On behalf of all Barcelona faithful, I’d like to first wish a sincere congratulations to goalkeeper extraordinaire Claudio Bravo and Manchester City for finally sealing their long-awaited union:
As a crucial member of this new Barça as it finally found its post-Guardiola legs, Bravo overcame early fan skepticism by being a leader and a better all-around keeper than anyone (save the people who brought him in) would’ve expected, eventually completely winning over the fickle masses. With this transfer, Bravo gets a well-earned raise and the opportunity to at last compete in both league and European play; City get a great keeper who excels at the goal-preventing aspects of the job and the possession and passing parts the new manager’s system needs; and everybody wins.
That being said, Barcelona fans should be very excited now that Bravo’s gone. This means we finally get to see Barça’s other keeper—the fresh-faced, ice-blooded, feather-footed passing god Marc-André ter Stegen—fully unleashed.
Barcelona actually bought ter Stegen earlier in the same transfer window in which they added Bravo to the team. Then just 22 years old, he’d already amassed over 100 appearances for Borussia Mönchengladbach and was prophesied to immediately become departing Barça keeper Víctor Valdés’s heir in goal.
Because of an injury right before the start of his first season and Bravo’s strong performances in the interim, ter Stegen never got the chance to claim his position as the undisputed starter. However, because he was still so good and promising that Barça manager Luis Enrique took the unusual step of splitting the available minutes between the two keepers: Bravo got all the league starts, and ter Stegen was given the games in the Champions League and the Copa del Rey. Barça had two elite keepers, and found a way to use them both.
The young German thrived in his opportunities. He wowed spectators with his ridiculous, borderline outfield player-quality skills with the ball at his feet, as well as with quick and flashy reaction saves. Just look at how silky this guy—a goalkeeper, for Christ’s sake—is when dribbling and passing:
A sweeper-keeper adept at passing the ball out from the back and coming off his line to intercept or clear passes that sneak in behind his defenders isn’t just a showy luxury. Especially in a possession-based scheme like Barcelona’s, it is a critical aspect of their entire way of playing.
Ter Stegen’s skillset—which encompasses much more than just the ability to pass the ball: you need vision, technique, intelligence, a cool head, tactical comprehension, and a number of other traits in order to, say, judge the angle of a back-pass coming into you, predict how an on-rushing defender might attempt to nick the ball away, ascertain the location of your teammates and pick out an open player with only a glimpse or two at the field, and calmly flick the ball over an opponent and onto the strong foot of your waiting full back a few yards ahead—makes everything Barça do that much easier.
He limits the number of chances the other team can create by keeping the ball away from them with safe short passes or accurate longer ones instead of the aimless punts into the center circle that often wind up in the other team’s control. He proactively cuts out chances by running out from his box and gobbling up the opponent’s attempts to break into the large swathes of space behind Barça’s high back line. Confidence that ter Stegen will be there to clean up anything potential breakdowns allows the entire team to push forward a few yards higher in both defense and attack, making it simultaneously easier for Barça to keep the ball, what with all those passing options nearby, and harder for opposing teams to fend off Barça’s counter-pressing when they lose the ball. He even directly contributes to goals thanks to the speed with which he switches from defense mode when the other team is near his penalty area to attack once he gets his hands and feet on the ball, spotting and quickly passing it out to an outlet player to spark a counter.
Ter Stegen has all the technical gifts to become one of if not the best keeper (in my biased though always correct opinion) on the planet, and the confidence to know that no matter what the situation, his bundle of talents can get him out of any situation, no matter how dire they’d otherwise seem:
Both Bravo and ter Stegen wanted and deserved to start all of Barcelona’s big games this season, and there was some concern that Luis Enrique would stick with Bravo—whom he specifically asked for when taking the managerial job—over ter Stegen. However, the club chose wisely by betting on the future, thus ending the Bravo Era and beginning the ter Stegen one. This is going to be good.