The rise of Marc-André ter Stegen has been instrumental in Barcelona’s success in recent years. He continues to pull off vital saves for the Blaugranans and continues cementing his place in the club’s history. With the win over Valladolid, Ter Stegen hit 100 clean sheets as a Barcelona goalkeeper, another astonishing milestone.
Once a reserve goalkeeper for a Borrusia Monchengladbach side, now considered the cream of goalkeepers worldwide, Marc-André ter Stegen has indeed come a very long way. It would be fair to say that he is one of the only default starters for Barcelona at the moment. Widely regarded as the second most vital player for the side after the talismanic Lionel Messi, his role is of paramount importance. His performances often generate a ray of light even at the most desolate times. If Barcelona are still 2nd in the La Liga standings after a horrendous season such as this, the German deserves major commendation is covering up that shadow.
In what is debatably one of Barcelona’s best transfer moves in recent history, the German was brought into the side for €12m. Being brought into a club of this stature to replace a bonafide legend such as Victor Valdes is daunting indeed. An early injury in the preseason didn’t help his cause either and he lost his spot to the Chilean, Claudio Bravo. However the club believed in him, and he has never looked back since. As he continues to baffle audiences worldwide, the game against Real Valladolid was a special one for him. It marked his 100th clean sheet in the iconic Red and Blue colors of Barcelona!
A slow but steady start: 2014-16
It was on the 22nd of May 2014 that the young German proudly donned the Blaugrana colours for the first time. An early injury blow didn’t do him any favours either. His career at Barcelona got off to a bumpy start. In his first season(2014/15), he only played 21 games for the Catalans. Despite not getting any league starts, he put up a majestic run at the Champions League. He kept 6 clean sheets in 13 games for the legendary team that finished as champions. He also started in the Copa del Rey games where he once again had a 50% clean sheet record (4 out of a possible 8).
after a rough but impressive first season, his involvement in the first team gradually went up in his second season. In 2015/16, he played 26 games for the azulgranas. After not making a single league start in his debut season, the German wall earned himself 7 starts in the league whilst holding on to his Champions League starting role as well. The year added 9 more clean sheets to his tally. Despite it not being a stellar year in terms of statistics, his performances were on the rise and he began to stake a claim for the No.1 spot. On 25th August 2016, the club announced Claudio Bravo’s departure to Manchester City. From that day on, Ter Stegen became the first choice starter beyond doubt.
The stratospheric rise: 2016-18
The season of 2016/17, though not great for the club was a very important one for the German shot-stopper. He made 46 starts for the club across all competitions, starting all games in La Liga and the Champions League. The team went on to fall short in both competitions and won the cup as a consolation. He only managed 13 clean sheets in 36 league starts, something he would go on to improve on considerably.
After breaking through and establishing himself in the team, there has been no looking back. In the season of 2017-18, he started all the games for the Catalans except for Copa del Rey. He had a phenomenal season even by his sky-high standards. The season ended with him holding a 50% clean sheet record (24 out of 48 stars), which guided his team to another league title.
? — Negotiations between Ter Stegen and Barcelona regarding a new contract are going well. [sport] pic.twitter.com/4QAydCWkVV— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) May 21, 2020
Recent seasons: 2018-present
Last season, he continued to impress and racked up 49 starts for the club where he went on to keep a clean sheet on 23 occasions. Despite his sensational performances, he couldn’t win the starting spot for his country at the world cup. The reasons for that are a whole different story, however. He earned the privilege of wearing the captain’s armband for the first time against Huesca, something that reflects his stature in the club. Another remarkable achievement was that of 2 successive clean sheets within a week at the Bernabeu when Barcelona clashed against their eternal rivals back to back in different competitions.
This season again he has been nothing less than sublime. He has 14 clean sheets in 35 league starts, which is not close to his best statistically. However, it wouldn’t be unfair to say that he has saved the face of the team on so many nights. His performance against Dortmund at the. He pulled off 4 saves including a penalty and a sensational double save to save 2 points for the Catalan giants. It was a performance that will go down as one of the great goalkeeping displays of all time. And now with 65 clean sheets in La Liga, 26 in the UCL and 9 in the Copa del Rey, Ter Stegen has made it to 100 clean sheets!
? — Another flawless performance from Marc-André Ter Stegen against Espanyol yesterday. pic.twitter.com/ba7NmQM79W— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) July 9, 2020
Whar sets Ter Stegen apart?
Ter Stegen is not a statisticians goalkeeper. Numbers seldom manage to highlight his impact on the field. Having clean sheets is the smallest aspect of a goalkeeper’s role. It is, however, his ability to pull off match-winning saves repeatedly that makes him so highly respected.
Statistically, Ter Stegen might not even be the best goalkeeper in La Liga. Jan Oblak has come up on top year after year for his staggeringly low number of goals conceded. One must, however, remember that a low-blocking Atletico Madrid side is a goalkeepers paradise. Ter Stegen has been on the back of a lot of defensive unsettlement at Barca. The centrebacks often push up to the half-line, and the german is often left in 1v1 situations where only his reflexes can rescue the team.
It is also a known fact that the Blaugrana defense has never been the same since the departure of Carles Puyol. Since the departure of the Legendary captain and leader, the side has often lacked a voice to order around the troops. In recent times, MaTS has taken up that role too. He has become more vocal about what he expects from his defence and the positioning of players in set-pieces. It is truly a wonderful sight!
? — Ter Stegen: leading from the back. The German was directing his teammates against Leganes. He guided Arthur to be well-positioned defensively. Stegen also told Umtiti to ‘push Leganes out’, and he told the CBs to be ‘careful with the marking’. [sport] pic.twitter.com/m2ijmv9EzM— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) June 18, 2020
A goalkeeper’s job is often a thankless affair. It is very rare for a keeper to get recognition as being match savers or vital players. But the 28-year-old is widely respected and loved throughout the fanbase and the world. His work rate and ethic are admirable, and the appreciation he receives in itself speaks volumes of his greatness. He will certainly be the No.1 for Barcelona for years to come, maybe even a future captain. Reaching 100 clean sheets is just the first of many milestones to come for Ter Stegen, surely!
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.