It’s safe to say the main priority for new Roma director of sport Gianluca Petrachi was finding a goalkeeper to replace the disastrous Robin Olsen. Despite that failed experiment, the Giallorossi have again gone for a foreign shot-stopper with no Serie A experience in Real Betis ‘keeper Pau Lopez.
Not only are many fans not familiar with the 24-year-old, but he also becomes the most expensive goalkeeper ever signed by the club at around €28m and the eighth costliest in football history, on a par with Manuel Neuer.
Roma fans can rest assured, though, as Pau Lopez showcased his talent and put together an impressive league campaign despite Los Verdiblancos’ 10th-place finish. For those Romanisti unfamiliar with Lopez’s playing style, he can be classified as a sweeper-keeper, but he is definitely not limited to that role.
Lopez combines his confidence to journey beyond his 18-yard-box with cat-like reflexes and great positional awareness, as well as a spectacular sense of when to charge attackers when faced with a one-on-one situation.
Lopez’s 6ft 2in frame and his reflexes go hand-in-hand to allow him to be a secure shot-stopper, and his positional awareness in relation to where he is in front of his goal line puts him in the right place at the right time more often than not.
Examples of this were seen during his time at Betis whenever Lopez would have to ensure that his near post was covered whenever strikers came barreling in from either side, as well as when crosses would come into the box and he would have to put himself in the best position to stop an incoming header.
As Chiesa di Totti point out in their analysis of Lopez in comparison to Roma's previous two goalkeepers, the Spaniard’s willingness to rush out of his goal and close down attackers directly contrasts with Olsen. Indeed, Lopez won 25% of one-on-one situations last season, a better record than even former Roma goalkeeper Alisson Becker.
Despite his high success rate, Lopez will need to work on his timing. In the 2018-19 season, Pau Lopez conceded eight penalties when it was just himself who stood between an attacker and the goal. If his margin of error can be reduced, Lopez will become even more of an asset to Paulo Fonseca.
Possibly the most exciting aspect of Pau Lopez for Romanisti is his ability to play with the ball at his feet. At Betis, Lopez was integral in their passing game, one which saw Betis second in La Liga in share of possession. While holding the ball, Lopez attracts attackers to attempt to either close him or his passing options at centre-back or full-back. This, in turn, creates space for Lopez to either play the ball out wide or dink it over to the midfield to allow for his teammates to have an advantage going forward to how drawn in the opposing attackers are.
Fonseca’s style will be one of possession at Roma, so bringing in a ‘keeper with Lopez’s capabilities will be instrumental in the Giallorossi’s progression going forward. As previously mentioned, teams pushing forward gives Pau Lopez the opportunity to create space to play the ball over to his teammates.
However, with Italian teams more inclined to sit deeper into their own half, we could very well see Lopez venture forward as far as being between his own centre-backs. This would be in an attempt to bring about the same effect, rather it’d take place higher up the pitch.
While Pau Lopez may not be a global star or at the level of a world-class goalkeeper yet, it doesn’t take away from the fact that he fits the system Fonseca is looking to implement at Roma. With all that in mind, Romanisti can be hopeful knowing that the club have brought in a very promising ‘keeper with the capability to do big things for the Giallorossi.