A young relatively unknown German arrived at the Camp Nou amidst huge expectations in 2014. Over the years, he has proved himself time and time again and is now named alongside the greatest in the world. Now a mainstay in any debate regarding the best goalkeeper, the story of Marc-Andre ter Stegen is an incredible one indeed.
Season after season, ter Stegen continues delivering performances that validate his position as the club’s first-choice goalkeeper. Many say he is the Catalans second most important player on the field, only after Lionel Messi. While it is a heavy tag to carry, it just goes to show his paramount significance in the team.
However, Barcelona #1’s contract expires in the summer of 2022. With less than a year left, there is significant noise regarding his renewal that would see him tied down to the club for a further 3-year period.
At the moment, the German is one of Barcelona’s grossly underpaid players, earning just over €8M per year. The figure does not do justice to his importance in the squad. Understandably, he has been asking for a pay rise in his new contract.
According to Goal, the 28-year-old desires his new contract to see him earn €18M per year. The deal would see him become Barcelona’s third highest-paid player, only after Messi. Concurrently, ter Stegen would also climb to the top of the charts as the world’s highest-paid goalkeeper.
This decision has split not just the board members but even a wide section of the fanbase. One section feels the new contract with his demands must be met at the earliest, to tie him down to the club. However, others see the renewed salary figure as too much, especially given the financial position the club is in. In a world where Alisson Becker earns €5M, Jan Oblak earns close to €10M, and Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer earns €15M, does ter Stegen deserve to top them all?
It is well understood that Neuer’s consistency warrants his position at the top of the list. The 34-year-old has performed at the highest level for the German champions for nearly a decade and has been the sole match-winner for his club on numerous occasions. Saving decisive penalties at crucial moments and pulling off astonishing one-v-one saves has cemented him as a legend, finishing as part of the Ballon d’Or podium in 2014.
MATS, despite his heroics with Barça, is second-choice for Germany, behind Manuel Neuer. (Photo by Simon Hofmann/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Even when we put history aside, his performance in the recently concluded season speaks volumes of why he deserves to be the highest-paid keeper in the world. Throughout the Champions league, he pulled off match-winning saves at every stage. Demanding a salary higher than that of one who has proved himself over a lengthy spell may not be understandable.
Furthermore, when ter Stegen is compared to other top keepers of his age, the findings are interesting. Though no single statistic can judge a goalkeeper, the GSAA% (Goals saved above average) is a useful pointer. Notably, Liverpool’s Alisson Becker boasts of a GSAA of 4.4%. Atletico Madrid’s Jan Oblak is not far behind, at 3.4 Goals saved above average. In this crucial list though, ter Stegen falls considerably short, with just 1.77% GSAA.
Of course, statistics should never be the sole basis to compare players. Ter Stegen possesses skillsets superior to most others when it comes to ball handling, distribution and composure. That said, it is not enough for a salary that justifies a €10-15 payrise.
The German shot-stopper has always been reliable for the Blaugrana in the League. He has put up tremendous displays in the Champions League too. He was a part of the infamous remontada against PSG. The show he put up last season against Borrusia Dortmund in the 0-0 draw was yet another announcement of his ability. In fact, From his very first season, he has been competitive at the highest level. Every cule remembers his infamous save against Thomas Muller when Barcelona took on Bayern Munich in 2014!
However, he too has had his fair share unforgettable nights in the Champions League. He has often crumbled under pressure and let the nerves get to him during decisive games. Not just against Roma, but we saw in at Anfield and Lisbon as well. Specifically picked games can never define a players career, but there is a sentiment that he fails to turn up when it is most needed.
Ter Stegen has often fallen to the pressure of the UCL. (Photo by Manu Fernandez/Pool via Getty Images)
It is no surprise that the club is under extraordinary financial burden, with new manager Ronald Koeman admitting so as well. With wage bills exorbitantly high, they let go of the likes of Ivan Rakitic, Arturo Vidal, and Luis Suarez on free transfers. It just shows how desperate the club is to free up space.
To put it in specific terms, the club has announced a loss of 97 million euros over the last financial year. Notably, Memphis Depay’s transfer to Barcelona was called off only because La Liga did not permit any additions to the already sky-high wage roll.
