Saturday’s 2-1 win over Atletico Madrid marked the first ever La Liga start for Marc-Andre Ter Stegen. He more than likely would have thought this would happen a year ago when he joined the club, but given the form of Claudio Bravo over the past season this has not been possible.
The life of a Cup goalkeeper is an uncertain one. The number of games they get is entirely dependent on how far the team gets in the competition. Luckily for Ter Stegen, Barcelona not only made it to the final of both the Champions League, but won both that and the Copa Del Rey, and he played his part.
Other than that, all the No 2s can do is rely on injuries, which exactly the case now. With Bravo out for a few weeks, Ter Stegen has the opportunity to make a huge impression, and perhaps even steal the No 1 spot from under the nose of his teammate.
With veteran Victor Valdes on his way out at the end of 2013-14, the young German perhaps believed he would be the revered keeper’s successor. Injury delayed his debut and in that time Bravo impressed after signing from Real Sociedad. The Chilean eventually picked up the Zamora Trophy and broke a La Liga record for clean sheets. Such performances only decreased the likelihood of Ter Stegen becoming first choice.
But his competition has been stiffer in Europe than Bravo had domestically. Playing in the continent’s premier competition, Ter Stegen has faced the best and seen them off. He conceded only 11 goals in 13 Champions League matches, and his double stop in the semi-final against Bayern was voted ‘save of the tournament’. The quality is there and he now has the chance to prove that in the League.
Luis Enrique certainly seems to have faith. “He looks good to me, like always, just as good as he looked in pre-season,” the Coach said. “It's usually everyone's fault when we concede a goal and only a small proportion of blame lies with the keeper. I don't look at who is in goal when we concede. I have the utmost faith in all of them.”
Despite Lucho’s trust there have been recent doubts about Ter Stegen’s capability to play for Barcelona, particularly this season following Barcelona’s Supercup matches against Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao. The two fixtures were within three days of each other, during which time he conceded eight goals.
His attempts to play as a sweeper saw him beaten from the centre circle by Mikel San Jose. But despite some mistakes, the positives far outweighed the negatives. Ter Stegen’s reactions and overall shot-stopping ability already make him one of the best in the world, with the potential to reach the top.
He failed to keep a clean sheet against Atletico Madrid, but his next chance to impress comes in the Champions League where Barcelona face Roma. Despite a run in the first team, the former Borussia Monchengladbach man cannot rest on his laurels. In fact, he must work even harder to keep his place.
There are two massive obstacles in his way at club and international level. And there is no way Ter Stegen can usurp Manuel Neuer without first pushing Bravo to the bench. No one doubts his ability but from an objective point of view, dropping Bravo would be madness after his performances. This further emphasises the size of the task ahead.
One thing on Ter Stegen’s side is time. At 23, he has at least 10 years left at the top, more than enough time to build his own legacy at Barcelona.