Liverpool are looking to add to their goalkeeper ranks in January, if reports are to be believed, and given new manager Jurgen Klopp's Teutonic roots, the Reds have been rather unsurprisingly linked with a pair of German stoppers in Cologne's Timo Horn and Barcelona No. 1 Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
That two goalkeepers of this calibre are rumoured to be attracting the interest of Klopp following his arrival on Merseyside could spell trouble for current first choice Simon Mignolet.
Despite a string of solid performances under the 48-year-old, Mignolet remains a problematic selection as Liverpool's long-term custodian.
The Belgian is an accomplished shot-stopper, with his strong reflexes and commanding of the goal line helping the Reds to keep a clean sheet in October's 0-0 draw with Tottenham Hotspur—Klopp's first game in charge—but he has proved to struggle elsewhere.
The quality and craft of his distribution, for example, often hampers Liverpool's ability to launch swift counter-attacking moves, while he lacks the authority to dominate the penalty area when claiming crosses and set pieces.
With Mamadou Sakho currently injured and facing up to two months on the sidelines, Klopp's side are lacking an organisational presence, with Mignolet's poor communicative skills bestowing that responsibility to the unqualified Martin Skrtel—with Scott Dann's winner in Liverpool's last outing, a 2-1 defeat at home to Crystal Palace, serving as evidence of the flaws of this approach.
The term "crisis of confidence" seems tailored for Klopp's current goalkeeper.
As both Horn and Ter Stegen are rumoured to be in his sights with Liverpool heading towards the January transfer window, it may be that Klopp has concluded that, for the Reds to become regular top-four challengers, they will need another first-choice goalkeeper.
So which is the better option for Liverpool: Horn or Ter Stegen?
Horn was linked, by the Mail's Simon Jones, with a move to Aston Villa over the summer, with Jones claiming that "Tim Sherwood has concerns over Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan," suggesting that both Brentford's David Button and Orjan Nyland of Norwegian Tippeligaen side Molde were also targets for the former Villans manager.
But with Sherwood instead opting to sign Norwich City's Mark Bunn on a free transfer, Horn avoided the misfortune of joining the Premier League's relegation favourites as mere "competition" to Guzan.
Now, as talkSPORT relay word from German publication Bild, he is now attracting interest from the Reds, writing that Klopp "has been an admirer of Horn since his time in charge of Borussia Dortmund and is now weighing up a move for the 22-year-old."
Horn is said to have a release clause of around £6.5 million in his current contract, which would represent great business for the Reds, as the Germany U21 international is one of the rising stars of the Bundesliga.
Like Mignolet, who became first-choice goalkeeper with Belgian Second Division outfit Sint-Truiden at the age of 18, Horn started his senior career early. Joining Cologne at the age of nine, Horn spent nine years with the club's academy and reserve ranks before being promoted as the club's first-choice goalkeeper in 2012 by Holger Stanislawski, following the departures of both Michael Rensing and Miro Varvodic.
With Cologne having suffered relegation from the Bundesliga in 2012, Horn's apprenticeship began in the German second tier, 2. Bundesliga, and proved the perfect testing ground for the young talent.
Horn kept 11 clean sheets in 33 league games in 2012/13, conceding 33 goals as Cologne finished fifth, stabilising their position ahead of a renewed push for promotion in the following campaign, with 2013/14 heralding title success as Horn kept 16 clean sheets in 32 appearances, conceding just 18 goals.
Cologne had reaffirmed their status in the Bundesliga, and this was largely due to Horn's performances in goal.
The team's rise from 2. Bundesliga hopefuls to a mid-table Bundesliga side mirrors that of Horn in the No. 1 shirt, with the Cologne-born goalkeeper undergoing a significant development following Stanislawski's initial show of faith.
"I’m too quiet on the pitch. I want to be louder and I want more to come out of me," he said in 2012, as reported by FourFourTwo's Alex Chaffer last year, highlighting Horn's timid nature on his promotion in 2012/13—he had the raw ability to shine but lacked the confidence to truly impose himself.
Now, one of Horn's key qualities is his composure and authority in the penalty area, with his 6'4" frame allowing him to tower above attackers to make vital catches and decisive punches, as well as booming instructions to his defenders. This aggressive approach promotes calm among the Cologne defence, but when attackers do breach their ranks, Horn's shot-stopping ability allows him to quell dangerous openings.
The 22-year-old has averaged 3.17 saves per 90 minutes in the Bundesliga so far this season, the third most of any goalkeeper in the German top flight, while his average of 2.11 saves per goal is significantly higher than that of Mignolet (1.36).
