Another Lionel Messi hat-trick, another Barcelona win. That was the story at the weekend as Barca racked up five goals to beat Real Sociedad at the Camp Nou, ensuring that the Catalans remained at the top of La Liga.
Coming on the back of another Messi masterclass against Atletico Madrid, this was all the justification one could ever need that the six-time Ballon d'Or winner remains at the top of the footballing tree. Indeed, Messi has made a habit of dragging Barca through these sort of games, but resist the temptation to call them a one-man team.
That would be doing a disservice to Marc-Andre Ter Stegen. The German was central to getting Barca over the line against Atletico and great performances between the sticks from the 27-year-old have become the norm over the past two seasons. Were it not for the man who famously wears Barcelona’s number 10 shirt, Ter Stegen would be the Catalans’ most important player, winning them more points over the course of the season than anyone else. He certainly contributed to the three points gathered at the Wanda Metropolitano and has done so on countless other occasions over recent times.
Despite this, Ter Stegen still isn’t certain of his place as Germany’s first-choice goalkeeper. A power struggle between the DFB and Bayern Munich has politicised the issue, with the latter threatening to block their players from accepting call-ups if Manuel Neuer is replaced. On merit, though, Ter Stegen deserves to be Germany’s number one.
Ter Stegen: 2
Ter Stegen has been Neuer’s understudy for a long time, but now he has replaced his former mentor as the world’s best goalkeeper. David De Gea, Jan Oblak, Alisson Becker, Ederson, Thibaut Courtois… the German is better than them all, making the extraordinary look routine on a weekly basis.
He is the perfect modern goalkeeper - good with his feet as well as a good communicator. If Ter Stegen has one flaw it is in his occasional vulnerability from crosses, but his other qualities mean that he is very rarely caught in such a position. The 27-year-old might not be as brazen as Neuer was under Pep Guardiola at Bayern, but he isn’t just integral to Barcelona as a shot-stopper, but as the first line of their outfield team as well. He even has more league assists this season than Cristiano Ronaldo does for Juventus.
It’s unlikely Ter Stegen will ever win the Ballon d’Or (such is the prejudice against goalkeepers when it comes to individual awards in football), unlike his Barca teammate Messi. But the German is almost as important to the Catalans as the man who picked up his sixth golden ball last week. Ter Stegen, just like Messi, is the best around at his craft.