Roma has never been a bastion of top-tier goalkeeping, but the club always did just enough at the back end to ensure that all of Francesco Totti's efforts didn't go wasted. It wasn't the best way to construct a team, but when the club is so top-heavy in attack, you could afford to skrimp in goal. Things started to change in the late 2010s when Roma's gamble on Arsenal cast-off Wojciech Szczesny resulted in two stellar seasons in between the sticks. And when they seamlessly transitioned from Woj to the inimitable Alisson Becker, not only did Roma solve their goalkeeping riddle, they had arguably the best netminder in the world in their employ.
But, you know what happened next. With financial issues out the wazoo, Roma capitulated to market demands and sold Alisson to Liverpool, despite James Pallotta's assertions otherwise. And since then, the Giallorossi goal has been a revolving door with players as varied as Robin Olsen, Antonio Mirante, Pau Lopez, and Daniel Fuzato seeing time at the Stadio Olimpico.
Fresh off the 2018 World Cup bounce, Olsen was an unmitigated disaster during his lone season in Rome, and was quickly replaced by Mirante once Claudio Ranieri took over the managerial reins in the spring of 2019. Roma then sought to remedy this situation by rolling the dice on Real Betis keeper Pau Lopez, and while the Spaniard struggled to meet expectations during his first 18 months with the club, he did enough in 2021 to make you think he could, if nothing else, become a replacement-level keeper for Roma.
However, as is so often the case with Roma, the constant upheaval on the managerial bench puts scores of players in awkward spots. Despite his 2021 turnaround, which featured some genuinely spectacular saves in Roma's Europa League run, there was no room for Lopez in Roma's Mourinho Makeover, and he was quickly sent packing to Marseille for the 2021-2022 season.
Even with Lopez out of the picture (albeit temporarily), Roma is in an extremely tough spot where they will now have three starting-caliber keepers under contract, each of whom was purchased by a different sporting director for a different manager. Why three?
Simple: Roma recently signed former Wolves keeper Rui Patricio on an €11.5 million transfer. Patricio, a 33-year-old Portuguese keeper, comes to the capital from Wolverhampton in the English Premier League, where he spent the past three seasons after an eleven-year run with Sporting in his native Portugal.
If you've followed this story over the past few weeks, you know we're a bit skeptical of this signing, but to be fair to Patricio and his supporters, we're going to take a look at the highs and lows of Rui Patricio to see if he's a genuine solution or just another holdover.
Reasons to Be Excited: Strength, Experience & Poise
We'll start with the most obvious points on the back of Patricio's Panini card: size and experience. At 6’3”, Patricio falls right in the goalkeeping Goldilocks zone: He's tall enough to pick shots out of the top corner but not so tall where you worry about his ability to cover the ground quickly enough. This may seem like a trivial thing but we've certainly seen the effect a keeper's stature has on their ability to perform the basic functions of the job; we don't have to worry about that with Patricio.
And then there is the simple matter of experience, which Patricio has in spades. With 521 appearances totaling over 46,000 minutes on the pitch, Patricio has played a lot of football; he's seen it all, heard it all, and experienced it all. And that doesn't even account for his international record, which adds another 90 appearances and 8,200 minutes under his belt.
With a European Championship, a UEFA Nations League title, and three Portuguese cups on his resumé (among other accolades), Patricio is arguably the most decorated keeper to ever play for Roma. When you consider the youth teeming throughout Roma's roster, it’s not hard to see why Tiago Pinto wanted to add some championship seasoning to the mix. Patricio won't come unglued in a derby, he won't quiver at the sight of a packed San Siro, nor will he shrink when it comes time to travel to Torino to face the Old Lady.
Okay, size and experience are great, but they're not really traits, per se, so what can this handsome devil actually do once the whistle blows?
To answer that question, let's turn to our minds back a few weeks to Euro 2020 and this spectacular double save against France in the group stage:
With Paul Pogba shaking free from the Portugal defense, the Manchester United midfielder had the luxury of picking and placing his shot relatively unfettered. And with Pogba aiming for the top right corner (from his perspective), Patricio—who was shading the opposite way—had to quickly cover roughly four to five feet to his left. It would have been one thing if Pogba just gripped and ripped it down the middle, but the precision with which he struck that ball meant that Patricio's lunge had to be equally precise.
