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.
How Zidane’s Real Madrid beat Koeman’s Barcelona
The highly anticipated day of El Clasico, the clash of eternal rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid finally arrived. The Blaugrana were just two points ahead of Los Blancos with the same number of games played. Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid are at their most vulnerable right now; recent losses to Sevilla and Chelsea had already demoralized the team. Additionally, Luis Suarez – their top scorer -, is injured.
El Clasico has incredible importance on its own. Add to that the fact that it will be pivotal in the title race, and it becomes apparent how much it means to both sides. In this tactical analysis, we take a look at how Real Madrid managed to conquer Barcelona in a 2-1 victory.
Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona lined up in a 3-5-2 as expected. This formation is one that has contributed to Barcelona’s recent positive results significantly. Though this could be viewed as a 5-3-2 or even a 3-5-2-1 at times, the basic principles remained the same. Barcelona would look to build up from the back. The backline of Ronald Araujo with Clement Lenglet and Oscar Mingueza on either side of him was the platform upon which the team would build-up.
In midfield, Sergio Busquets would be the deepest player, with Frenkie De Jong and Pedri Gonzalez as the two interiors. These two youngsters would operate in the half-spaces as their roles entail, but they would drop back and join the attack as well. Jordi Alba and Sergino Dest, the two wing-backs, would look to stretch the opposition and would be positioned high up the field.
In attack, Lionel Messi was joined by Ousmane Dembele. The Frenchman would operate through the centre as Messi would usually drop back and have the freedom to move across the pitch.
Zinedine Zidane has often been labelled as someone who manages big egos well but doesn’t have tactical expertise. Purely a misconception, this match was an example of how well the retired midfielder sets up his team. What was most admirable was how Zidane finds the perfect role for his players’ profiles.
Real Madrid were deployed in a 4-1-4-1. Casemiro would play between the lines, with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos just ahead oh him. This formation could also be viewed as a 4-5-1, which would be a 4-3-3 when attacking. In defence, Eder Militao and Nacho were the centre-halves with Lucas Vasquez and Ferland Mendy as the full-backs. To support the midfield as well as the attack, Vinicius Junior and Fede Valverde would act as wide midfielders.
Karim Benzema, the number nine, would drift into the channels or drop a bit deeper as required. He was the key to Madrid’s fluid attack. There would be a constant staggering between Benzema, Vinicius, and Valverde. When Benzema dropped deep to fight for the second ball, Vinicius and Fede would move forward and provide passing options. At times, Vasquez would overlap, which was Valverde’s cue to drop back. The players would also switch roles.
Madrid’s defensive organization
After getting a lead, Real Madrid were still proactive but to a lesser extent than earlier. They would even have five players defending at times, transitioning into a 5-4-1. Their timing and organization was impressive nonetheless. As we see in the image above, Ousmane Dembele is about to receive the pass. Immediately, Casemiro presses him, while other players start moving forward to close the distance to possible passing options. This meant Barcelona had little time on the ball deep in Madrid’s half.
The pressing shown by Los Blancos was very fine-tuned. The players were unsurprisingly not hesitant to play a physical game as well. As the earlier image shows us, Ousmane Dembele would receive the ball ahead of the defense and attempt to involve other players. Pedri and de Jong were the most obvious passing options. However, for them, the passing would more often than not be out wide. This was forced due to Madrid’s structure which prevented them from playing through the middle.
Arguably one of Barcelona’s strongest moves is when Messi plays Jordi Alba through between the full-back and centre-halves. Though it was effective at some points in the match, this was clearly something Zidane expected. When either full-back would have crossing options, the full-backs would look to block the cross.
Simultaneously, the centre-halves would track Barcelona’s attackers Messi and Dembele. These two being the only two forwards, Mingueza’s goal was one of the few times the team actually had more players looking to attack. Casemiro would be in the box looking to clear the ball or cover for any defensive holes.
What went wrong for Barcelona?
Ronald Koeman’s team selection was well-thought-out. Shifting de Jong to midfield was a smart choice. However, as the scoreline clearly shows, some issues persisted.
One of the main ones being the lack of attackers in the final third. This was a formation with two attackers on paper, but one of them was Messi. Expecting the argentine to make runs off the ball and act as a target man is highly unrealistic. He does best when he’s on the ball. This would leave Dembele alone upfront. The Frenchman isn’t a classic number 9 who takes shots on the swivel and can establish himself in the box. Against a defence that was sitting very deep, he was unable to run onto the ball between the full-backs and centre-halves the way he likes to.
The image above shows a common scenario observed in the first half. Receiving the ball in the final third, Dembele turns to face the defenders. As they don’t lunge in, rather trying to contain him. he is unable to beat them in a 1v1. There is plenty of space with no Barcelona players highlighted in the image. This lack of attackers was one of the reasons Koeman switched to the 4-3-3. Shown below, the 4-3-3- allowed Pedri and Dembele to be more involved.
Below, we have a visualization showing the PPDA stats for both teams. A lower PPDA means a higher pressing intensity. As we can see, Barcelona were clearly pressing much more than Real Madrid throughout the match. Despite this, they failed to create enough chances. To demonstrate this, we can observe the xG graph.
As the xG graph shows, there were some situations when the Catalans had a chance to change the score-line in their favour. Among other reasons, Dembele’s inability to play as a striker and inefficiency in finishing was clearly affecting the team. The visualization below the xG graph shows the shot map. It further reaffirms the observation that Barcelona need to improve in front of the goal and in terms of the quality of chances created.
With a higher number of shots, Barcelona still had a lower xG than their rivals. Another indication of low-quality chances is the size of the circles in the box for both teams. The smaller the circle, the less likely it is to end up in the back of the net. The stark contrast is one of the many indicators that there are major issues to be resolved in attack for Koeman’s side.
This loss will hurt Barcelona, even more so as it strengthens the notion that his team doesn’t show up in big matches. If Koeman’s side wants to be Champions, now is the time to give their all. One cannot ignore the fact that the Blaugrana have a lot of work to do to be deserving of the La Liga title. Whether or not they will be able to do this remains to be seen.