Between the Sticks


Note 1:
If you want to know why my opinion isn’t right or wrong, nor is yours, and possibly not even his, read Kevin’s wonderful Nietzschean guide to being a football fan. If you want to know who’s Barça’s best goalkeeper, read this opinion piece. 

Note 2:
It is said there are lies, damned lies and statistics. It is also said that people use stats as a drunk man uses lamp posts: for support rather than illumination. The stats gathered and / or calculated for this article pretend neither to present a complete picture nor were they selectively chosen in order to prove a preconceived point of view. If anything I did my best to find data that contradicted my gut feeling as much as possible. Having said that, I have a pretty good gut.





Once upon a time not too long ago there was a man deemed irreplaceable. Irreplaceable? Well, there was one culer with balls of brass and a heart of ice who pointed out that during his last two seasons, Victor Valdes’ best days seemed behind him.

To make a long story short, VV suffered a horrible injury, went to Manchester, clashed with an object that is unmovable until it’s fired and before long, our former goalkeeper was plying his trade in Belgium. This coming season, the man who is arguably the greatest number one in the history of the most beautiful club in the world will try and help keep newly promoted Middleborough in the Premier League.

In the meantime, Barça replaced Victor with not one but two goalkeepers. First in came a young German demigod with broad shoulders and velvet feet. He arrived with the keys to the Camp Nou between his thumb and index finger and the illusion of, yes indeed, replacing the irreplaceable. Little did he know, newly appointed Luis Enrique had other ideas and insisted on a streetwise (pitchwise) Chilean, grizzled from countless battles in La Liga for La Real and on the international stage for his country.

Fast forward to their third summer at the club and after two seasons locked in an awkward equilibrium in which one plays La Liga and the other plays most of the rest, neither goalkeeper can be sure of their place. Both are competitive, and Marc-André Ter Stegen in particular has made no secret of the fact that he is uncomfortable with the arrangement. Rumors have it that if there are no plans on making him a starter this season, he will want out.

Knock, knock, said Bravo’s agent, I just want to make sure my client is still playing next season.

Knock, knock, said MATS, give me my due or sell me to City.

Skapow! Said Barça, if somebody wants to pay your release clause, you can go.

Sell no one! Say fans, Bravo will be old soon and MATS is the future.

Sell MATS! Say fans, Bravo is the better goalkeeper.

Sell Bravo! Say fans, MATS is the better goalkeeper even now.

Opinions abound, so let’s take a closer look. The last two seasons’ worth of Liga, Copa Del Rey and Champions League matches offer the following:

bravo mats

Ter Stegen turns in a very respectable 75% and 76%, although if we included the Super Cup games against Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao, that 2015/16 figure would drop below 70%. Claudio Bravo, meanwhile, gives us a whopping 80% and 81%. How impressed should we be? Let’s look at a cross section of the top leagues in Europe over the last three seasons:

stats gk 2

As you can see, 80% is kind of a big deal. The only goalkeepers to reach this figure more than once have been Gianluigi Buffon (living legend) and Manuel Neuer (considered by many to be the world’s best). The other stat line that jumps out is the following, especially when fleshed out with two additional seasons:

Courtois 2011/12 – 69%
Courtois 2012/13 – 76%
Courtois 2013/14 – 77%
Moya     2014/15 – 69%
Oblak     2015/16 – 82%

Defenses don’t get much meaner than Diego Simeone’s merry band of stingy bastards. Atletico Madrid will do pretty much anything short of stabbing your eye out with a rusty screwdriver to prevent you from creating a quality scoring opportunity. Yet even counting back from the start of the reign of el Cholo, Jan Oblak was the first to break 80%. This suggests that as well as an excellent (team) defense in front of him, a goalkeeper needs to have an almost perfect season to reach that number. Bravo is coming off the back of two of those.

Stats-based website calculated our goalkeepers’ average performance ratings, strengths and weaknesses throughout the last season as follows:

goalkeepers bravo mats

While you’re at it, take a look at other goalkeepers as well:

gk attributes

As you can imagine, with an average rating of 6.92, Claudio Bravo outperformed most of his peers last season. Among his main strengths, shot stopping and concentration are arguably the most important attributes for a goalkeeper to have. Barça generally give up only a select few shots per game: I hate to kick in an open door, but the keeper must be ready to stop them.

When examining Ter Stegen’s attributes, the quality that all top goalkeepers possess, shot stopping, is conspicuous only in its absence. The crux of the matter is that, based on what we know so far, Marc is not a very good shot stopper. It’s not that he never makes good saves. He does:




However, in a low-scoring sport where one goal can mean the difference between life and death, you really want your number one to stop attempts like:


Even at the pathetic level at which I play football, getting nutmegged from that distance would earn me a mixture of sighs, nervous grins and wide-open eyes that look at each other in disbelief (and that’s because I play with very nice people).

Of course, Ter Stegen’s one attribute that sets him apart from all others is also what makes him such an attractive option for a club with our playing style, his skill of passing the football. It’s what defines him as a footballer and on most days, his distribution is a wonderful sight to behold, with ball control and passes that range from the sublime:


to the ridiculous:


to the one-moment-you’re-scratching-your-ear-and-the-next-Neymar-almost-scores-on-your-ass:


Yes, it’s easy to see why culés have fallen in love with Ter Stegen. A reliable outlet to receive the ball when defenders are under pressure, his passes serve to keep the ball moving and give the opponent the least amount of time to reset. It’s not a stretch to say that when it comes to this aspect of the game, Ter Stegen is a better player than more than a few central defenders out there. But how much better is he than Bravo? I pulled up the passing charts for six games of each and did my best for my picks to be fairly representative. However, before we get there, I want to show you this:


This is what a passing chart looks like when goalkeepers boot it up the pitch, a prominent occurrence in primitive football cultures (just kidding, I love the Premier League!). Obviously the chances of successfully reaching a teammate are less than optimal. It also makes it difficult to interpret how much of the pass completion percentage is down to the passer and how much is down to the recipient. Czech can lump high balls in the general direction of Olivier Giroud, and even Alexis Sanchez is quite apt at using his body to receive a difficult ball. Joe Hart, however, simply doesn’t have the personnel for this, as the charts seem to confirm quite clearly.

bravo chart

An FC Barcelona goalkeeper passing chart certainly makes for a change of scenery. Last season Bravo completed an impressive 84% of his passes. A look at the charts confirms he usually plays the ball either short or he boots it up the field. Naturally his short passes have a very low chance of being intercepted by an opponent. When he resorts to long balls, the success rate lowers significantly, especially in games where he goes long often. Thankfully, whether through design or circumstance, these games are very rare, and in matches where he picks his long balls more carefully, the long ball completion percentage rises quite a lot.


