Barcelona. Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen is so highly regarded at the club for his outstanding footwork but on Saturday (28/10) he demonstrated he is also a top-class shot stopper in a decisive display his side's 2-0 win at Athletic Bilbao.
The German international repeatedly came to Barca's rescue in a typically grueling game at the atmospheric San Mames stadium as 17 shots flew at his goal over the course of the game, and he thwarted Athletic's top scorer Aritz Aduriz on four separate occasions.
The Liga leaders were only able to withstand an early onslaught from the Basques thanks to ter Stegen, who flew to his right to repel an Aduriz header in the 17th minute. Moments later he denied the veteran striker from point blank range after the visiting defense had been caught out by a chipped pass.
Lionel Messi eventually gave Barca the lead nine minutes before halftime but Athletic continued to rain shots down on ter Stegen's area after the break.
The goalkeeper made his most impressive intervention with six minutes remaining, stooping low to his near post to claw away a close range header from Aduriz.
Brazilian midfielder Paulinho put an extra shine on a closely fought victory for Barca by tapping in the second goal in injury time.
"A huge part of this win belongs to him, he's playing at a great level and was vital in making sure we won the game," said Barca midfielder Sergio Busquets in praise of ter Stegen.
"We're happy to have him with us and once again he was decisive in those big moments, at 0-0 and then 1-0 in the final minutes, which would have led to a draw."
Ter Stegen arrived at Barca from Borussia Monchengladbach in 2014 as the long term replacement for Victor Valdes but had to battle with Chilean Claudio Bravo for two seasons before becoming the club’s undisputed number one custodian.
He had teething problems and was ridiculed at times for his wild rushes from his area which have cost Barca in the past. One of his worst performances came at San Mames when his current coach Ernesto Valverde was in charge of Athletic, who thrashed the Catalans 4-0 in the Spanish Super Cup in 2015.
'In Safe Hands'
He has been one of Barca's most decisive players this season, however, also coming to his side's rescue in closely fought games against Getafe and Atletico Madrid and helping his side take a joint-record 28 points from their first 10 games.
The German was on Sunday hailed as "Super ter Stegen" on the cover of Spanish newspaper Sport, while daily Mundo Deportivo declared Barca were "in safe hands" thanks to him.
"To win here you have to suffer, that's how it is," said Barca coach Valverde.
"It's the law of San Mames. It's what they say and when I was here on the other side we made the opposition suffer until the very end."