Still, even after changing directions and lunging towards the ball, the amount of concentration and sheer strength required to prevent that ball from going in with what basically constitutes just the top edge of Patricio's hand is truly astounding. That shot could have easily glanced off the edge of his glove and snuck under the crossbar or fallen flat on the goal line, waiting for any of the French attackers assembled in the area to poke it home.
And as if all of that weren't impressive enough, he pops right back up and hugs the near post to prevent Antoine Griezmann from scoring a put-back goal. By reacting so quickly and intuitively cutting off the only viable angle from which Griezmann could have scored, he forced the Barcelona winger to fire haphazardly towards the opposite post, and still managed to make another save, pushing the ball out of harm's way. Just a remarkable sequence on one of the game's biggest stages; you can't really understate how incredible that was.
And that's just one illustrative example of Patricio's penchant for big saves; there are plenty more in the highlight package above, as well as a few clever kick saves and some well-timed run-outs. But Patricio is more than a few flashy pixels splashed on your phone. What do the statistics say about his time with Wolves?
Well, for one thing, the man is used to being busy. Over the past two Premiership seasons, Patricio ranked in the top 10 (or just barely outside it) in total saves, both inside and outside the box. More than just stacking up saves, Patricio was among the league leaders in clean sheet percentage over the past two seasons, ranking 7th in ‘19-’20 before slipping to 14th this past season.
As you can see in the clips above, Patricio is quite adept at using his size and reach to his advantage. Over the past two seasons, Patricio ranked in the top 10 in high claims among eligible Premiership keepers, speaking to his ability to snatch the ball from a crowd of outfield players, which requires not only courage and technique but a keen sense of timing.
Now that we've seen his ability to make show-stopping saves and have an understanding of how he fares in a scrum, let's see what the man can do with the ball at his feet.
Launching the ball over the top of the defense to ignite an attack may not be a top priority for Mourinho's tactics, but Patricio can kick it with the best of them. In each of the past two seasons with Wolves, Patricio was among the most accurate keepers when it came to launching the ball over 40 yards, ranking fifth in 2019-2020 and eighth in 2020-2021. There will come a time when Patricio has to bypass his own defenders to jumpstart an attack, and if his recent performances are any indication, he's an extremely accurate long passer.
Between his size, strength, agility, reflexes, and sense of timing, there is an awful lot to like about Rui Patricio. And with the trust and admiration of Pinto and Mourinho guiding him, he could be in line for a career year with Roma this season.
But, as Dolly Parton once said, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.
Causes for Concern: Shot Stopping, Cross Handling, Aggression
Before we dive too deeply into this section, let us offer a primer on one key advanced goalkeeping statistic: Post-Shot Expected Goals, otherwise known as PSxG. Created by the fine folks at StatsBomb, PSxG is perhaps the most accurate and nuanced way to measure a keeper's shot-stopping ability. (When discussing how many more goals a keeper saved than expected, PSxG becomes PSxG +/-, which will be the basis for the remainder of this section.)
To paraphrase their logic, PSxG came from the realization that the same methodology that measures the offensive value of post-shot outcomes doesn't necessarily apply to keepers. Or, in their own words:
What we’ve done is built a new expected goal model which includes post-shot data. Again, logically this makes sense. From a shooting perspective what we’re measuring what’s likely to happen to a ball when it leaves a player’s foot. So, we stop at the point of the shot. That’s not what we’re doing with keepers. With keepers we want to measure the likelihood that a keeper keeps the ball out of the net. So, naturally we want to include in our model as much of the data that a keeper has as possible. That includes all sorts of post-shot information about where the ball is going.
The main difference between Post-Shot xG and Pre-Shot xG is that Post-Shot xG uses information after the shot has been taken up until the shot were to pass the goalkeeper. Therefore, we train the model using information about the shot’s trajectory, speed and other characteristics. For instance, we can calculate the y and z location where the shot is estimated to enter the goal mouth. These are often the most important factors predicting goal probability and offer a clear proxy for the save difficulty.
Or, put even more succinctly:
Start with an expected goals model, take away the stuff that isn’t on frame, add some post shot information, and voila, you’ve got yourself a brand new post-shot expected goals model.
