Tomas Koubek & Zack Steffen: A Tale of Two Keepers

This weekend’s opening round of Bundesliga action saw two goalkeeping debuts with much different outcomes for the players involved. FC Augsburg’s Czech keeper Tomas Koubek endured a torrid introduction to the Bundesliga conceding five goals and making howling errors which contributed to three of them.

Fortuna Düsseldorf’s US custodian Zack Steffen on the other hand enjoyed a debut he will never forget as his superb display was one of the contributing factors in Friedhelm Funkeel’s side coming away from the Weser Stadion with all three points.

A debut to forget

Facing the joint favourites for the Bundesliga title on your league debut, a week after looking rather shaky against a Regionalliga side, is not the ideal scenario. What happened next is the stuff of nightmares for goalkeepers.

25-year-old Czech keeper Koubek signed in the summer from Coupe de France winners Rennes for around €7.5 million to take over from Fabian Giefer, Andreas Luthe and Gregor Kobel as the new number one.  Previously he’d played nearly 150 senior squad matches for Czech sides Sparta Prague, FC Slovan Liberec and FC Hradec Králové, where he’d played as a youth.

At the Signal Iduna Park  on Saturday, the 6’6″ keeper probably wished he was back in Brittany with les Rouge et Noir. Augsburg made the perfect start with Florian Niederlechner scoring after just 31 seconds. Koubek’s joy was to be short-lived.

When Jadon Sancho combined with Marco Reus down the right on three minutes, Koubek made an error in blocking the cross, deflecting the ball feebly to Paco Alcacer, who turned it in.

Koubek was then at fault six minutes into the second half when he failed to stop Alex Witsel’s low cross to the far post allowing Sancho to pick the ball up and fire home. It was to get worse for the debutant. With his confidence gone, he came out and flapped at Sancho’s cross from the left allowing Alcacer to tee up Reus, with the hapless keeper stranded. 1-0 up to 3-1 down and three goalkeeping errors!

Trainer Martin Schmidt refused to single Koubek out for blame after the match, with many other players having poor matches. It has since emerged that language problems may have been a contributing factor in the confusion and chaos in Augsburg’s defending, but three individual errors from Koubek cannot be ignored.

Looking for the positives amongst the car crash that was Saturday, Koubek did produce two great saves to deny first Julian Weigl in the first period and Witsel in the second.

The phrase ‘a debut to forget’ was coined exactly for days like these.

A debut to remember

Fortuna Düsseldorf were the surprise package of last season going from seemingly relegation dead-certs to 10th place. They began this season where they left off with a surprising opening day victory over Werder Bremen at the Weser Stadion. A huge chunk of the praise should go to US goalkeeper Zack Steffen.

Like Jadon Sancho, Rabbi Matondo, and Luke’s Nmecha, Steffen arrives in the Bundesliga on loan from Manchester City, which made an signing agreement last December with the Columbus Crew for a transfer fee reported at $7 million.  On his official signing date in July, it was announced that Steffen, 24, would join F95 on loan.  The 6’3″ Pennsylvanian began his career in the youth system of the Philadelphia Union  before signing to play college soccer at the University of Maryland.  During the 2014/2015 season he signed with SC Freiburg, and made 14 appearances with the SCF reserves.  He came back to the US with the Crew in 2016, featuring in over 75 matches while also playing in the USL on loan with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.

The 24-year-old was handed his debut by Friedhelm Funkel at the challenging Weser Stadion, and he repaid the faith shown in him with a highly impressive performance.

After a quiet first half, in which he didn’t have a save to make, things all kicked-off in the second 45 minutes. His first task however was to the pick the ball out of the back of the net following Johannes Eggestein’s headed equaliser.

From then on it was ever so much busier for the American stopper. He made nine saves in the second half as the home side ratcheted up the pressure. Whatever the likes of Nuri Sahin, Yuya Osako, Eggestein, Niklas Fullkrug and Josh Sargent threw at him, he  batted it away.

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Werder had a total of 24 shots, ten on target, with Steffen saving nine. If Martin Schmidt was keen to avoid criticising Tomas Koubek, Friedhelm Funkel was quick to laud Zack Steffen after the match.

“Zack has kept fantastic. An outstanding goalkeeper. I am glad that Lutz (Pfannenstiel, sports director) was so persistent and got him. Which was not so easy. But we were able to convince Pep Guardiola.”

Teammate Kaan Ayhan (scorer of Fortuna’s third goal) said: “Zack has a brutal physique. When he comes out on crosses, you think twice about jumping in there. For a defender, it’s important to have someone behind you to clean up!”

Niko Gießelmann added: “He picks balls in situations where you do not expect it at all. Zack is also playful and very strong on the line. If you see where he hits the ball at tee-offs – that’s something else.”

The phrase ‘dream debut’ was coined exactly for days like these.

 

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Mathew Burt

A year spent living in Bremen got Mathew hooked on the Bundesliga with regular visits to the Weser Stadion getting in the way of his studies. Back in the UK now, he still keenly follows the Grün-Weißen and German football in general. Follow him on Twitter @matburt74.

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