Jan Oblak and Marc-André ter Stegen go glove-to-glove as two of the finest keepers in the world meet this Sunday at the summit of Spanish football.
It's a top-of-the-table LaLiga clash at the Wanda Metropolitano as Atlético de Madrid host Barcelona and, fittingly, a couple of the game's greatest custodians will be between the sticks.
Atlético’s Jan Oblak has won the ‘Zamora’ trophy as LaLiga’s best goalkeeper in each of the last four seasons, while Barça’s Marc-Andre ter Stegen has won four of the last five LaLiga trophies after consolidating his position between the posts at the Camp Nou.
Since arriving together in LaLiga in summer 2014, Oblak and Ter Stegen have wowed their own fans and neutrals worldwide with their tremendous reflexes, outstanding reading of the game and amazing consistency in avoiding costly mistakes. Both have become real leaders of their teams and widely acknowledged as among the best in the world in their position.
Former Benfica shot-stopper Oblak has kept a quite remarkable 95 clean sheets in 167 LaLiga games, conceding fewer goals than anybody else each year from 2014/15 through to 2018/19. Now 26 years old, the 1.88 metres tall Slovenia international has if anything improved his level through 2019/20, with miraculous saves already this season in games against Athletic Club and Real Madrid, among others.
This means that despite often fielding a back four made up entirely of players who joined the club last summer, Atletico has LaLiga’s joint-meanest defence so far with just nine goals conceded in 14 games. It is with good reason that one of Atletico fans’ favourite songs is ‘Obli, Oblak, cada día te quiero más’ [Obli, Oblak, every day I love you more].
On arrival at Barcelona from Borussia Moenchengladbach, ter Stegen spent a year understudying Claudio Bravo in LaLiga before becoming an undisputed starter for the Blaugrana outfit in all competitions. The 1.87m tall Germany international has kept 54 clean sheets in 128 LaLiga games and besides his four LaLiga trophies ter Stegen has also won 10 other trophies with Barça including the 2015 Champions League.
ter Stegen's calmness and passing ability with his feet allows Ernesto Valverde's team to build moves from the back, with another characteristic being a unique ability to spread himself 'handball-style' to make point-blank saves. The laidback character has also embraced the streetlife of the Catalan capital, as followers of his social media accounts will know. Blaugrana supporters also respect his willingness to speak publicly about where the team can improve when required.
Oblak has won three trophies with Atletico – the 2014 Spanish Super Cup, 2018 Europa League and 2018 UEFA Super Cup – with the rojiblancos’ last LaLiga title coming in 2013/14 just before he joined. He has 28 caps for Slovenia but has not yet played at a major final for his country.
During their time in Spain, the pair have met in LaLiga on seven occasions. ter Stegen has the better record so far with four Barça wins and three draws, plus clean sheets at the Camp Nou in both of the last two seasons. Quite remarkably, Oblak has kept at least one clean sheet against 26 of the 27 different clubs faced in LaLiga with Atletico… Barça is the only side remaining on his list.
Such records are there to be broken and Sunday's LaLiga clash offers another opportunity for both goalkeepers to show their talents on the biggest stage. Both Barça visits over the last two seasons have finished 1-1 and another tight encounter is likely, meaning the game could well be decided by which of Oblak and ter Stegen is at their most inspired on the night.
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