Perhaps surprisingly to some, Ter Stegen completed a slightly lower percent of his passes, but his charts look quite similar to Bravo’s. Comparing them closely, he employs the long ball less often. The rare game in which Claudio boots 15 balls upfield simply does not exist for Marc-André. One of the big differences is the amount of medium-long passes he places, mostly to the flanks. Mats is quite possibly the only keeper in the world who consistently makes these, with either foot, and they look gorgeous:

mats beautiful pass

Now on more occasions than he gets credit for, Bravo shines by picking out his man through traffic or jumpstarting a counter attack. Still it would be foolish to claim he is as impressive as his rival. Not only can the Chilean be described as decent with his feet, good even, after two years at this club, but he knows his limits and takes no risks, which is an excellent quality for a goalkeeper. Yet Ter Stegen is simply amazing. Ronald Koeman comes to mind, in the way he routinely places 40-plus yard passes into the feet of its targets. Now he still needs to learn that sometimes – just sometimes – it is better to clear the ball away as hard as you can possibly kick it than to try a fancy curler to an under-pressure teammate. Once he understands that, his passing game will be the textbook definition of perfect.

The definition of perfect. So how important is a perfect passing game for a goalkeeper? The attack starts with the very first pass, there is no doubt about that, but when comparing a goalkeeper with excellent feet to one who is merely “good enough”, how much of a difference does a difference make? Let’s generously say that 15 times per game Ter Stegen plays a pass that affords its recipient more time and space to make the next move than the pass that Bravo would have played. Again, the advantage is clear. But even when a goalkeeper plays the perfect pass, it still takes an average of five, ten, fifteen, whatever – quite some passes before that first perfect pass leads to a goal scoring opportunity, and of course most of the time it won’t lead to a goal scoring opportunity at all and often goal scoring opportunities are created regardless of that perfect first pass. The advantage might be clear, yes, but it’s as subtle as it’s clear.

On the other hand, when it comes to defending the goal there is no 5/10/15 pass margin. You either stop the shot or you don’t and if you don’t, your team’s chances of winning the game decrease dramatically. There’s no subtlety about it. If you drop a cross, give up a rebound that might have been avoided, fail to stop a shot or, I don’t know, head the ball to an opponent while standing five yards out of your box, that’s it. There’s no mystery why goalkeepers are judged by their errors a lot more than say, midfielders. They only get a couple of opportunities per game to make a difference and the margin of error is close to zero. Before leaving, culers were in panic thinking about how on earth the club could replace Victor Valdes, one of the few great passing goalkeepers in the game, and essential to Barça’s style of play. Perhaps with this in mind, a journalist asked him what the most important attribute was for a Barcelona goalkeeper. His answer was stopping one on ones. Not passing, not ball control. Shot stopping.

Back to Bravo and Ter Stegen’s strengths:goalkeepers bravo mats

We talked about shot stopping and passing. Concentration is barely worth discussing. Ter Stegen is young and he has made a myriad of unforced errors during his tenure at the club. Yes, I said it, he has made a myriad of unforced errors. Anybody who disputes this can go stand in the corner with the global warming deniers and the flat-earthers (oh, and while you’re at it don’t forget to vote for Donald Trump). It’s not as if Bravo never makes any mistakes, but he certainly makes a lot less of them despite playing more games. However, Ter Stegen is young and this is the attribute which, along with its close cousin, decision making, we can be most confident he will improve. And if not confident then at least hopeful.

In hindsight, it would have been better had Ter Stegen been loaned out for a couple of years after signing him. However, Zubizarreta brought him under the pretense of starting at the Camp Nou, so they could hardly send him packing. Had Zubi known Luis Enrique would insist on getting Claudio Bravo, who then performed better than many had foreseen, things might have been planned differently. As it happened, Luis Enrique chose the second-best option: rotation.

Unless you want to argue against one treble and one double over two years, Luis Enrique’s decision has been the perfect compromise so far. Undoubtedly playing more matches would have been beneficial for Ter Stegen’s development, but then the two consecutive Liga titles would have been unlikely. On the flip side, fans can count the lucky stars in the culerverse that Marc-André’s gaffes against City and Juve didn’t stand in the way of the 2015 Champions League trophy and, although his mistake that led to Arsenal’s equalizer the last CL campaign was always unlikely to impede a QF birth, who knows what would’ve happened had he not led in Torres’ shot at home against Atletico? Be that as it may, young goalkeepers need playing time to grow and Ter Stegen simply had (has) too much potential to be limited to seven Copa games per season.

mats passing

So if MATS is not the present, is he the future? This remains to be seen since, after all, the future is conditional. First of all, we don’t know when Bravo will start to decline nor how fast his skills and powers will diminish once the inevitable sets in. He might have five more years at the top in him, or he might have five weeks. He might even get better before he gets worse. Who can tell the future? Buffon is 38 and he still has his reflexes, while Casillas had become a liability at the age of 32.

Perhaps more importantly, Ter Stegen’s projected growth is based on various conditions as well. Put his passing game aside and despite periodical hints of class, lingering doubts remain:

How much will his decision making improve?
How much will his concentration improve?
How much will his shot stopping improve?

If he makes strides in all he can become one of the world’s elite and, coupled with his passing skills, the perfect goalkeeper for F.C. Barcelona. It’s a clear if,  though, and do you sacrifice the present for an if?

It doesn’t look like any club will cough up the transfer fee for either goalkeeper so the smart money is on Luis Enrique to keep the rotation going. He might compromise and switch Ter Stegen to the Liga games and Bravo to the Copa and CL. That way one gets the game time he needs for his development and the other gets to finally experience a Champion’s League campaign for a big club. If the past two seasons are any indication, this would jeopardize the league title defense.

Thankfully the future is unknown.

By Levon

Culé since way before football boots were of the neon yellow and lizard green variety, Levon is a deep thinker with increasingly shallow thoughts. He lives in Barcelona with his gorgeous wife and daughter. The lucky bastard...