If you find yourself at odds with goalkeeping statistics, rest assured, PSxG is the cutting edge. And it's an edge that hasn't been particularly kind to Patricio over the past three seasons; the only years for which data is available for public consumption.
During the 2018-2019 season, Patricio's first with Wolves, he played to a -3.3 PSxG rating, which ranked 32nd in the league, or, to put it differently, he was the seventh-worst shot-stopper among qualified keepers that season. Patricio managed to rebound the following year, sporting a +1.2 PSxG rating, which ranked 13th in the Premiership. However, Patricio regressed this past year, finishing the 2020-2021 season with a -3.4 PSxG rating—39th in the league, making him the fourth-worst Premiership shot-stopper last season.
If advanced stats aren’t your thing, how about plain old save percentage?
- 2018-2019: 68.4% (9th best)
- 2019-2020: 67.5% (17th best)
- 2020-2021: 68.6% (16th best)
Patricio was, at the very least, consistent in these save percentages, but, as you can see, the overall results were below average, particularly in his final two seasons with Wolves.
That's all well and good, but how about some illustrative examples?
Here we see Patricio flailing and missing on Jarrod Bowen's 38th-minute goal from Wolves 3-2 defeat at the hands of West Ham United last April. This match was an absolute masterclass from Jesse Lingard, who opened the scoring in only the 6th minute before carrying the ball up two-thirds of the pitch to set Bowen up at the edge of the box for what turned out to be the match-winner.
Bowen received the ball some 20 to 25 yards away from the goal, and with the defense effectively sealing off the right-hand side of the box, Bowen had only one path to goal: towards the left post. Despite the limited area available to him, Bowen managed to tuck the ball inside the near post, but how?
Run that clip back and hit pause and you'll see Patricio freeze the moment Bowen essentially cocked back and loaded up his shot. And that moment's hesitation, one in which he could have completely closed off the post, provided Bowen the extra bit of space he needed to find the back of the net. And making matters worse, when Patricio did react, he completely whiffed on the ball.
Here is another (even more glaring) example from Patricio's time with Sporting:
Over a long enough career, any keeper will have moments like that, but when you consider the broader context of his shot-stopping performances over the past few seasons, gaffes like that are a bit more concerning.
If we had more time and resources, we could add more illustrative examples of Patricio's struggles but the statistics don't paint a pretty picture about his shot-stopping ability, so adding more clips feels unnecessary and perhaps even a bit masochistic.
In the previous section, we lauded Patricio for his ability to make high claims in the box, which makes his struggles stopping crosses all the more peculiar. Granted, it's a slightly different skill because crosses tend to come in at a wider variety of angles and trajectories, whereas high claims in the box are usually perpendicular to the goal line, but Patricio has struggled mightily stopping crosses over the past three seasons.
Patricio's Stopped Cross Percentage Ranks
- 2018-2019: 6.7%, 13th in the Premiership
- 2019-2020: 4.3%, 19th in the Premiership
- 2020-2021: 5.9% 18th in the Premiership
Stopping crosses isn't the biggest concern when it comes to evaluating goalkeepers, so we're not going to die on that hill, but any added advantage a keeper can provide in defending the area is certainly welcomed. And over the past year, Patricio was in the 20th percentile in stopping crosses (among keepers in Europe's major leagues), so don't expect him to be flying around the penalty area like Peter Pan this season.
When it comes to actions outside the area—your sweeping stats—Patricio is next to useless, so we're not going to harp on that. Besides this, the extent and frequency with which a keeper “sweeps” can sometimes depend on managerial preferences, so some of that was likely out of Patricio's control. Instead, we're going to end this section by tackling the always ambiguous notion of aggression and anticipation—the instincts that tell a keeper when it's time to pounce and when it's time to sit back.
To illustrate this indecisiveness, let's turn back once again to Euro 2020. Unfortunately, there weren’t any reverse angle clips of this goal available, so we’ll have to make do with the side view:
We'll cut Patricio a bit of slack here because the ball was pinging around the box after a deflection, but with the final ball gently arching through the air towards Kai Havertz, Patricio bursts forward and looks like he's poised to claim the ball—something he's quite good at, remember—but he pulls up at the last second and allows Havertz to get a toe on the ball.
