The Bundesliga is the first league amongst the big-five to restart since football’s unprecedented halt. With the German league aiming at finishing the 2019/20 season, many fans all over the globe are taking an added interest. And this gives us an opportunity to look back at the spell from Marc-André ter Stegen with Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Today, Ter Stegen’s name comes up in every discussion on the world’s best keepers. The German shot-stopper has come a long way in his career. From being branded as an error-prone flop to becoming a saviour on several occasions, Ter Stegen has seen a massive rise. There are many moments where he single-handedly kept Barça in the game. Making crucial saves, he now poses a deserving shot at being the German national team’s first-choice keeper ahead of Manuel Neuer. But now, let’s head back to his time in the Bundesliga.
Breaking into the first team
Ter Stegen graduated from Borussia Mönchengladbach’s academy. Playing at all levels for the German side, his name finally began showing up in the first team in 2010. In the 2010/11 season, he was frequently seen on the bench, while simultaneously starring for the reserve team.
As we all know, success comes to those who make the most of their opportunities. In football, breaking into the first-team as a goalkeeper is more challenging than one can imagine. Despite Ter Stegen producing excellent performances in the reserves, he was still behind in the pecking order. Belgian keeper Logan Bailly was Mönchengladbach’s first choice. However, things would turn in favour of the young German with Die Fohlen having a substandard season.
Ter Stegen, alongside former teammate at Borussia Mönchengladbach Marco Reus | Photo by Patrik Stollarz via Getty Images
After picking up just 16 points in 22 games, then coach Michael Frontzeck was replaced by Lucien Favre. Despite improving the results, it was the goalkeeper Logan Bailly who was inconsistent. Both Favre and the fans were aware of Ter Stegen’s progress in the reserves, and the coach soon lost patience with Bailly, giving the young German his break.
With several eyes on him, Ter Stegen knew that he had to impress, and he didn’t disappoint. The entire defence seemed to bolster a never-seen-before rigidity, with Marc-André between the sticks. He kept four clean sheets in the last five games. Through this run of game-time, he produced several world-class saves notably against the eventual champions Borrusia Dortmund, helping his side secure a famous 1–0 win.
The following season, Ter Stegen would become Mönchengladbach’s first-choice keeper. He was given the no. 1 shirt, with Bailly being loaned out. From there on, things only got better for the current Barça man. Growing in confidence, he also developed a command on goal. At times he would even vocally assert his authority over the defence to make sure they weren’t out of position. He developed a rich understanding with the fans and was soon branded as one of the club’s best players.
Ever since the 2012/13 season, there were rumours of a transfer to Barcelona. The Catalans side were evidently impressed by the German and were looking for a long-term replacement for Víctor Valdés. Notwithstanding, despite tabloids reporting that he signed a pre-agreement with the azulgranas in February 2013, he publicly denied it.
He would stay for one more season with 2013/14 turning out to be his final one at his boyhood club. It is in this season where he produced his best numbers statistically. He averaged around 4.1 saves per game. He was confident while facing opposing attackers 1v1, and made an average of 2.1 saves in the penalty area, and 1.8 saves outside the box. Being a fan-favourite, he had an emotional goodbye on the final home game of that season.
Departure and conclusion
He would join Barcelona in the summer of 2014 for a fee of €12 million. Despite not having the ideal start to his career in blaugrana colours, he managed to work hard and prove his worth. Injuries, individual errors, and inconsistency made him lose his starting position to Claudio Bravo. However, the German kept his head up and worked his way back to being the club’s first-choice keeper.
In 2016 Marc-André ter Stegen already faced his former Borussia Mönchengladbach with Barcelona | Photo by Odd Andersen / AFP via Getty Images
Today, Ter Stegen is a crucial part of the team. He has covered for the defence on multiple occasions, making unworldly saves to ensure the goal isn’t breached. At 28, despite not yet being Germany’s no.1, it is clear that eventually, Neuer will have to surrender his position.