  1. Very nice overview and discussion, thanks. As always, however, it is difficult to really pin down the circumstances behind the stats (as you, too, point out). I feel Ter Stegen suffered from the team’s generally poor performances early last season, when things looked slow and rusty. If I recall correctly, Bravo’s return somewhat coincided with the overall improvement of the team (correlation rather than causality, I believe). Having the opportunity of playing Liga games also enables picking up rhythm more easily than playing infrequent cup games, which probably puts more pressure on each single performance – generally facing teams who REALLY need the win, too.

    This being said, I agree that Bravo has generally looked like the better of the two and radiated security in a way Ter Stegen is not yet able to – partly since it feels he is always out to prove a point, while Bravo – the veteran – simple goes about his business I hardly feel he is the world-beater that his stats suggest, but a solid, high class keeper he is.

    I don’t know how the arrangement should be, but it appears some kind of change should happen. I trust the management will handle this appropriately, but it is also a matter of perception. As has been discussed here: winning is the primary aim, not grooming for the future, and LE surely subscribes to this notion. Whatever he chooses, someone will be displeased – that’s the only thing certain in this!

    1. I agree – I find it hard to see Bravo as a world beater, too. Spending most of his career at Real Sociedad and only playing Liga games doesn’t help. It would have been interesting to see how people would judge him if he had had the chance to carry his league form to the CL these past two seasons..

  2. Enter Your Comment… The situation is very simple. Ter Stergen has struggled a bit maybe due to bedding in issues to do with changing leagues and stuff. But like De Gea at United he needed to be trusted and be assured that he was the number one. The issue has to be an assessment of quality and sticking to it. Is Mats a quality keeper with potential to become a reliable keeper in the long term.

    Opinions generally has Neur as the best keeper right now. Which is fair considering the calm he exudes and the impenetrability he evinces. But has a goal keeper ever been more important than De Gea for so long at a big club? Yet he does not top any of those lists.

    I would jettison Bravo and stick to Mats. In the same way i will pick John Stones everytime over a solid defender everytime.

    1. I think De Gea is an excellent keeper. In my mind, some reasons he doesn’t figure much on the lists are:

      – Manchester United have been a mess the last two seasons.
      – In the EPL, teams generally have more space to create quality goal scoring opportunities. This might help explain why the saving percentages are generally lower in the EPL (Czech’s 89% was an anomaly, he faced 18 shots in 7 games).

  3. A keeper is only as good as his defense. It’s the reason Pinto has the reputation that he does, when he was in fact a pretty darn good keeper who would have started for a lot of teams.

    Any keeper has to credit his defense. Valdes’ Zamora years were as much the benefit of the Barça attack as his shot stopping, even as excellent a keeper as he was.

    Most of the goals Ter Stegen let in, he got screwed by his defense. Look at the Torres goal referenced above. Torres had any one of about four options. He had Ter Stegen dead to rights. He could have gone left, right or central. He took advantage of Ter Stegen making himself wide for the first-time strike. No keeper in the game stops that one.

    Not sure about the gaffe vs Juventus. Again, the defense broke down. He stopped the first shot with an excellent reflex save, and Morata put home the rebound. Again, not sure a keeper in the game is going to make that second save.

    It’s also worth looking at the quality of shots. Bravo’s stats are padded by simple catches against Liga minnows, which count as saves. This isn’t to say that Bravo isn’t a top-quality keeper. But some would point to Bravo vs Liverpool as an indicator of how equal keepers are when the defense breaks down. The goal for 3-0 was exactly the kind of goal Ter Stegen gave up to Torres, only easier to save because Bravo only had to cover the near post. He didn’t make the save because it would have been a difficult-to-impossible save to make. The shooter went between his legs just as Torres did to Ter Stegen.

    The best save is one that the keeper doesn’t have to make. The reason many find Ter Stegen superior is because he plays sweeper keeper. This helps the CBs, and means that many potential shots never become that because he clears them. His passing and attack starting is superior to Bravo’s in a way that doesn’t show up in a statistical chart. Look at the number of times that Bravo will take a ball, run around, yell at the defense then play it out. Ter Stegen rarely does that, usually opting to take, control and dish it off. He would even have had an assist last season were it not for an incorrect offside call.

    Most crucial is the way that Ter Stegen, like Valdes, works with the Barça attack to build from the back. Bravo completes the simple clearing balls that any competent keeper can. Ter Stegen has better ball control and ability to play the more complicated passes.

    The difference really comes down to essentially as Casillas vs Valdes. Casillas was a better shot stopper and traditional keeper, while Valdes was a better keeper in the Barça context. Opinions are precisely that, but for me, that same difference exists in Bravo and Ter Stegen.

    And again, in my opinion, keeping Bravo in the role he had last season will cost this club Ter Stegen, and I wouldn’t blame the young German for moving on. Bravo wouldn’t be a bad option at all, but he wouldn’t be the best option, for me, in sustaining the way that Barça plays football. It would also cost the club Neuer’s heir apparent and a keeper who will blossom into, should he leave, one of the ones that got away.

    1. I’ll use bulletin points, because there’s a lot to respond to.

      – (Pinto) Couldn’t agree more. Pinto was great for us. Unfairly lambasted those last months at the club.
      – (Torres) No keeper in the world stops balls that are shot straight at him? I have to disagree. From that distance, I have to disagree, though I don’t mind admitting that my original assessment was a bit harsh.
      – (Juve) I was actually referring to the corner he let bounce off his chest. That was a gaffe of humongous proportions, thankfully without consequences. The save from Tevez from which Morata scored on the rebound could have been pushed away from the goal on a good day. Same goes for Buffon on the other end. I wouldn’t call that a blunder, though.
      – (about Bravo’s stats being padded with easy saves against minnows)
      I thought about this while writing the article, but the argument does not hold water:
      1. Ter Stegen’s saving percentage in la Liga was 65% last season.
      2. Ter Stegen’s stats are in turn “padded” by games like when Bayer Leverkussen aimed 8 shots straight at the goalkeeper.
      3. When playing a minnow, we hardly get any shots on goal against. They are not necessarily gimmes.

      Two consecutive 80% percent seasons are impressive no matter which way you look at it. Besides, Bravo has been very solid against top domestic competition. It could easily be argued that he steps up his game in big matches.