It is no secret that Barcelona overpay their stars significantly. Though comparing ter Stegem with other players of the club may give the impression that €8M is low, a look on the global level shows that it is actually on par with other top keepers. He indeed deserves a higher salary, and a perk of about €5M would be a sensible deal for both parties. However, given the global crisis and the club’s economic situation, it would not be apt to give ter Stegen the bump to €18M, or making him the highest-paid goalkeeper. Barcelona are just getting back on the right track, and agreeing to such a lucrative deal now would be the undoing of such a bright future to come.
Barcelona vs Ferencvaros: The Game through Numbers
A detailed look into the game by numbers and statistics and tactics as FC Barcelona kicked off their UCL 2020-21 campaign in style.
FC Barcelona played the first group stage game of UCL 2020-21 at home against recent Hungarian champions Ferencvarosi Torna Club, also called Ferencvaros. The Budapest outfit were playing against Barcelona in a competitive match for the very first time (previous meetings had all been friendlies), and naturally, Barcelona started cautiously. However, shaking off the rust from the International break and the disappointment of the loss against Getafe in the weekend, Barcelona came up with a dominant display and ran out as winners scoring five and conceding just one.
Barcelona yet again fielded a 4-2-3-1, with an unchanged defence from the game against Getafe. The double-pivot changed slightly, with Miralem Pjanic starting as Frenkie de Jong’s partner. Ansu Fati and Francisco Trincāo started as wingers flanking Philipe Coutinho at attacking midfield, with Lionel Messi starting as the false 9.
The touch-based heatmaps and the pass-map show some interesting tactical changes from the last two league games. First of all, and most importantly, this was the first time this season that both flanks were very well utilised. Having Trincao and Fati, both adept at playing on the wing, greatly helped the team build and attack through both sides.
While Antoine Griezmann added a lot of defensive cover while playing on the right flank in the previous games, Trincao did his share to help out the team, too. He did well in attack while also putting in a brilliant defensive shift – Griezmann’s absence was not felt at all.
Secondly, the positioning of Frenkie de Jong was a lot advanced, bringing the best out of him. Unlike the last two games, where he was placed much deeper and wider on average, last night he had more freedom to venture up and also drift a bit centrally. On average, he took up a higher position than Pjanic and took part in a lot of the attacking moves, while the Bosnian was tasked with the deeper progressions.
Ferencvaros started out in a 4-2-3-1 as well, but soon evolved into a 4-1-4-1/4-5-1 structure and settled into it for the game. Their midfield was very compact, and mostly stayed deep. Their idea was to use counters, with Tokmak Chol Nguen the only player taking up advanced positions to lead their attacks.
Attacks and Buildups
Barcelona posted very impressive attacking stats for the game.
Barcelona dominated possession as usual, but the biggest positive takeaway are the pressing numbers. The Blaugranas posted impressive PPDA (Passes per Defensive Action) numbers as compared to their opposition. It also indicates that a lot of the game was played in the opposition’s half, showing dominance in the game. The shot maps and the xG flowcharts show how imperative Barcelona were throughout the game, and that a lot of the shots were excellent chances to score.
Next we take a look a gallery of all the goals scored by Barcelona, and the lone goal scored by Ferencvaros to discuss the difference in ideologies of the two teams.
While Barcelona’s first goal took a came solely as a result of moments of individual brilliance by Messi, all of the other goals came through wonderful intricate buildup. Both sets of wide players were very well-utilized, who were able to play out through pressure no matter where the buildup started.
The buildup to the second goal culminated in a wonderful lofted pass by Frenkie de Jong to Ansu Fati, who slotted it past Ferencvaros’ hapless goalkeeper with a first-time finish. Fati was involved in the third goal as well. An intricate set up of passes in the final third led to Messi finding Fati with a pass, who back-flicked into the path of Coutinho, who made no mistake slotting it into the bottom corner.
In contrasting fashion, Ferencvaros were very direct. It was very clear that Tokmac Nguen was their main danger-man. Nguen created a couple of really dangerous moments in the first half with his threatening runs across the backline. The first effort was called offside, while the second led to him setting up Isael for a thunderous shot against the post.
He was also at the helm of their sole goal of the game, running at Pique, who was unable to keep up with Nguen and hauled him down into the box, leading to a penalty.
