When Victor Valdes left Barcelona, there was genuine concern that the Catalans were never going to find anyone as good as he, and for a season or so it looked like those concerns were justified with Claudio Bravo never really winning the critics over.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen had appeared sporadically in the cup competitions but hadn’t convinced either.
Eventually, after a stuttering start and a few harsh lessons learned, the German began to come into his own.
Adept with both feet, a pre-requisite for any Barca keeper, he was a highly-skilled shot stopper and commanded his area with aplomb.
Thanks to Manuel Neuer’s injury, he also got a deserved run in the German national team, but then was canned going into the World Cup by Joachim Low, a decision that came back to bite him when Neuer performed well below bar.
At the beginning of this campaign, two clean sheets to start the season, against Alaves and Valladolid, meant it was business as usual for the custodian, but the two goals conceded against Huesca in the next match hinted at what was to come.
Since that game back at the beginning of September, ter Stegen has only managed two further clean sheets.
PSV Eindhoven and Inter in the Champions League didn’t manage to breach the Barca rearguard, but the same can’t be said for the likes of Rayo, Betis, Girona, Leganes and Athletic Club.
Against Atletico Madrid on Saturday, he was 11 minutes away from a shut out but then didn’t stand tall when Diego Costa powered his header goalwards, and conceded again.
Had he stood upright on his line, it was an easy save, but anticipating a header downwards was his biggest error.
In La Liga, the Catalans have already let in 19 goals. Aside from the bottom three, only Real Madrid (19), Celta Vigo (20) and Levante (21) compare in terms of how poor their defences, and by association, their keepers, have been.
That might be a little harsh on ter Stegen but he’s a long way from the goalkeeper he was in the previous campaign.
When your long-range kicking and accuracy are your best asset, there’s something amiss, though he will be as disappointed as anyone.
Fortunately for the reigning champions, they’re still very much in the mix a third of the way through the season, and even a couple more positive results would’ve seen them well clear at the summit.
Jasper Cillessen has waited for his turn patiently for over a season, and with the Dutchman looking good with his national side recently, a few more under-par performances from ter Stegen could see Cillessen finally get his chance to impress.
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