      – I understand your point regarding Ter Stegen’s passing game and I applaud him for it. However, as argued in my article, the difference between his passing game and Bravo’s should not be the deal breaker a lot of culés make it to be. If the way Ter Stegen builds up play from the back were “crucial’, as you say, then we wouldn’t have won two leagues with Bravo. I think it is obviously not crucial.

  4. I missed Kxevin’s last article as we were off sunning ourselves on one of the two relevant days here in Scotland but just a thank you to both you, Lev, and maybe particularly, Kxevin for keeping the articles coming to keep us fired up for the new season. A great piece of work researching this topic.

    I actually think this article answers Kxevin’s ( rhetorical? ) question posed at the end of his article very well.

    “Would sport become this liberating, beautiful enterprise, or the most boring thing in the world?”

    Of course, it would be boring if all we did was watch, enjoy wins and remain philosophical in the face of defeat. Doesn’t mean we can’t do all of the above but I’d always add to the mix the cut and thrust of discussion and, yes, argument. Even if we win we can usually do better ( manitas against RM not withstanding ? ) and none of us are strangers to the culture of continuous improvement. For me, football is no different. I always enjoy hearing opinions expressed here (almost as much as giving them 🙂 ) but I have to confess that I do find more interesting those opinions which are supported by “evidence ” more than others. All we are really doing here is transferring the discussions which go on in the stands at football matches everywhere to this blog. Passionate opinions are the life blood of football .

    Anyway, onto this article. Lev thank you again for the work on this. Very interesting and probably supports my gut instinct about the situation. Bravo installs confidence in me ; Ter Stegen doesn’t – as much. He did make a succession of mistakes when he first arrived and no amount of papering over that really washes. He was also far too cocky in his positioning and was caught out in that. However, what we now have is a chastened TS who has realised that the object of goalkeeping is primarily shot stopping and you can’t do that if you’re in the wrong position with a corresponding improvement. I would have been a lot happier with him had he come out straight away and admitted the errors, kept quiet and worked hard to displace Bravo but I’m not sure that’s in his nature. There is equally no doubt in my mind that he has learned from that and is a better keeper for it.

    I’m gonna side with Kxevin slightly on the Torres goal. Yes, the ball did go right past him quite close and into the middle of the net and you’d have hoped he’d have done better but you can’t lay that goal on him. You could ( wrongly imo, ) lay it on Pique who had to advance to avoid free entry to our box but more correctly look askance at our other CB who was marking nothing and standing still, even after pique moved out. Still, free shot on goal doesn’t equal goalie error there for me. The Juventus one also was difficult. Remember we went up the other end and Suarez scored an identical one against Buffon whom we all admire. I don’t know enough about goalkeeping to say but I do know there are some balls which bounce in a particular way at a particular speed which make it impossible to parry away wide.

    I think you nailed it when you asked if the crux of the matter was not had TS made mistakes but is he good enough that we can’t afford to lose him. I’d probably say that he will be one of the best in the world if he continues to improve but if you ask me now who I’d put in goal for the first clasico it’s not even close. I hope TS hasn’t issued an ultimatum because if he has I’d show him the door now but I can equally see the point that he may not improve as quickly with limited playing time with us. It’s a bit like the Busi, Samper, loan issue versus getting time in our first team. However, we can’t loan TS so maybe we need to make the decision soon either to play him as number one or let him go. I’m not sure LE isn’t playing a blinder here by pretending it isn’t up for discussion as he’s the boss but then I never did understand reverse psychology . . .

    1. I also find his apparent refusal to take (at least outward) responsibility when he makes a mistake disheartening. He seems to be very headstrong and I can somewhat sympathize with the fact that he did not expect to play only Copa and Champions when the club signed him. Loaning him out like Chelsea did with Courtois would have been perfect, but that ship has sailed.

      I hope he learned from his mistakes like you said, but it’s hard to judge because since we only reached the quarter finals in the Champions League we didn’t see much of him the second half of the season. The first half of the season was characterized by gaffes (Bilbao, Levante, Bayer Leverkussen) but he was excellent away at Espanyol and at Arsenal , so there’s hope!

      I definitely agree Ter Stegen has a lot of potential and seeing him go and become an elite goalkeeper somewhere else would hurt like hell (though not for 80M, I’d feel pretty good if we sold him for anything approaching his release clause).

  5. Hey, Lev!
    I think I may have already given my opinion on this to you on twitter but I’ll give it again since you asked. I blame Mourinho, naturally. Well moreso, Luís Enrique. Mourinho was the only other manager to request two goalkeepers capable of starting any match. Why? Because he was trying to get Casillas, someone he saw as undermining his monopoly on authority in the squad, to force his way out of the club because he was being relegated to the cup matches. And it worked. He’s living a much happier life hanging out with Mexico’s future, Corona and Herrera, at Porto. Good for him! Along comes Luís Enrique, sees this competition at the goalkeeper spot, and thinks, “wow! This is a great idea!” *This*, along with his lack of in-game tinkering, is why I’m not Lucho’s biggest fan. He doesn’t have to be some Machiavellian psycho eye-poking mastermind like Mou Mou, but he shouldn’t be a complete idiot either. How do you not anticipate one of your goalkeepers not being thrilled with this arrangement and thinking he could further his career elsewhere. If it weren’t for this being Barça, neither keeper would have lasted this long. But that only gets you so far.

    I don’t really think the statistics are fair. It seems like comparing Champions League semifinals to games vs Granada are like comparing apples to oranges. I’ve always thought of Ter Stegen as an excellent shot stopper, even before he reached Barça, so no fancy-shmancy statistics are really going to stop me from seeing him that way. Any gaffes Marc makes *I* attribute to his lack of consistent minutes. I could be totally wrong about that, but I don’t care. That’s who I want to remain at the club. He’s just who I prefer watching.

    1. Word was Lucho simply wanted a goalkeeper with experience. Based on the success he had, hard to argue with that decision.

      It’s possible Ter Stegen would / will be more consistent as he gets more minutes. And if he gets more minutes, I hope he will. Time will tell.

  6. Well, 1-1 for Bravo & Ter Stegen today; Masip new no 1? On a more serious note, the team looked good, to me. Some gems by the big boys, and Digné looked good enough to at least push Alba a little. Umtiti didn’t get much time, but I liked the little I saw; he looks calm and assured, just like with the NT, a firm and accurate passer, too. Wasn’t put to any big test, but held his own. Gomez I didn’t see much, perhaps a good sign.

