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Opinion: Ball-playing Pau Lopez offers options at the back
Illustration by Vinnotsaurus (@vinnot86)

After Pau Lopez became the club's third signing of the summer earlier this week, our columnist takes a look at what the Spain international has to offer...

With AS Roma keen to bring in a new goalkeeper to fulfill the demands of Paulo Fonseca, who will look to impose his philosophy starting with building out from the back, the acquisition of Pau Lopez from Real Betis is clearly intended to fit that particular bill.

Having starred for Quique Setien's progressive, possession based Real Betis team, where he was an integral component in helping orchestrate his team's offensive moves with his impressive distribution, the thinking behind the choice is clear.

Moreover, the fact he possesses a well-rounded repertoire to deal with a range of situations to blunt his adversaries' scoring efforts adds further reason for optimism about his arrival.

To start with his contribution with the ball at his feet, and the Spaniard's expertise in this regard is a major weapon of his. Capable of accurately passing the ball over short, long and intermediate distances, his range ensures he typically finds his targets.

So good at instigating passing moves from deep, he hits his passes with confidence and conviction onto a teammate's preferred foot or into their path.

Another important factor is that the keeper - comfortable on either foot - weights his passes firmly to his targets so he can break the lines and give his colleagues enough time to control the ball or play a pass before an opponent gets to them.

Always available for a back pass to support his teammates, he moves across his box to offer an angle for a backpass while his team resets and waits for a weakness in the opposition setup to take advantage of.

Importantly, if there's no viable options ahead, he has the presence of mind to go long to his centre forward to bypass the press, which can also allow his team to win second balls higher up. Even though he gets into some sticky situations trying to break through the opposition's first line of pressing, the positives far outweigh any negatives attached to this compartment of his game.

So comfortable on the ball, he executes his actions with enviable composure even when placed under heavy pressure. In fact, the 24-year-old relishes being harried, for he competently keeps the ball for as long as possible, in order to provoke a press so he can exploit the space that's left behind the presser.

A master at luring out opponents and remaining alert to where his teammates and their nearby markers are, the way he assesses his options in a calculated manner while taking into consideration the next pass available to the receiver is a highlight too.

Keeping his eyes open to find the free man, a key tenet of Setien's positional play strategy with Los Verdiblancos, he did this effectively by using his vision, awareness and technical qualities.

Some additional details he got spot on was how he used his booming long throws to launch counter attacks to go over the press, hit raking through balls into the path of his forwards and by how he regularly helped his team create numerical superiorities to help them build out from the back smoothly.

Shifting the focus to his shot-stopping skills, the once-capped Spanish international has illustrated his prowess here nicely. Using his 189 cm frame and huge wingspan, in combination with his concentration and sound positional sense, Lopez typically does a neat job of closing off shooting angles and making the net smaller for opponents.

In addition, despite his size, he gets down admirably to low shots from his powerful, slightly crouched starting posture. This consequently allows him to transfer his weight effectively to dive explosively at incoming shots.

Possessing quick reactions and nifty reflexes, he's proven how sharply he can respond to snap shots, plus how he can keep out strikes from close range and then immediately get up if required to make a double save.

When it comes to dead ball and crossing scenarios, there's been a lot to like about his work here too, as he commands his area well and judges the ball's flight intelligently to claim or punch away the majority of deliveries.

Able to rise above his adversaries with his long arms and capacity to time his leap, the strong, robust Lopez doesn't get beaten many times in such instances, for his physicality to stand tall against onrushing foes to remain calm sees him fulfil his duties with security.

Quite aggressive when coming off his line to cover runs from opposition strikers in behind, he acts with authority to snuff out attacks. Called into action frequently due to Betis regularly deploying a high defensive line, he makes his move convincingly for the most part.

Furthermore, if he knows he can't reach the ball in time, he has the nous to hold his post and wait for the attacker to come towards him before making himself wide or charging out to close off their chances of finding the back of the net.

Coming along way under Setien's tutelage last season, the former Tottenham Hotspur and Espanyol man spoke of the gratitude he holds for his countryman for helping him take his game to new heights.

"My (good) season and making the national team is partly thanks to him," he said. 

"I only have words of thanks to Setien as a coach because he has made me grow a lot and how he is valued outside of here is because of how the team plays."

Analysing his statistics from last season using InStat's detailed data, and comparing Lopez with Barcelona's elite Marc-Andre ter Stegen, it is quickly underlined what a brilliant operator he's become. Some especially eye-catching numbers to look out for are how he made the same amount of saves per game at a similar save percentage, made more interceptions per game, had a higher foot passing accuracy rate from open play, a much better short passing accuracy, broke up attacks more cleanly and was a better long passer.

Note Lopez's statistics are on the left and ter Stegen's are on the right side of the graphics.

Set to be the Giallorossi's No. 1 for the foreseeable future, Lopez would appear to be exactly the type of exciting keeper Fonseca craves on his path to moulding this team in his image.

 
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