a through ball, ter Stegen often plays a long ball in high zones. He makes the game faster, like against Altético Madrid this season in the Copa del Rey when he launched the ball to Neymar right after he got the ball, but Neymar was (wrongly) caught offside.
That’s why ter Stegen’s distribution should get more attention. In many situations it helps achieve more stability, take the offensive game to another level and give the Catalans the opportunity to have more tactical options. It’s rarely a problem, because he usually only gives the ball away in his own team's wide areas.
Another problem is ter Stegen’s movement with the ball. He keeps the ball at his feet for too long in the penalty area, but as the season went on he changed it. It’s unclear whether it’s because of the coach’s work or tactical changes. However, in some matches ter Stegen was positioned very wide near the ball where he offered himself as a passing option and then played the ball in other zones, but the players stood central and didn’t move.
This is also the case vertically. There were matches when he started the build up from the penalty area and helped to keep the ball circulation to be very dynamic, but sometimes he restrained his positioning. Maybe a new system from Luis Enrique to counter the pressing of opposition strikers could be implemented.
It’ll be interesting to see how ter Stegen’s positioning and ball orientation will change over the next few years. With his technique he could efficiently use a goalkeeper-chain well ahead of his own penalty area, like the youth academy of Adelaide United already practices.
But of course ter Stegen isn’t only the 11th player. From time to time he has to use his hands.
Can ter Stegen’s skills as a goalkeeper keep up with his as a field player?
Ter Stegen and Barcelona with a symmetric three chain construction. Possible?
Ter Stegen has often said that Oliver Kahn is his idol. And a certain visual similarity is quite undeniable. On the line ter Stegen shows great reactions, an enormous jumping power and an aggressive play between the posts. In 1v1 actions, ter Stegen comes out of the goal early and runs close to the opponent, like Kahn did.
Both have a relatively high step frequency, but ter Stegen is mostly in front of the line. Many goalkeepers come off the goal line (and here ter Stegen isn’t as slow as Neuer), but both stay on the line if they can’t retrieve the ball. The reason is clear: You have more time to react to shots. Paul Riley [@footballfactman] showed that there’s a more conservative moving game on the line with efficient goalkeepers.
But it’s unclear whether this also the case for ter Stegen. He likes to move off the line and makes a lot of small steps and is always a meter away from the goal when the opponent's striker wants to shoot. But this is really effective for ter Stegen: he isn’t tall like other goalkeepers and his explosiveness and jumping power can’t make it up.
With his goalkeeping technique, enormous reaction power, constant movement on the line and good shot anticipation, he can, at least in some situations, take advantage of this risky style of play.
His good decision making, his strong body tension and extreme dynamic for saving of low shots paired with his dynamic jump off help a lot. It’s certainly true that ter Stegen has some problems because of his height, mostly at crosses, but in particular he has just small disadvantages.
David De Gea, Marc-André ter Stegen, Thibaut Courtois, Jan Oblak, Mattia Perin, Matthew Ryan…
Football will have a great goalkeeping generation. Ter Stegen has the chance to go in Barcelona’s history as one of the best goalkeepers the club ever had. His mixture of strong goalkeeper technique and impressive game with his feet is really rare.
Barcelona has a great keeper for the future and one of the most interesting of the lot, who could become a world class keeper and might revolutionize the goalkeeper position as an additional centre back during build-up play.
Anything wrong? Send your correction.