    Some other indications were that, to me, Roberto looks the safer option on RB, still. To my mind it seems Messi does not fully trust Vidal, and the latter often looks frustrated when Leo does not honor his run along the wing. We’ll see. Also, Turan looked MUCH better on the LW. Pretty sure he will start there on Sunday. With Gomez & Denis (and Rafinha) in the squad, Arda should see very few minutes as CM.

    Overall, things look exciting!

  7. This video from Allas_FCB (in this space) makes a point that I made above about the shot that doesn’t become a shot not really being counted in the statistics, but is a significant part of what Ter Stegen brings to the discussion:

    Nobody has any issue with the ultimate quality of Bravo. But both chances here came from direct attacks at the back line. I’d rather have a keeper who functions as an extra CB, than one who stands there, waiting for his defense to take care of things. Because what if they don’t?

    1. While I fawn over Allas’ videos as much as the next culé, not sure if this particular example is a fair comparison.

      – The pass Ter Stegen cleared came from Sampdoria’s own half, which gave him more time to clear it, and was played to the center of the penalty area, directly towards him, which gave him both more need to clear it and a risk-free opportunity to clear it.
      – The ball Bravo didn’t clear was played from our 3rd of the pitch, which gave him less chance to react. Also, Bravo saw that the attacker wasn’t going to reach the ball and that Busquets had it covered.

      Perhaps most importantly, the position of a Barça goalkeeper depends on where the ball is. Ter Stegen started from a much more advanced position because the ball was in the other half. Bravo had retreated because Sampdoria had reached the final third.

      I appreciate this is not something you can see all that well on TV, but from the stands you see the whole pitch. During 2014/2015 both Bravo and Ter Stegen moved all the way up to the halfway line during Barça’s long spells of possession. Both played as pure sweeper keepers, ready to intercept deep passes when necessary.

      After Ter Stegen conceded (I almost wrote conceived, which wouldn’t be far from the truth either) the first Super Copa goal at the start of 2015/16, opponents started trying to take advantage of our goalkeeper’s advanced position with long (looooong) distance goal attempts. Malaga almost scored against Bravo, and Roma succeeded against Ter Stegen (any claims Mats was to blame for this one are absurd). Having not been raised by no fool, Luis Enrique instructed his goalkeepers to move back a bit.

      It would be interesting to see heat maps of when Barça is not in possession, but I’m not at all convinced there is a difference in the sweeper role of either keeper. Look at the charts in the article above, both Bravo and Ter Stegen have plenty of touches in advanced positions.

      Anyway, I’ll pay attention to this in the games to come.

  8. Robert says that the fourth forward will be here before Liga starts, which means the deal is done. The strongest rumor was Luan, the Brazilian attacker for Gremio, who impressed me more than Gabigol and Gabriel Jesus. We’ll see.

    A few quick notes about the Gamper: Digne impressive as hell, so was Umtiti. Turan looked very lively and effective on the wing and Messi looks raring to go, as does Suarez. Depth galore is a knockout, which was the biggest complexity with last season.

    Luis Enrique said that this is the strongest team he has had, “on paper.” He’s right. There is real competition at almost every position, including Neymar’s. Only Messi and Suarez are unchallenged incumbents.

    — Another rumor is that Samper looks likely to go to Valencia on one of those transfer-with-buyback deals. This makes sense. Hope the club gets a playing time clause in there. He needs gobs and gobs of playing time. People are quite fond of him, but that fondness doesn’t help him on the pitch. Sergi Roberto was significantly more convincing at pivot than Samper. Rakitic also got busy there. The additions of Gomes and Suarez in midfield give Luis Enrique a great many options, even if Sergi Roberto takes the RB spot from Aleix Vidal.

    Samper’s talent is without question. It’s the physical aspects that catch him out. The only ways to hone those is with playing time. When Guardiola sold Toure Yaya, there was much rumble, but it turned out to be the right decision. But Busquets was ready for that level of commitment from his coach. Samper still has a way to go.

    Hoping the club also loans Munir, who needs the same thing. He is much improved this pre-season, but needs to build his quality by building his reps. That isn’t going to happen at Barça, especially when this fourth forward shows up.

  9. TS got injured this morning, so we know who will be between the sticks for the moment.
    Personally, i prefer TS as our long term goalkeeper. It would be incredibly stupid to let him go.

    1. Bummer. If Guardiola was still on the bench, there would be no question. There’s a reason City wants to buy Ter Stegen, and not Bravo. And it ain’t age.

    2. Have I missed something ? Do we know from anyone apart from TS or his agent that City want to buy him and are willing to pay his release price ?

  10. A long time ago in a far away place Victor Valdes received a back pass with attackers closing in. Instead of putting his foot through the ball, he attempted. unsuccessfully, to play the ball out from the back and played it straight to a white jersey. A couple of touches later the ball was in the back of his own net and Madrid were 1-0 up barely minutes into a clasico.
    Pep Guardiola’s reaction? Continue playing that way and it’ll win us more than it loses. ter Stegen is undoubtedly a better goalkeeper for Barcelona than Bravo is regardless of the fact that he isn’t currently a better goalkeeper than Bravo.
    Valdes is our best ever goalkeeper but isn’t the best goalkeeper ever. He was unbelievable in one on ones and had great reflex saves but his ability on the ball was equally crucial in our success whatever anyone says.
    David Villa, when he played for Valencia, was the biggest torn in our side of any player in the league. He intercepted one such Valdes pass and looped a finish over our goalkeeper. He also scored a goal from just inside the opposition half against Deportivo way back when. After he scored that goal, catching Molina off his line he said that he was told by his manager to shoot from distance early in the match to keep Molina on his line, not to score. Having a keeper allowing our defense to play 20 yards further forward is a major reason we can play so many forward thinking players like Depor used to.
    Funny when you look at statistics that you can cherry pick the ones that suit your own narratives. Last season, in tougher competition we had 2% more possession in the champions league than in la liga. ter Stegen allows us to play further from goal, recycles possession much quicker and puts us on the front foot.
    Bravo is a better shot stopper, currently, but lets not pretend that he’s on the level of a Buffon, Neuer or De Gea… he’s probably even behind Navas and Oblak in normal goalkeeping terms. ter Stegen is the future and, if Bravo’s form over the last dozen matches that I’ve seen from him, he is the present too.

