For most of the past five years, Roma has been chasing the ghost of Alisson Becker (and, to a lesser extent, Wojciech Szczesny), who practically redefined the art of goalkeeping in Rome. During his lone season in the capital, Alisson single-handedly saved the Giallorossi 13 points by some estimates, all while compiling a highlight reel for the ages.
In his wake, Roma has swung on missed on replacements as varied as Robin Olsen, Antonio Mirante, Pau Lopez, and Rui Patricio, the latter arriving in the capital last season to mostly positive reviews. While these players brought different skill sets to Rome, they were each consumed by the shadow of the Brazilian Don Draper.
However, it's time to acknowledge that those comparisons are no longer relevant. It's been five years since Alisson was sold to Liverpool for a then-world record €62.5 million transfer fee, and those comparisons, in addition to being irrelevant, were largely unfair. Alisson set an impossible standard to follow.
Since we're not likely to stumble on another Alisson Becker anytime soon, it's time we reset our expectations for Roma's goalkeepers, which begs the question: What does a successful season look like for a Roma keeper?
Now that the curtain on the 2022-2023 season has officially closed, we should be able to answer that question. But after an up-and-down season, Roma's future in goal is no more certain than it was the day Alisson said farewell to the Eternal City.
While Rui Patricio was a lock for 90 minutes every weekend and Mile Svilar was able to save some face down the stretch, their combined performances left us with more questions than answers as we head into the summer transfer market.
But it wasn't all bad, so let's take a look at the highs and lows of Roma's keepers this season. For the purposes of this series, we'll revisit and update our previews to see who stood out and who fell behind in 2022-2023.
*Stats and rankings through Matchday 37
The Key Player: Rui Patricio
With only three keepers on the roster and only two likely to play (sorry, Pietro Boer), this was an easy call. Patricio was coming off a solid 2021-2022 debut season, so he was the natural selection as the key player in goal.
What We Said in August
We might as well state the obvious: Patricio is the only name in goal that matters this season. If he can repeat last year’s performance, Roma will have one less thing to worry about as they fight for a place in the Champions League and, quite possibly, a shot at the league title. Patricio could stand to improve his distribution and cross-handling abilities this year, but I don’t think many of us will complain if he copies and pastes his 2021-2022 form.
With another year working alongside Chris Smalling, Gianluca Mancini, Roger Ibañez, and Marash Kumbulla, chemistry won’t be an issue at the back, so we may even see Patricio improve in 2022-2023.
How the Season Unfolded
While Patricio seldom was the reason Roma underperformed, he leaves behind an incredibly mixed bag as we tie a ribbon on the season. Patricio was top 10 in clean sheets, clean sheet percentage, and goals allowed per 90 minutes, all while winning 17 of his 35 league starts. In this sense, Patricio was steady as she went, providing Roma with a calming presence between the sticks.
However, peel the onion back a bit, and Patricio starts to, well, stink. The advanced numbers weren't particularly kind to the Portuguese portieri. Take these on for size: 69% save percentage (18th in the league), 108 saves against on-target shots (13th in the league), 4% of crosses stopped (17th in the league), and -6.4 PSxG +/- (42nd in the league).
Chalk all that up, and Patricio's season was the very definition of ambiguity. You never felt scared on a Robin Olsen/Mauro Goicoechea level, but that impending sense of dread, the feeling that, at some critical juncture, Patricio would fall to cover the post, misread the flight of a shot, or somehow let the ball slip through his hands was hard to escape.
In the end, Patricio performed well enough to keep Roma's Champions League hopes alive for most of the season. However, as the headline suggests, he left us with more questions than answers.
Further complicating matters, the man who was ostensibly purchased to replace Patricio was no more convincing than his veteran counterpart.
Player Under Pressure: Mile Svilar
What We Said in August
We can think of Svilar as a first-round QB, drafted to eventually replace an aging veteran. His immediate job may be absorbing as much information as possible, but if the time comes when he’s forced to play, he’ll need to drop the clipboard, put on the gloves, and look like he belongs. Svilar may be young by keeping standards, but he turns 23 in late August, so he shouldn’t get a free pass.
How the Season Unfolded
With only nine top-flight appearances under his belt prior to the season, expectations for Svilar were low. As we mentioned in August, Svilar was sort of like taking a later-round flier on a quarterback when you have an established (but aging) veteran already starting.
Svilar simply had to show that he could hack it in Serie A. No one was expecting him to unseat Patricio at any point in the season; he just had to show up, learn as much as he could from Patricio and Roma's coaching staff, and at least look passable when given the chance to play.
The problem for Svilar was one of opportunity. After getting his first start of the season against Ludogrets in the Europa League group stages, one in which the young Belgian keeper coughed up two goals, he remained planted on the bench until mid-May when he got the nod against Bologna in a late-season league match.
While he featured during the club's mid-season tour of Japan, Svilar played so poorly that Roma quickly became connected to a host of young Italian keepers. Svilar looked like a completely lost cause until his spring cameos against Bologna and Fiorentina, where he looked solid, if a bit underwhelming.
Mile Svilar began the season with minimal expectations, and given his scant record this year, making any definitive judgment is almost impossible. Nevertheless, his late-season performances were enough to warrant a longer look during this summer's pre-season schedule.
In the end, he may win the gig by default if Roma’s financial woes are as dire as they seem.
Last August, we concluded our Goalkeeper preview by making sort of a prediction in reverse, attempting to forecast what we'd say a year from now:
Rui Patricio’s second season in Roma was just as good as the first. He made some stellar saves and kept the Giallorossi in nearly every match, but now it’s Svilar’s turn between the sticks.
Rui Patricio and Mile Svilar had their moments in the sun this season, but neither player really did enough to prevent General Manager Tiago Pinto from exploring other options this summer. As a veteran stop-gap solution, Patricio did what was expected: he showed up every weekend and played steady enough to keep the ship afloat. But he was never meant to be the club's long-term solution in goal, and with his flaws increasingly exposed as the season wore on, the time for change may be upon us.
Svilar, meanwhile, remains an intriguing option behind Patricio and did enough during his spring cameos to warrant further consideration. Svilar's future may very well be determined by Roma's FFP fortunes. If the club has license to spend freely this summer, they could look to up-and-coming Italian keepers like Guglielmo Vicario, Michele Di Gregorio, or Marco Carnesecchi.
If, however, Roma cannot afford to spend good money on a new keeper, look for a heated competition between Patricio and Svilar this summer.