Barcelona, as a club, aren’t really about goalkeepers. They’re about tricksters, playmakers, skill merchants. The football thinkers. Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo. Johan Cruyff. This is a club that cherishes all that is beautiful about the game, maybe even verging into pretension. So while Camp Nou has been home to a number of good goalkeepers through the years, they haven’t defined the Catalans.
This used to be the case, anyway. Now, it can be strongly argued the current figure between the Camp Nou posts is indeed Barca’s most important player, with Marc-Andre ter Stegen widely considered among the best goalkeepers in the game at this moment in time.
Ter Stegen’s importance to Barcelona was underlined by his performance against Dynamo in what was his first start of the season and his first start after signing a new long-term contract to keep him at the club until 2025. As has so often been the case in recent years, Barca would have dropped points had it not been for their German number one.
The 28 year old made a series of saves against the Ukrainians, including two particularly stunning stops he had no right to make. Ter Stegen did his best to keep the ball out of the net for visitors' goal, but was let down by his defenders as they failed to react to his initial save, allowing the rebound to be converted.
Image credit: Eurosport
Ronald Koeman will be thankful to have Ter Stegen back in the fold after injury troubles. Despite gifting Alaves a goal on Saturday, Neto has proved himself as an adequate deputy to the German over the first two months of this season, but Barca are a far stronger side with their first choice goalkeeper in the team.
That Barcelona are so dependent on their number one isn’t an especially good look for them, though. It’s reminiscent of when David de Gea won Manchester United’s player of the year award four out of five years between 2014 and 2018. That their best player was a goalkeeper said something about the standard of the rest of their team.
Victory over Dynamo provided the perfect illustration of why they need Ter Stegen. This match followed a familiar pattern under Koeman this season, with Barcelona wasteful in front of goal. This emboldened the visitors to Camp Nou who created opportunities of their own, exposing Barca’s vulnerabilities at the back. Ter Stegen’s save preserved three points.
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Part of the problem for Barcelona is Koeman seems unsure of what the defence in front of Ter Stegen should look like. The Dutchman overlooked Clement Lenglet for the match on Wednesday, instead starting Frenkie de Jong alongside Gerard Pique. Lenglet was also withdrawn at half time of the 1-1 draw against Alaves at the weekend.
The addition of Sergino Dest has at least given Barca a new right back option, with the American international settling quickly in his new surroundings, but there are many questions over the defensive structure Koeman wants to build his team around. Ter Stegen’s return at least gives him a chance of papering over the cracks until he settles on a formula.
Barcelona might well be a club that has seen their goalkeepers as supporting acts, but much has been said and written about an identity crisis at the Camp Nou this summer. That Ter Stegen is arguably their most important player, even more so than Messi, speaks to this and highlights where Barca must seek to correct the mistakes of the last few years. Ter Stegen will revel in the praise of his performance, but it would be much better for Barcelona if the German wasn’t spoken about so much.