  11. Not really sure I want us to play any further away from our goal, Ciaran ! We hold a very high line whether it’s Bravo or TS. To do that your back line has to be world class on holding that line and dropping off quickly when appropriate. I’m not sure we are. While I’m on the subject we also hold a ridiculously high line at FKs. At some point someone is gonna drop a ball beautifully into that huge space between back line and keeper.

    It’ll be interesting. If Bravo has been as poor as you say it will become obvious pretty quickly. I didn’t see any of the Copa America so can’t say.

    1. I think “poor” is a harsh interpretation, Jim. Those are very good keepers; Navas was arguably RM’s best player and saved many blushes in the first part of the season, especially. Oblak is a harder case, as his defence is perhaps the worlds tightest, but apart from the penalty shoot-out in the CL final, he looked pretty good from what I saw.

      My 5 cents concern the need to choose and go for it. One can criticise ter Stegen’s attitude, if reports are correct, but then those same reports have mentioned that Bravo would not accept stepping down or a reversal of roles. And who the best keeper is, is down to more than statistics and “objective” quality, but also what kind of team you are aiming to create. LE has been criticised for being too much in the present, but who can really blame him? Bravo is the safe choice for the here and now, and that is what LE is judged on. From ter Stegen’s view, he might feel he has spent two years as the 2nd choice (let’s be honest) and that he wants either that the club lives up to its initial idea or lets him go elsewhere. He is young, but not that young, and two years is enough biding your time.

      Maybe reports are off, but something is definitely brewing. I don’t think this competition is good for the team any longer (if it ever was) and it’s time to either make ter Stegen no 1 or accept that he will leave, and start over with someone else while Bravo holds the fort for one or two seasons more – but who would that be? I would choose ter Stegen, because I think he has greater potential than Bravo and is worth the risk of some initial blunders before he finds his rhythm. The idea of buying, say Diego Alves is sound, as this would provide a keeper who is content with 2nd choice but good enough to step in should it be needed. With Bravo, there is no similar set-up available at this moment, and it would most likely mean buying a very expensive keeper down the line.

      But indications are the current situation will remain, and either keeper is free to leave if someone pays enough. Maybe LE wants to see if they have the mentality to go for it, but on the other ter Stegen might feel the criteria are unfavourable for him.

    2. Fair point, Davour. I was talking relatively. If, as suggested Bravo is maybe only sixth best keeper around I would suggest that’s probably not good enough for the best team in Europe.

      However, I don’t think that’s the case. Most of the goals we lose are avoidable and down to lack of personnel in the right place. Bravo I think has been really reliable over that whole time. He doesn’t lose silly goals, he stops a lot and for me he’s a better judge of when to come for a cross ball than TS. He has improved his ball playing immensely, plays slightly further forward than when he started and also isn’t afraid to admit “defeat” and put his foot through the ball I like that.

      He gained the spot through TS’ injury and he has done nothing to lose it. Dropping him for no reason would be the “unfair” action as would promoting TS just because he threatens to go, if indeed he has. Can’t help feeling that a lot of the City “interest” is part of TS’ agent trying to force our hand. Our club hasn’t and shouldn’t respond to stuff like that.

      Having said that, as I’ve said previously, I can see the reasoning behind future proofing that position through TS. It’s a difficult situation all round

    3. Just had a quick look on my currency converter (with a golf holiday to Portugal looming !) . Ter Stegen’s €80m release clause will cost the English club a kick in the teeth off £70m thanks to our Brexit friends down south. After spending over €150m already that’d be a mountain for the three years Pep is likely to stay with them. Personally, I don’t think Pep will be able to handle the English press and the rubbish coming his way with Mourinho down the road and could leave before then. ( I am, however, really pretty excited to see how Pep’s style does in England without any of the top twenty or so players in Europe unlike when with us and I would argue maybe six or seven of the top twenty in the same team ! )

      Btw, also loving the fact that the club have come out and said clearly that we didn’t pursue Pogba because they were asking far too much ! Great message to send out.

  12. Marlon Santos trained with the squad this morning. Also, Munir may get loaned out. I think the management of this squad is pretty darn good.

  13. Been a boss of a transfer season so far. I love how out of no where all the signings come from.

    Just goes to show, we don’t know anything.

  14. Lots of comments, and I’m loving it.

    Yes, we had more possession in the CL, but that’s not necessarily down to the goalkeeper. Neither do (theoretically) stronger opponents always mean we’ll have less possession, For example, Atletico Madrid, was happy to cede possession (74% and 77% in the semis).

    It’s the other way around, Bravo played higher up the pitch in the first season than the second. This is clear to see when you’re lucky enough to go to Camp Nou, but not on tv I’m afraid.

    – Marlon looked pretty good this preseason. His elegant confidence reminded me of a certain defender we all used to love, won’t jinx him by saying the name.

    – Don’t know what to think about Pacacer. Think we’d be better off developing the talent we already have than spending 30M an a 4th striker at this point. We have cover for the wings and if Suarez needs a rest I’m pretty sure that either of Messi or Neymar can do a better job at 9 than any 4th striker we can convince to sit on our bench for a season or two, Consider:

    Ney / Suarez / Messi
    Ney / Messi / Rafinha
    Arda / Ney / Messi
    D. Suarez / Ney / Messi
    Ney / Messi / Arda

    And of course we have Munir as well.

    1. Wow, Levon, so many forward options. True, we could manage this may be.
      But Alcacer is quite different player from all our present forward. Even if he didnt really shine last season, he has great potential. I just wish, he was more cheap.

    2. for copa del rey especially we could also have
      Deniz/Munir/ Arda

      heck we could even play mr swiss-army-knife as Cf and he’ll do fine lol Munir/Roberto/Rafinha
      It is a good way to give the youngsters much playing time, I strongly agree that we don’t need to spend on a 4th forward. through the preseason its like Munir is playing to prove a point .

  15. Well, hard to say exactly what Alcacer might bring to the team (except a likely loan-exit for Munir). I haven’t seen him much, but some quick research (stas & vids) reveal him to be really a right-man-in-right-place-in-the-box-player, often recycling chances, tap-ins/one-touch finishing, praying on mistakes, scoring with both feet and head… certainly a different type of player than Munir, but can see him as a back-up for Suarez in terms of being a 9 (hardly any other position, which might open up for Munir staying and fighting it out with Arda, Denis and Rafinha for the odd opportunity on the wing). Interestingly, whoscored lists “passing” as one of his weaknesses (as well as, less surprising, “aerial duels”, though headers is a strength). We’ll see .