Starting with the initial ball into the box being deflected back and ending with an own goal, this was a bit of a chaotic sequence but one can't help but wonder how things may have unfolded differently if Patricio acted more decisively. If nothing else, by shrinking the attacking space in the box, he may have actually given Havertz pause and the ball may have fallen safely out of bounds. With Raphael Guerreiro flanked by two forwards and the ball looping into the box, the odds were probably always in Germany's favor but Patricio's hesitance made Havertz's job easier than it should have been under the circumstances.
Legislating aggression and intuition is incredibly difficult, and while this wouldn't necessarily be Exhibit A in a trial of Patricio's merit as a goalkeeper, by completely ceding the initiative to Havertz here, he put his team at a slight disadvantage.
This next example isn't one I entirely agree with but it's worth exploring because it speaks to the split-second decision-making required by keepers; decisions that can, have and will determine the outcome of a match.
This clip, from Portugal's 1-0 loss to Belgium in the Euro 2020 knockout stages, showcases Patricio's hesitancy to come off the line, which led to an interesting exchange between Mike Goodman, a former StatsBomb contributor, and someone who I can only presume watches more of the Premiership than we do:
Patricio’s bizarre obsession with standing so deep no matter where an opponent takes a shot keeps letting him down. He’s petrified of leaving his line and it’s a technical flaw. Leads to things like tonight and… pic.twitter.com/xszYxVGC82— Andrew Turmer (@AndrewTurmer) June 27, 2021
If we look at that Hazard goal from a slightly different and more withdrawn standpoint, we see that “bizarre obsession” mentioned in the reply Tweet:
The complaints on this particular example may be a bit granular, but Patricio remained rooted to his line for the entire sequence, never coming out to attack the ball or even reduce the angle, giving Hazard a cleaner look at goal than he probably should have. Despite the quality of the shot—which was fantastic—Goodman's assertion holds water; that ball was within Patricio's range but he once again suffered from a moment's hesitation.
A deficiency in stopping crosses and some moments of indecision aren't going to raise alarms for most people, but they can—as these examples show—be the difference between victory and defeat. But our biggest Patricio concern should be his shot-stopping ability, which, according to PSxG (and even something as simple as save percentage), is among the worst in all of Europe. Over the past three seasons, Patricio's average PSxG +/- ranking was 131st among keepers in Europe's top five leagues, meaning he effectively performed worse than some backup keepers.
Even if you quibble with goalkeeping statistics in general, the fact that Patricio has fared so poorly in the most precise stat that exists has to be cause for concern, doesn't it?
Now that we've spanned the Patricio spectrum, it's time to get down to brass tacks.
Our expectactions for Roma's goalkeepers may have been skewed by the performances of Szczesny and Alisson during the dying days of James Pallotta's ownership, and while not even Rui Patricio's staunchest advocates would put him in that class, it's still important to set expectations for Roma's new keeper.
Patrico may have been a world-beater in the making during his earliest days with Sporting, but, based on his statistical progression over the past three years with Wolves, we shouldn't expect that Patricio to appear in Roma colors. Roma's Patricio, the wily 33-year-old veteran, can best be described as a conservative, risk-averse keeper. He's going to make some genuinely remarkable saves and he's going to command the area, sure, but he's also going to infuriate us with his penchant for passive play, while his shot-stopping technique should produce more than a few cringe-worthy moments.
The extent to which this makes or breaks Roma's season depends, in part, on the nature of the defense Mourinho constructs in front of him. If Mourinho's pragmatic reputation follows him to the Stadio Olimpico, then Roma's defense should do enough swarming, pressing, and tackling to make Patricio's job easier. If, however, Mourinho's defense lags, don't count on Patricio bailing them out.
At 33-years-old and with a three-year deal in his back pocket, Patricio will give Roma's goalkeeping carousel a much-needed break for a while, but whether it's a product of age or his declining shot-stopping prowess rearing its ugly head, the club will be back in the goalkeeping market sooner or later.
If José Mourinho and Tiago Pinto can create a welcoming environment, one conducive to Patricio's strengths, then Patricio can become, at the very least, a stable bridge until the club finds a genuine, long-term solution in goal.