El Clasico: Will Ter Stegen's drop-off be problematic for Barcelona against Real Madrid?

Marc-Andre ter Stegen has not been at the same superhuman levels in the Barcelona goal this season (Credit: IMAGO/Ricardo Larreina Amador)

El Clasico: Will Ter Stegen's drop-off be problematic for Barcelona against Real Madrid?

Seye Omidiora 09:51 - 27.10.2023

Barcelona are conceding more shots, and Marc-Andre ter Stegen is not keeping them out as reliably as he did last season. Could these mar the Blaugrana’s prospects in this season’s first Clasico?

Much of Barcelona’s LaLiga success last season revolved around Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, and whatever Xavi’s team achieve this term could depend on their German goalkeeper.

That point of view could be termed controversial by some and accepted by others, but the notion is not entirely out of place. 

Barcelona won LaLiga for the first time in four last term, and it was arguably Ter Stegen’s finest campaign since the 2018-19 season, also the last time the Blaugrana reigned supreme domestically.

Ter Stegen
Ter Stegen was arguably Barcelona's best player in last season's LaLiga triumph (Credit:IMAGO/nogueirafoto)

Admittedly, it would be rudimentary to put Barca’s Liga underperformance over those years to one player, ignoring the club’s broader identity crisis, the loss of Lionel Messi, financial struggles and off-field peccadillos that surrounded the club — and still do — until their 27th league title.

Nevertheless, it cannot be a coincidence that Barca’s LaLiga wins have also come when Ter Stegen has maintained a high level throughout the season.

Excluding the 2016-17 season, advanced analytics from Fbref reveal that the former Borussia Monchengladbach goalie maintained peak shot-stopping levels in 2017-18, the following season and 2022-23. Barca claimed league titles in those three campaigns.

Ter Stegen
Barcelona tend to win LaLiga whenever Ter Stegen plays at a high level (Source: Fbref)

Ter Stegen’s impressive 2022-23

Last season was peculiar for Xavi’s men, whose eye-catching defensive record was second to none for much of the year.

Seven of the 20 goals Barcelona conceded in LaLiga came when the title was in the bag after they beat Espanyol 4-2 in the 34th round. Thus, from the first gameweek until the 33rd, Ter Stegen conceded 11 goals.

However, the eye test demonstrated something different. Barcelona’s backline was probably not as outstanding as the numbers suggested — 25 clean sheets in 33 league games — but Ter Stegen’s brilliance and intermittent suboptimal finishing from opponents elevated Xavi’s men. 

The German prevented nearly nine goals based on the quality of shots faced, unsurprisingly the most for any goalie in LaLiga and the third behind Bernd Leno and Alisson Becker in Europe’s top-five leagues

The upshot of 18 league goals conceded (Barca conceded a goal each after Ter Stegen was taken off against Real Valladolid and Celta Vigo) was the goalkeeper’s first Zamora Trophy. It was well-earned, too.

Ter Stegen
Ter Stegen was last season's top shot-stopper in LaLiga (Credit: IMAGO/IPA Sport)

Those lofty standards were unlikely to be maintained this term, and Barcelona's backline has creaked far too many times in 2023-24 heading into Saturday’s El Clasico.

Ter Stegen’s drop-off in 2023-24

Barcelona are still undefeated after 10 games in LaLiga, but they are conceding a goal a game, already letting in 50% of last season’s tally before hosting Real Madrid

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Xavi’s team conceded two goals or more six times in 22-23, with two of those games seeing the Blaugrana let in three goals. However, this happened at the backend of the season when Barcelona were all but confirmed as champions.

Barca conceded two goals in the 4-2 derby victory over Espanyol on May 14, the team’s title-deciding game, subsequently against Real Sociedad and Celta and three at Valladolid.

This term, Ter Stegen has conceded twice on three occasions and let in three in that rip-roaring 4-3 triumph at Villarreal in gameweek three.

Ter Stegen
Ter Stegen conceded three times at Villarreal (Credit: IMAGO/Photo Players Images)

Analysing the goals Ter Stegen has conceded in 2023-24

Admittedly, the Germany international could do little about Juan Foyth’s header for the Yellow Submarine’s first and Alejandro Baena’s well-placed goal for the home side’s third. But there may be disappointment at not cutting out Alfonso Pedraza’s ball across for Alexander Sorloth’s goal (Villarreal’s second).

That Sorloth equaliser brought Villarreal level, as did Chimy Avila’s 76th-minute stunner for Osasuna in gameweek four, a game Barcelona eventually claimed 2-1. 

Ter Stegen was unsighted when the Argentinean struck the ball, and the effort going around Jules Kounde made it doubly difficult for the shot-stopper.

Barcelona conceded twice against Celta on the final day of the season when the title was sewn up, but letting in the same to trail 2-0 in round six was alarming. 

Ter Stegen could not be faulted for both goals, with the team’s structure and high defensive line allowing for the concession of those chances. Xavi's side fought back to win 3-2, nonetheless.

However, the 30-year-old was responsible for the first goal conceded in the 2-2 draw with Mallorca, while the second was debatable.

Ter Stegen conceded possession with an errant pass intended for Oriol Romeu

Ter Stegen
Ter Stegen gave the ball away with a misplaced pass for Oriol Romeu (white oval)

...and Mallorca scored from the resulting turnover.

The home side’s second was six of one and half a dozen of the other, with Abdon Prats poking the ball past the goalkeeper after Vedat Muriqi helped on Predrag Rajkovic’s long ball upfield.

The analysis is two-sided: Barcelona’s high line meant Ter Stegen’s starting position off his goal line was expected. However, if he chose to retreat to his goal or not commit, it would have been harder for Prats to score, especially as Ronald Araujo seemed to match the striker stride for stride.

On the other hand, a save would have seen Ter Stegen receive praise for his proactive goalkeeping.

In Barca’s 2-2 draw with Granada before the international break, the Blaugrana goalkeeper conceded twice to Byran Zaragoza. 

Ter Stegen seemed to have made a hash of the forward’s first goal in real-time, but replays showed the bounce just before it reached the goalkeeper, making the shot awkward.

Zaragoza’s second came about after leaving Kounde for dead before firing into the roof of Ter Stegen’s goal.

Barcelona allowing more shots on target this season (3.40 per 90) than their title-winning year (2.68 p90) validates the eye test, effectively an upshot of intermittent opponent quality, an aggressive defence line that has been exploited a few times and individual mistakes.

Ter Stegen made zero errors leading to goals throughout last season, but the 30-year-old has been culpable in one goal conceded and has understandably not matched the superhuman heights of 2022-23.

The German goalkeeper and those around him must turn the tide promptly.