With goalkeeping rotation becoming a common occurrence in football today, teams often preferring to use one in cup competitions and another in the league, situations frequently arise where the starting 'keeper is speculated in the build up to a big game, especially cup finals.
In fact, just a year ago, another Spanish giant in the form of Real Madrid faced a similar dilemma, with Carlo Ancelotti having to pick between cup choice Iker Casillas and the preferred league 'keeper Diego Lopez. They went with the former and the rest is history - La Decima was achieved. Should Luis Enrique do the same with Barcelona this weekend, or stick with the consistency of Bravo?
A few months ago, it's highly doubtful that this would have been a tough question for Enrique to answer. Ter Stegen was showing his inexperience far too much in between the sticks for Barcelona, making errors on a regular basis in both the Copa del Rey and the Champions League. He was flapping at crosses, shying out of challenges for the ball and palming shots right back into the danger area, proving exactly why he was viewed as the number two choice at the club, behind Bravo. Meanwhile, Bravo was answering every question posed by a La Liga opponent. Reliable in goal, remaining focused to make great saves even when he had been given little to do all game, the Chilean international was a key part of the Barcelona side who would eventually go on to win the league.
Fast forward to now, and things have changed dramatically. Admittedly, little is different in Bravo's department, with him remaining as consistent as ever despite not featuring in Barcelona's final league game, in which youngster Jordi Masip got a run out, but ter Stegen's form is currently marvellous. In just a couple of months, the young German has matured rapidly, learning with each game that has passed, especially from the mistakes he has made. Enrique was extremely clever in choosing ter Stegen as his cup 'keeper, as opportunities have allowed him to learn from errors that have frequently gone unpunished in games against lower sides, mainly in the Copa del Rey, whilst gaining top level experience by playing in the Champions League too. The manager's faith in his attack is perhaps a huge factor, with the amount of goals they concede rarely a problem with Luis Suárez, Neymar and Lionel Messi leading the line, but, regardless, his decision to gift ter Stegen such important chances will prove to be a telling influence in the development of the goalkeeper's promising career.
The second leg of Barcelona's Champions League semi-final against Bayern Munich was the game which really highlighted ter Stegen's talent in bold. His agility, athleticism and wonderful footwork were all perfectly showcased in one of the most enthralling games of the year as Bayern put on a spirited performance to try and overcome a devastating 3-0 loss in the first leg. Had it not been for ter Stegen, then the German champions may have turned the game around, but the goalkeeper made some simply incredible saves, including a one-handed stop that was followed up by a quick change of direction and a sprint a few yards backwards towards his goal, where he clawed the ball from off the line in, undoubtedly, the save of the season. His performance at the Allianz Arena that night was absolutely world-class and it came in the biggest game of his and Barcelona's season, before eventually leading to the side's place in the Champions League final. His contributions in getting to Berlin have increased in significance and quality as the weeks have passed, and it would certainly be cruel to take what is arguably his rightful place in the starting line-up, with him being the cup goalkeeper, away from him now.
As aforementioned though, ter Stegen has been known for making mistakes this season. Whilst he held his nerve in the semi-final, playing in the Champions League final brings with it huge pressure and expectation, the likes of which he is not as accustomed to in comparison to Bravo. Aged 32, Bravo has played at two World Cups and two Copa Americas for his country and led Barcelona to a La Liga title this season with a whopping 23 clean sheets in 37 games. He was a stand-out performer for Chile as they turned heads in Brazil last summer, and his experienced head and calm nerves would be extremely useful in such a huge game this Saturday. Having played so many games, he has a great relationship with the back four too and his communication with them is arguably better than ter Stegen's given the lack of a language barrier.
However, looking at Bravo's season in more detail, he has struggled to keep the big teams at bay. In games against the rest of the final top six this season (Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid, Valencia, Sevilla and Villarreal), Bravo kept just four out of an available 10 clean sheets, conceding 10 goals. This suggests that his initially impressive clean sheet tally is misleading, as in the games that matter he has certainly not been as effective as his average of 0.51 goals conceded per game suggests. It's one thing to keep a clean sheet when your team knock six, seven or eight past a bottom half side, it's another to achieve the same feat when facing Italian champions Juventus in the biggest club football match in the world.
In comparison, ter Stegen has kept six clean sheets in 12 Champions League games, conceding 10 goals in the process. APOEL were kept out in both group games against Barcelona and Ajax drew a blank on their own patch against the German 'keeper, before he managed to secure a clean sheet against Manchester City at the Nou Camp, whilst seeing the same target reached at home to both Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern. Though Bravo is the more experienced goalkeeper in general, ter Stegen's recent growth in confidence has propelled him to great heights in the latter stages of the tournament, with three clean sheets in six knockout games a record that shows he knows what he is doing and is comfortable on the big stage. Based on his recent performances and the manner of them, one would suggest the 23-year-old is ready to take the field in Berlin and show the world that he is worthy of a Champions League winners' medal.
The use of two goalkeepers has worked wonders for Enrique and his side this season. With both alternating and showing the other what they can do, competitiveness for the number one spot has increased and brought the best out of both stoppers, especially towards the end of the season. Ter Stegen won the Copa del Rey, Bravo won the league, and now both will be fighting over a starting berth for the game which presents the season's third and final chance of a medal. Bravo has been consistently good and a reliable final line of defence in the league, but ter Stegen's recent performances suggest he is capable of a standard much higher. He is confident, talented and clearly, and understandably, full of belief in his own ability. His potential is limitless, with him on target to become a world-class goalkeeper if he continues to develop at this rate. His outstanding moments of brilliance, as opposed to Bravo's constantly good but nothing much more levels, and important role played in reaching the Champions League final should see him retain his number one spot this Saturday, and Juventus are going to have to be as clinical as ever to prevent him from securing another clean sheet.