    Another perspective is that the transfers really has a social aspect to them. Umtiti and Digne, Gomez and Alcacer (noted that André was often the first to congratulate goals, and added a few assists, too!)… to ease the transition? Then keep Munir; I’m sure he and Denis are god ol’ pals from B! And with Samper surely going on loan…

    Anyway, LE seems to have had his mind set on another 9, and Alcacer seems like a reasonably option, all things considered.

  16. Thanks for the inside info on Bravo’s positioning , Lev. I think what I was suggesting was that I’m happy with his starting positions and don’t need him trying to outDo anyone with a more advanced position.

    Watching Pep’s debut and it’s fascinating. Hart dropped so a move for TS might well be on the cards. He can’t go with Willy for the season and Hart won’t stay if not number one. He’s also got City looking a lot more fluid instantly although I can’t make head nor tail of his forrmation. No idea what he’s trying to do with the full backs but his two CBs are being left to handle one on ones. Now we’ll see if John Stones can actually defend ( although I’m guessing he’ll love coming forward with the ball. )
    Interesting. He’s expecting a lot right from the start.

    1. It IS fascinating. 1-1 after over-confidenct possession play, not going for the second. Classic Pep, it a sense, but this team is not solid enough to manage that game (yet?). As I write, 2-1 – good for him. I always respect the attempt to play the passing game. Hopefully, for him, the players will become used to it. But the difference in quality of passing to Liga (not only Barca & RM) is remarkable.

  17. OT. Yeah, off topic but I just have to mention the performance of the Brits in the cycling at the Olympics. Just watched the women take the gold over the Americans in yet another world record. Unbelievable and full respect. They can literally barely talk afterwards. Same performance from the rowers and half of them are getting carried off the boats at the end by the medics. It has been fascinating viewing.

    I’m sure Kxevin will be sitting somewhere in Barcelona catching up on it. . .

  18. Joe Hart was left on the bench probably a strong signal that Pep is really confident to get Ter Stegen from us. Because you dont bench your first choice GK for the last 5 seasons in your first match if you dont have a strong reason.

    I “personally” would be dissapointed if Ter Stegen leave. I love his game that suit Barca style. Not saying Bravo is inferior, but Ter Stegen skill set is fit to our identity of playing football. In terms of Barca, TS is the best option for now and future

    TS is 9 years younger than 33 years old Bravo, His prime performance would be declining soon as I could only saw Buffon as the consistent “old” GK in top football nowadays. Even i would choose TS over Buffon is we have chance to get Buffon now. As Ter Stegen have stilll long period of improving and maturing and “highly potential candidate” to become Germany 1st choice and world best GK replacing the incumbent Neuer.

  19. If TS leave, in the next season or two; we must find another young GK to be groomed as our future no 1. And we need another one or two seasons for the young GK to adapt to top class football. A long transition in my opinion.

    While with current situation, we have patiently groomed TS for the last two seasons. This is the time to end the transition period from Valdes to TS. Bravo was amazing and we thank his service. For long term vision and preparing another transition for another young GK would probably hurting our winning cycle. I feel we just have to make TS the first choice and give him chance to continually playing. If this season he is not meet expectation as first choice GK, I would support the club to sell him and find another GK. But just give him a full seasons to play to prove his worth and potential. first.

  20. And I have following Barca for more than 20 years. It’s really not easy to find a GK for Barca for long term and consistent service. After Zubi spell ended in 1994 (he played 8 seasons for us), we need another 8 seasons to promote young Valdes in 2002 that stayed with the first team for 12 seasons since he promoted.

    During those 8 seasons transition from Zubi to Valdes, we have changed 5 goalkeepers (Rustu Recber, Bonano, Dutruel, Hesp and Baia) and none of them serve longer than 2 seasons. And I remember some of them were jokes. And we were not “so weak team” during that period. We have the “whole” Netherland NT under Van Gaal, Brazilian Ronaldo, Rivaldo even the seniors in Lucho and Pep.

    I personally hope we dont have to endure another long period to find a sustainable player to be our long serving GK after Valdes. I’m not sure Bravo would stay with us for the next 2 or 3 seasons as his age concern. Now we have the young TS that have potential to be our current and future GK. Just he doesnt have enough playing time to prove it. I think would be wise for the club and Lucho to trust him a full season to show his full potential as Barca GK.

    PS: Pep, dont you dare to touch TS. Cheers.

  21. MD reports Bravo is close to agreeing on personal terms with City, who need a goalkeeper who is comfortable with passing the ball. This would be ironic, considering that not being good enough with his feet is the decisive reason many culés prefer Ter Stegen.

    I don’t have a problem with MATS being our GK for the future, I just wished he would earn his place on current merit instead. If both stay, MATS will get his chance soon enough.

    1. Well, somewhat ironic, but it’s all about comparison. Not good enough is only in comparison to MAtS. Pep does not (can’t?) want to pay 80 million for a keeper. And Bravo would still be a better sweeper-keeper than City’s current goalies.

      In principle, I agree with your sentiment that merit should be the decisive factor. But on the other hand the current situation is not sound and perhaps there, after all, is a need to keep an eye on the future. I LE feels ter Stegen has improved, and still is, it might be time to make the choice.

    2. I agree TS must earn his place. And I think he has earned his place. If he didnt deserve to play, the coach wouldnt play TS in importat CL ko and final. vs Juventus, semis vs Bayern and so on. He would just play CL qroup stage and some CDR matches agaisnt minnow team. Never seen a 2nd GK played the important final when the first choice GK fit or not being sent off

      I think the coaching team never meant to make TS as no 2. choice. Both are qualify for no 1 GK. But time has come to make a decision. No one would happy with this situation. Someone must go as both dont want to accept the rotation or switching role

  22. Lineup for tonight :

    Barcelona line-up vs Sevilla: Bravo, Roberto, Pique, Mascherano, Mathieu, Iniesta, Busquets, Rakitic, Messi, L.Suarez, Turan #fcblive

    Hmm, interesting. LE has gone back to the tried and tested. Doesn’t seem to have paid a lot of attention to the preseason form. That might be his character note for the season.