Barcelona’s passing was on point against Ferencvaros, helping the team to cover all zones perfectly, stretching the pitch and making it difficult to defend. Most importantly, there were a lot more passes into the box as well exchanges inside the box than the previous two games. Particularly impressive were the utilization of zone 14 and the half-spaces. Here are the dangerous passes portrayed:
The key passes came from multiple zones as well and from multiple sources. Messi had 4, Roberto, Pjanic, Coutinho, and Fati had 2 each, while de Jong, Trincao and Dembele had 1 each:
Finally, we compare the passes completed in the final third by each team, quantified by field tilt – it’s the number of final third passes completed by a team, divided by the sum of final third passes completed by both teams, expressed as a percentage.
Barcelona completed a much greater number of final third passes almost throughout the game except for a small window when Pique received a red card and sent off for fouling Nguen, and Barcelona had to play with 10 men.
Barcelona’s defence closely resembled a 4-4-2 block with Philippe Coutinho and Lionel Messi high up, and sometimes in 4-5-1 as Messi was the sole player allowed to stay up.
After Pique’s red card, Barcelona took up a fairly compact 4-4-1 shape. Ferencvaros were pushed back into their own half for the bulk of the match as Barcelona won the ball back fairly fast. The only time Ferencvaros managed to peg back Barcelona was after Pique’s dismissal. Here is a glimpse of the defensive activities of the two teams, showing Barça’s high turnover rate:
In fact, the third goal that Barcelona scored early in the second half came from a great bit of pressing. Messi aggressively pressed the central channels into Ferencvaros’ third and the box, so the ball had to be passed out wide, where Trincao led the charge. This led to a misplaced pass that was intercepted by Pjanic, and Trincao recovered the loose ball. A lovely sequence ensued, and Barcelona were up 3-0 in a blink.
Having discussed the defensive structure and the pressing intensity, now it’s time to discuss some of the issues. In this particular game, the issues were entirely in defence. Ferencvaros – Nguen in particular – exposed the problem Barcelona’s centre backs have against quick attackers. The Norwegian’s runs dragged the defenders all over the place, mixed with the high line that Barcelona employs, it resulted in nightmares as it often does.
Whenever the fullbacks were pushed high, and possession was turned over, Ferencvaros directly took on the two defenders left on the pitch. They could not bypass the press by making long passing sequences, so they quickly circulated ball out wide or to the deep half spaces before launching long balls to Nguen, and sending out supporting runners. One such run led to Pique’s red card.
This current batch of Barcelona players seems a tad too card-happy. Lenglet has already seen a red card in the Liga. Roberto, Dest, Pique – all of them have seen yellow cards just 4 games into the season. This is not healthy, especially given the lack of quality depth in defence.
Coutinho has been playing well, to say the least, and there are little to no doubts over his performance. However, his positioning – which surely is a tactical quirk of Ronald Koeman – is very interesting. Instead of the usual central positions a nominal 10 would take up, he is primarily operating in the left half space. There is quite a bit of overlap with Ansu Fati. Its clear that Barcelona are trying to achieve wide overloads on the left side whenever they can.
Coutinho performances are not an issue. His role, on the other hand, might be. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
This system, however, needs a striker and more directness to function. As it stands, the team is deploying two 10s in Messi and Coutinho. While this has worked well against weaker oppositions, it remains to be seen how well the lack of vertical staggering can hold up against stronger opposition.
The story of this game will be incomplete without mentioning the substitutions. Junior Firpo returned from injury and came on along with Pedri and Ousmane Dembele around the 60-minute mark. Ronald Araujo had to come on after Pique’s dismissal, while Sergio Busquets replaced Pjanic later to help see the game off.
While Pedri got his first goal for Barcelona, Dembele’s brilliant dribble and tenacity in the box from where he cut back the ball has to be mentioned. Seven minutes later, the World Cup winner found himself at the receiving end of a pass from Messi and smashed home for the fifth and final goal.
After the drab showing against Getafe, this was a much-needed boost for the team before the El Clasico. Multiple scorers, good buildup plays, high press – pretty much everything except the red card was to the point. Next week’s UCL away game against Juventus will prove a stern test as well, and hopefully, we will see the best of Ronald Araujo in that game.