A lot of Ter Stegen’s success amounts to his early days at Borussia Mönchengladbach, where he learned the importance of taking his opportunities. Judging by how things are going for him, there is no doubt that he will remain as Barcelona’s first-choice goalkeeper for years to come. If there is any position for the Catalans where they don’t have uncertainties, it’s the goalkeeper.
Trincão, Griezmann or Dembélé: Who should start for Barcelona?
From having to field center-mids such as Arturo Vidal on the flanks to now owning the likes of Dembélé, Trincão and Griezmann, it’s probably safe to assume that Barcelona’s wing play finally seems to have adequate profiles, individuals worthy of starting out wide. But, while healthy competition is always welcomed at the club, it’s apparent that Koeman must quickly find his “go-to player” and analyse whom he must bet on to consistently start games. With Barça successfully concluding their pre-season and looking ever so dominant in the opening game of La Liga, let’s take a look at what each player brings to the table.
Currently, it looks as if Antoine Griezmann has been reserved as a starter, which doesn’t come as a surprise given his immense status and the weightage his name carries in the squad list. However, Ronald Koeman’s intricate 4-2-3-1 system hasn’t truly allowed the Frenchman to fully express himself yet. Against Villarreal and even in the matches Antoine previously featured in, Griezmann was deprived of a fixated role and alternating occasionally with Messi as a direct number 9 or as a somewhat number 10 often left the right-hand side vulnerable, where Sergi Roberto would be tasked to produce most of the output upfield. Although Griezmann was seen making some well-timed runs, his link-up play was far from satisfactory, and as Messi would occupy the number 9 role, the former Atletico man would fail to operate effectively behind Leo or out wide.
In Barcelona’s La Liga opener, the left flank ticked every box the club seemed to have left unanswered and neglected last season. Jordi Alba’s runs from deep, Coutinho’s additional support as a mediapunta, and Ansu Fati’s exhilarating flare on the touchline proved too much to handle for Emery’s side since diverging attention from even a single player would lead to the visitors getting battered in the final third. Even so, while the Catalans eliminated their narrow and horizontal football to a somewhat acceptable extent, Ronald has only managed to refurbish one side of the pitch, with Griezmann and Messi’s natural tendency to operate centrally leaving the right flank vacant.
Therefore, to truly make the most of Barça’s offensive yield, it is vital to rely on natural wingers such as Trincão or Dembélé, players that can be considered ruthless on the counter and unforgiving in transitions. Whilst both players may eventually qualify as classic wingers, these two individuals propound different options, proving to be ideal in their respective departments. For example, in contrast to Dembouz, Trincão is likely to excel far more against a team with a low-block, given he is an exceedingly refined dribbler and considerably polished in his movement on/off the ball. Dembélé, on the other hand, could bring maximum results against a team with a higher line or a side that prefers to apply a suffocating press, mainly due to the fact that the winger is a space dominant player, and his unparalleled pace and chaotic style of play tends to add a sense of unpredictability on the flanks. Nonetheless, despite the slight differences in gameplay, they are ideal contenders to start for Barça, and must be prioritized in line-ups.
Spectators saw Lionel Messi function as a pure false 9 in the closing minutes of the game against Elche a few days ago as the Argentine partnered up with the likes of Dembélé and Trincão on each side of the pitch. Although Ansu Fati is probable to own the left flank for the upcoming games, it was refreshing to witness the Blaugranas look so imposing with two explosive wingers by Lionel’s side. As it turns out, Koeman’s experiment worked out even against the Yellow Submarine with him applying the same method in the second half. Barça saw their most promising football after proceedings just as Griezmann came off the bench for Trincão, who went on to form a trio with Lionel and Ousmane. Such flare and aggression was not seen previously considering most of Barça’s harvest came solely from the left-hand side of the field.
At this very moment, Barcelona has ample options to choose from, but for the newly adopted 4-2-3-1 formation to continue working at the highest level, it’s important to make the most of such diverse profiles in the squad. Ronald Koeman still has a backlog of work to do and must completely eliminate Barcelona’s horizontal structure if the club truly intends to compete in Europe. With Ousmane and Fransico looking immensely promising in their recent outings, the Dutch coach should take the bold decision of starting either one of them and pursue enhancing the front four’s capabilities.