    1. Who would you have preferred, Jim? Digne? (he looks good after coming on, I must say.). I would think LE is using this game as a glorified pre-season match to give the regulars a good run. The newbies will be eased in by and by.

      First half not brilliant (as expected) – Messi is still a brilliant player (though sloppy at times today), Luis can still squander great chances and run plenty, the CBs looks solid and Roberto, too. Busi looks very sluggish, still… Arda cannot make things happen properly. Slow, I’m afraid, in feet, thought and passing. Needs to shape up.

      Hoping for that Iniesta-knock to be nothing. Denis, show us you want it,

    2. I’m a huge admirer of Mathieu at CB ( I’m loving the new freedom he seems to have been given to bring the ball forward to break a press) but for me, despite being a lot better there than folk give him credit for, the LB position puts too much of a physical demand on him and it exposes his passing a little because of the tighter angles. So, yes, I’d have Digne his chance although they’re all at different stages of fitness so you have to go with LE’s knowledge of the situation. As it turns out he picked up an unforeseeable injury

      Tbf, Arda’s skill for the first goal was awesome and a great ball in by Denis ( although he’s not really convincing me overall at the moment) ). My major worry isL as you say, Busi. He still doesn’t look sharp and as a result he’s resorting more to trying to draw fouls. I’m sure it’ll come though. Loving SR’s work rate. Pity he’s not very quick but then not many of our team are.

      Main thing for me was how toothless Sevilla looked. They put the numbers forward to press our defence but didn’t seem able to do anything with it. Says a lot when their best chance was Masche thumping the ball against their forward. Bravo saved the bacon there. Could be a long season for them, I’m thinking.

    3. I guess Sevilla are still recovering from the loss of Gameiro, and Vietto did certainly nothing to make us regret he did not join us… if they can find a little more edge (they were resting some regulars, I believe), they might be a threat (for position 4-5), as I think the team looked pretty good otherwise.

      SR is not fast, but I liked what I saw. I might be wrong, but it seems he and Messi are beginning to find each other a little better. We have to accept there will be a loss of creativity with Alves gone, but SR brings other things to the table (and had a few good forward runs!); to me, it’s a bit up to Rakitic to fill that void and be a bit more attacking-minded. Denis won some and lost some, still has some way to go, but I’m optimistic – some great passes, though he his a bit thin defensively at times. For now, I still he can provide energy and creativity off the bench, and will have to fight it out with Gomez for when Iniesta needs a rest or is injured (like now).

      Concerning Mathieu, I don’t think he will have many outings on the left from now on; Alba will still be no. 1 for now, and Digne showed enough to actually challenge the current hierarchy. Encouraging.

  23. Good victory, so we start the season with a cup, once again!
    That first goal was all about Arda, and LS went on to a CResque celebration, which I didnt like. Arda was left there alone until Busquets and someone else came to him. LS should learn from Leo, who always first try and point to his assister, especially when the ball is laid on a plate like Arda did yday.
    Digne is going to be a star. He will improve in attacking, but his defending is already better than Alba. SR too had some lovely runs.

  24. Digne is great, so far so good, everything that he did these few games have been worth a place in the starting line-up. Still, Alba will be the Nr.1 for now, but i guess LE will use them the way he does with MTS and Bravo.
    Umtiti will also be a great addition, along with Denis Suarez. Both will get a lot of minutes to prove how good they are.

  25. Sport-english is going crazy saying , Cesc could leave chelsea for real madrid. Bravo leaving is giving me a strange kinda vibe. MAts should be ready for serious backlash from the fans if he doesn’t bring his A game, he wont be forgiven for hounding out Bravo.

  26. The club has made a decision to sell bravo. I “personally” support the decision. I hv no problem w/bravo but the decision hv to be made and the coach hv put their faith on TS. Am confident TS would meet barca expectation as I never feel we are weaker defensively when TS play compare to when bravo on the goal which some opine bravo instill more confident.

    Good luck for bravo with city and pep. Thank you for your service.

    Diego alves from valencia reported close to join us as no 2 gk. If we got him. That a really good option. Veteran with experince in liga. Fit for playing cdr games for TS to rest. Our transfer business is almost done. Get the backup keeper and decide on the 4 th striker. And we are ready to roar the liga.

  27. Barça has already had a brilliant transfer summer, of the type that we used to witness from other clubs and shake our heads with envy.

    The team has not only depth, but quality depth. And don’t forget that the second-best player in the world, along with an excellent attacking mid, are still not with the club.

    Should rumors of the massive, four-player deal come to pass, Barça woukd have the best squad in Europe. Buzz is that Alcacer and Diego Alves come to us, while Munir, Samper and some cash go to them. We’ll see.

    And with Bravo, what a piece of business. 25m for an almost 33-year-old keeper, and almost double what the club paid for him. There is the usual snarking on Barça Twitter about the club being shit at selling from people focused on his clause rather than reality. But it’s a potential deal where everybody wins: City get a keeper who is good with his feet,,Barça resolve the keeper issue and nail down the incumbent for the next decade, and Bravo gets a starting gig. The rare transfer where everybody is happy.

    Digne has been brilliant. Again on Barça Twitter i took some stick for lauding the Digne transfer, calling him a taller, stronger, more circumspect Alba, which has been what he is. Alba will have to raise his game, or Digne will sit him like Sergi Roberto did Aleix Vidal.

    Can’t wait for Wednesday.

  28. Bravo to City is certainly a solution. I would have much preferred Ter Stegen to earn his spot rather than to threaten his way into being our starting goalkeeper, but at the risk of losing a GK who could grow into a very solid number one for years to come, this might very well be the best solution. I certainly hope Ter Stegen lives up to people’s expectations.

    Regarding Bravo’s transfer fee, 25M is already better than the rumored 20M. I hope they add some variables as well. Consider the following:
    Bravo is Barça’s first GK
    Bravo is coming off of two seasons during which he has performed at an elite level
    Bravo’s the current Copa America holder (two consecutive titles)
    Man City are replacing Joe Hart, who’s been their starting GK for years now.
    Man City are absolutely loaded

    Not sure whether I would spend 10M on Diego Alves (who I like and for whom 10M would be extremely good value) or whether we should just give the backup spot to Jordi Masip, who loves and understands our club and who had always been admired by many when defending the Barça B goal.

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