Horn remains a work in progress, however, with his passing ability relatively untested given the more direct nature of the Bundesliga. This season, the 22-year-old has completed just 59.9 percent of his passes, suggesting that he would require a period of adjustment before thriving in a possession-based system such as Klopp's.
However, as with Ter Stegen, Horn remains a young goalkeeper with huge scope for development.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen
Following the departure of long-serving first choice Victor Valdes, Barcelona's decision to sign a relatively untested Ter Stegen in 2014 came as something of a shock, despite regular links between the then-Borussia Monchengladbach man and the Catalans over the previous two years.
Replacing an experienced international goalkeeper such as Valdes with a 22-year-old was a bold move by the La Liga side, but with Ter Stegen enjoying significant growth as a potentially world-class goalkeeper with Monchengladbach, it was a calculated gamble.
Signing a five-year deal with Barcelona ahead of the 2014/15 season, Ter Stegen was handed the No. 1 shirt and set his sights on a swift transition as Enrique's first-choice goalkeeper.
"Victor Valdes is an extraordinary goalkeeper who has done so much for this club. He's performed so well for so many years and won so many titles," he said shortly after his arrival, as relayed by FourFourTwo. "But he's not here anymore and I am. I know what my job is—Barca have chosen me and I'm very proud of that."
This confidence was undermined a month later, however, by the signing of Claudio Bravo, who was installed as Barcelona's La Liga goalkeeper, in an intriguing move by Enrique only vindicated by the Chilean's strong performances between the sticks at the start of the season.
Though Ter Stegen helped Barcelona to victory in the Champions League and the Copa del Rey in his first campaign, he failed to make a single league appearance in 2014/15.
His peripheral status has, miserably, continued this season, though injury to Bravo in September ensured that the German was given a taste of La Liga action, and Ter Stegen has made four appearances in the competition so far in 2015/16.
But with Bravo returning to action in October, he has resumed his position as Enrique's league goalkeeper.
This situation, while ideal for Ter Stegen as he settled into life in a new culture in 2014, is far from sustainable for a goalkeeper who no doubt harbours aspirations of replacing Manuel Neuer as Germany's first choice, and as a result, the 23-year-old has been linked with a move to Merseyside in search of game time.
Citing Spanish publication Fichajes, Metro's Jamie Sanderson claims that Liverpool are "set to offer" Ter Stegen "a guaranteed starting role to sign him from Barcelona."
"Ter Stegen will be promised a first-choice role in every competition in order to get him to sign for the Anfield club," Sanderson continues, before claiming that Ter Stegen is "now ready to move to the Premier League."
Belying his status as Barcelona's cup goalkeeper, Ter Stegen is a highly accomplished talent who would add significantly to Klopp's Liverpool squad. He is confident in claiming the ball in the air, quick on his feet and consistently strong in terms of making saves.
Most importantly, however, he has experience of operating within a possession-heavy system at Barcelona and has completed 83.6 percent of his attempted passes in La Liga this season, suggesting a switch to join the Reds would be relatively straightforward—as his skilful showing under pressure in November's 3-0 Champions League win over BATE Borisov proved, he has supreme confidence in his abilities.
Ter Stegen has at times, however, struggled to assert his authority on an experienced Barcelona defence, and this has contributed to his concession of 17 goals in 10 games in all competitions this season, with the move from Monchengladbach to Barcelona heightening both pressure and expectation.
|Goals Conceded, 2015/16 (All Competitions)|
|Games||Goals Conceded||Clean Sheets|
|Marc-Andre ter Stegen||10||17||2|
This could prove a major flaw if Klopp weighs up both Horn and Ter Stegen ahead of a possible venture into the transfer market in January, as could the Barcelona man's reported release clause of £56.8 million.
Having failed to secure a genuine, world-class goalkeeper to replace Mignolet this summer in Petr Cech, who opted to join title challengers Arsenal, Liverpool are forced to look towards options with the potential to develop into a Cech-level talent.
Horn and Ter Stegen are both set to develop into top-bracket goalkeepers, and Liverpool would be wise to persevere with their rumoured interest in both.
But with Horn the more assured option in terms of dominating the penalty area and organising the defensive line, and with the 22-year-old valued at £50 million lower than Ter Stegen, Liverpool should opt for the Cologne man as they look to move on from Mignolet.
Horn could spend time adjusting to the Premier League while the safe-but-unspectacular Belgian retains his position for the first six to 18 months, before assuming the mantle of Klopp's first choice.
At around £6 million, Horn would be a bargain signing for Liverpool.