When Lucas Digne told reporters after Barcelona's 0-0 draw with Juventus that Marc-Andre Ter Stegen is "the best goalkeeper in the world right now," he was not just reacting to an excellent performance with a spur-of-the-moment comment. The full-back actually believes the Barca shot-stopper is currently outperforming every other goalkeeper in the world and, despite claims to the contrary, he is probably right.
Ter Stegen has been a revelation at Camp Nou this season, exceeding expectations with fantastic showings in both La Liga and the Champions League. Ernesto Valverde's side have conceded just seven goals in 16 league games, and an unstoppable late header from Dimitris Nikolaou for Olympiacos was the only effort to breach the Barcelona goal in the Champions League group stage.
Despite early success as a rotation option with Claudio Bravo as Barcelona looked for a successor to Victor Valdes, Ter Stegen was not highly rated at Camp Nou. He helped Barca to a treble in his first season at the club, but played in just the Copa del Rey and Champions League as Bravo played every minute in La Liga. He played seven league games in 2015-16, but it was not until Bravo left for Manchester City that he was offered the chance to become the club's true number one.
Early in the season, it looked as if Ter Stegen might have cost himself the starting job with a pair of mistakes against Celta Vigo, but the Germany international was adamant that he would not alter his sweeper-keeper approach after allowing the late winner because of a poor short pass.
"We fought until the end, but the goal is my fault, I am really sorry for the team for what happened," Ter Stegen told beIN Sports. "Although this has happened, I will not change my game. It has only happened once."
Ter Stegen's style has not changed, but the error has seen the 25-year-old improve his decision-making. He has continued to play as a sweeper keeper, which helped Barcelona pull off one of the greatest ever Champions League comebacks against PSG last season, and this year has helped Valverde's transitionary side build from the back. In both La Liga and the Champions League, he has yet to make a mistake when playing out of defence, attempting 30 passes a game and completing over 80 per cent of them.
His quick feet have also led to the German pulling off stops that few goalkeepers in the world could replicate, including a brilliant double-save against Antoine Griezmann as Barcelona came away from Wanda Metropolitano with a point against Atletico Madrid. In the dying moments against Juventus, Ter Stegen denied Paulo Dybala to earn the "best goalkeeper in the world" praise from Digne, and his progression has ensured that saves like the excellent one-handed stop against Villarreal's Roberto Soriano are almost taken for granted.
For Germany, he has stepped seamlessly into the shoes of preferred goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, who has been sidelined through injury. After a mistake by Bernd Leno in the opening game of the Confederations Cup, Joachim Low decided to give Ter Stegen the chance to claim the starting job, and he did so in style, including a man-of-the-match performance in the 1-0 win over Chile in the final.
By the time the World Cup comes around, it may be difficult for Neuer to win his place back, such is the form of Ter Stegen, while perhaps only David De Gea can claim to be performing on a similar level this season.
Is Ter Stegen the best goalkeeper in the world right now? If he's not at the top, then he's surely very close.