He is in the process of changing the minds of almost all his detractors. Olympique de Marseille goalkeeper Pau Lopez, whose final transfer from AS Roma was formalized after his 20th match, against Bordeaux, as provided for in the purchase option, is making an excellent start of the season. His statistics speak for him, nine games without conceding a goal in 15 games, 82.1% saves which puts him this season ahead of Manuel Neuer, Giuanluigi Donnaruma, Anthony Lopes or Edouard Mendy. Thanks to its performance, and that of its defenders, Olympique de Marseille is the best fortress in L1, and second in Europe behind Manchester City. But beyond the defensive aspect, Pau Lopez is more and more essential in the construction of OM’s game.
This is also the reason why Jorge Sampaoli had recruited him, before starting him on his return from injury at the end of August. And if he really could not admire his qualities with the ball on his arrival with an approximate average of three clearances per game, he is proving his coach was right.
“What the evolution of modern football requires from the goalkeeper position”
As in the historic victory of OM against Bordeaux (1-0), last week, when he did not hesitate to go up to the midfield to make the first recovery. “When you look at the pressing of Bordeaux, there is none at all. Why bother to raise when you have the field. This is exactly what we say to the players: “move on, you have room”. It’s a bit the role of Pau Lopez, and doing that, he offers one more possibility by getting out of his goal, ”analyzes Benoit Tissier, editor-in-chief of the Main Opposite site, specializing in the position of goalkeeper.
And according to him, Pau Lopez fills the new role of goalkeepers wanted by modern football.
“That’s typically what Manuel Neuer does. This is what modern football demands, and Sampaoli, on the evolution of the goalkeeper position. In the possession phase, he takes off his goalkeeper jersey for a player jersey. It brings one more solution which cancels the opposing pressing thanks to this excess number, and the team opposite has the impression of making a bull, ”he continues.
For the specialist in the position of goalkeeper, it is Donnaruma who best symbolizes this evolution of the position, also generated by regulations such as the prohibition for the goalkeeper to take a pass back from the hand.
If this tactical evolution is more and more visible, it is not new. And Pascal Olmeta is well placed to know it, as when he did not hesitate to dribble six Cannes players when he was guarding the goals of OM. “When I went out too high, everyone asked me where I was going. I was trying to take the game higher, with this desire to play high. At the time of Racing Club de France, Artur Jorge wanted me to play libero. There was already this idea of taking the game high, ”he says. But for him, the first quality of a goalkeeper must remain his solidity on the line: “If your goalkeeper brings you serenity and tranquility, your defense plays higher”.
“The risk is assumed and measured”
Behind this high positioning, there is necessarily a part of assumed risk-taking and some OM supporters are sure to have a few sweats when they see Pau Lopez climb so high against Bordeaux. “The blunder, at some point you will have to do it, like all great goalkeepers. If you don’t, it’s because you don’t leave your line, ”says Pascal Olmeta.
– News OM (@ActuOM__) January 9, 2022
“If you have possession of the ball, one, two or even three solutions at three or four meters, the risk is assumed and measured. If you are not able to ensure a pass from three meters when you are a professional player… The risk exists in itself, the players remain human beings. But it is not assumed only by the goalkeeper, but by the group, ”says Benoit Tissier.
No offense to Bixente Lizarazu, who remains one of the last detractors of the Spanish goalkeeper. “I’m sure Pau Lopez will get caught up in the patrol at some point in the season. We will talk about it again, ”he judged in Téléfoot. Unlike Pascal Olmeta, disappointed with the ranking of icon Steve Mandanda at the start of the season, but who knows how to recognize the good performances of the new OM goalkeeper. “He does not make me hard, but you would have to be blind to say that the goalkeeper has nothing to do with it when you are 2nd or 3rd in the standings”, he sums up in his own way.