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"Marc is non-negotiable.” Xavi Hernández has made this clear time and again in his press conferences. The Barça style of play has always been based on a goalkeeper who can get the ball into play with his feet, and there are few, if any, people who can that quite as well as Marc-André ter Stegen. He made a staggering 1,225 passes in La Liga 2022/23. That ranks him eighth in the whole team! Ahead of some of the regular outfield players. For a goalkeeper, that is quite extraordinary.
Reaction and defence
Of course, a goalie's basic purpose it to stop the ball going into the net. Ter Stegen has that down to a fine art too. This season, he has been able to reach the corners that few other goalkeepers are able to reach, and a lot of that has to do with the specific work he has been doing to build up his muscles in key areas of his body. It is all reflected in the ratio of expected goals conceded and those actually conceded. The German stopped nine chances this season where logic suggested he was going to be beaten. Only Gazzaniga of Girona made more, but Ter Stegen's stat is all the more impressive considering he plays in goal for Barça, a side that faces far fewer shots than almost all other teams.
Technique and skill
But he's not just a shot-stopper. “I wouldn't be at Barça if it wasn't for the work I do with his feet" he said in an interview with Barça Magazine in 2019. It is a factor that makes him different to almost all other top goalkeepers in the football world. He's impressively ambidextrous and uses both feet to get the ball into play with his high-precision passing. He can be seen practising this with goalkeeping coach José Ramón de la Fuente all the time. Of the 749 passes he made last league season, just 19 failed to find their man. That's a phenomenal 97% success rate.
Finding the free man
Ter Stegen has a natural talent for reading the game. He can consistently be seen with the ball at his feet and weighing up the situation, looking around him and often far up the pitch. It's a question of spotting where his team-mates are situated, normally in a classic 4-3-3, and sizing that up against where each opposing player is standing. He needs to find a free man, and one who will be able to go on and construct a play from there. There are usually two solutions to choose from:
Mid-range solution: If there are four defenders and three opposing attackers, one of the defenders should be free. Ter Stegen is quick to spot that and very quickly gets the ball to the right man's feet.
Long-range solution: If all of his defenders are marked, he needs to look further up the pitch. There may even be the option of a long ball straight to the centre forward, typically Lewandowski, although the preferred choice is to find a winger who can than whip in a cross. But whichever option he chooses, Ter Stegen usually makes his decision very quickly and following years of perfecting the technique, is uncannily good at not only picking but also finding his target.
It also important for a Barça goalkeeper to also serve as the first line of defence, and when the ball is in the opposition's half, Ter Stegen can often be seen coming deep into play to mark the opposing striker to cut off the opportunity of a long ball. It's a job that requires supreme concentration, because any mistake could be fatal. Luckily, Ter Stegen makes very few mistakes. He can often be seen coming way off his line rather like a handball goalie, taking on forwards in a one-on-one and using his whole body to block any potential attempt on goal. Of his 84 saves last season, many were in hugely unfavourable positions. But Ter Stegen delivers almost every time.
Rising to the occasion
The harder the situation, the better Ter Stegen becomes. He soaks up the pressure and uses it to perform even better when the push comes to the shove. 24 of his saves last season were made with the scoreline at 0-0. That's 24 times when had he not managed to keep the ball out, Barça would have gone a goal behind. It takes so much mental strength to defend the Barça goal, and in Ter Stegen we have man who has far more than the usual share of that.
There is simply no question about it. Ter Stegen is the perfect goalkeeper for Barça. In a season with so many tight, low-scoring games, he has been the most decisive player in the whole squad. Even more so than any forwards. In fact, we could go as far to say that he was the MVP of the whole league season. Marc, thank you for everything!
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