The departure of Victor Valdes after the 2013-14 campaign marked the end of an era at Barcelona.
Valdes had been Barca’s undisputed number one since 2003-04 – making over 500 appearances for the Catalan club – before leaving on a free transfer.
Barca acted quickly to bring in Marc-Andre ter Stegen from Borussia Monchengladbach, while also signing Claudio Bravo from Real Sociedad.
After three impressive seasons with Gladbach, Ter Stegen seemed destined to become Barca’s first-choice shot-stopper, with Chilean Bravo expected to serve as an experienced deputy.
Things have turned out rather differently, though, with a back injury sustained by Ter Stegen handing Bravo the opportunity to start the 2014-15 season.
Since then Bravo has not looked back and remains Barca’s number one keeper in La Liga, with Ter Stegen getting the nod in the Champions League and Copa del Rey.
The situation has left Ter Stegen frustrated and, if he does not remain patient, it is one that could prematurely end his Barca career.
Running out of patience
After making 21 appearances in the the Copa and Champions League last season as Barca won both competitions, Ter Stegen finally made his La Liga debut in September with Bravo out through injury.
But he quickly found himself back on the bench again upon Bravo’s return and, although he has plenty to look out for in the upcoming months with the Champions League quarter-finals and the Copa del Rey final, the 23-year-old is finding it increasingly difficult to watch matches like this weekend’s Clasico with Real Madrid from the sidelines.
“I want to take the next step and to play more. So the situation is clear: if nothing changes, we have to talk,” Ter Stegen told TZ.
“At the end of the season I’ll have played about 25 games. This is not a little, but when I return from the national team, I’ll probably be back on the bench in La Liga, for the Clasico against Real Madrid [on April 2].
“In the long run, these 25 games per season are not enough for me. The decision is made by the coach. I hope that the quality I’ve shown recently is rewarded.”
What the stats say
Unfortunately for Ter Stegen, his dissatisfaction is not justified by the statistics surrounding his and Bravo’s performances.
In his 41 games for Barca, the Germany international has kept 15 clean sheets and conceded 40 goals.
He has made a total of 102 saves over the past two seasons, recording a 71.63 save percentage, while making three errors that directly led to a goal. Ter Stegen atoned for those mistakes by keeping out two of the five penalties he has faced so far.
Bravo has managed 38 clean sheets in 66 outings in all competitions, conceding 37 times and posting a save percentage of 80.53 following a total of 153 stops while making only two critical errors over the course of 2014-15 and 2015-16, although the 32-year-old has saved just one spot kick from six attempts.
Competing in the Champions League means Ter Stegen’s quality of opposition is predominantly higher, but the fact remains that Bravo gets the better of his rival in the most important areas.
Luis Enrique therefore has little reason to drop Bravo in favour of Ter Stegen any time soon.
Ter Stegen has not been under-performing, but Bravo has simply exceeded expectations at Camp Nou.
Bravo has gone from a reliable but unspectacular goalkeeper at Real Sociedad to a key figure at Barca, proving Luis Enrique right for believing in him.
What Ter Stegen has in his favour, however, is his age. While Bravo turns 33 on April 13 and is slowly edging closer to retirement, the German is still at the start of his career and his best is yet to come.
“Ter Stegen is a wonderful goalkeeper,” Luis Enrique recently stated at a media conference. “That is the reason why we signed him in the first place.
“He is still only 23 and has room for improvement. We are very pleased with him. Marc-Andre has plenty of years ahead of him to become an even better goalkeeper.”
The Barcelona coach’s comments make it abundantly clear that Ter Stegen is still part of the club’s long-term plans.
He might have to remain patient for one additional season, but Ter Stegen is still very much in line to eventually become Barca’s first-choice goalkeeper in all competitions.
It is now up to Ter Stegen to decide whether he can live with one more year sharing goalkeeping duties with Bravo. If not, his Barcelona spell might come to a premature and unsatisfying end.