Why Nick Pope is perfect for Newcastle United

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It’s taken longer than most would have expected for Nick Pope to arise attention in the 2022 Summer Transfer Window, but it now appears as though the Burnley cult hero is days away from securing a move to Eddie Howe’s Newcastle United. Back in early June, our readers and contributors picked Pope as the number one player from relegated teams to keep an eye on this summer, and that promise now prepares to come to fruition with the Magpies. Pope would be the perfect player to bring greater stability and solidity to their defensive structures, not to mention between the posts, and at only 10 million pounds, remains an absolute steal. Here is why the Burnley man would be such an astute signing for the Magpies.

NEWCASTLE’S GOALKEEPING NEED

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Martin Dubravka has performed admirably during his five season spell in England’s top flight, amassing 127 Premier League appearances thus far. However, now at the age of 33, Newcastle are right in signing a keeper that provides greater mobility and speed in behind a back-line, particularly as Eddie Howe amplifies his pressing intensity and desire. Pope himself is thirty years old, but made himself known as one of the top ‘Sweeper Keepers‘ around last year for his quick thinking off the line in behind an already low-block, sturdy Burnley defense.

By the end of the season, Nick Pope sat top of the table in a league of his own (alongside Alisson), far and away above every other keeper on both the sheer number of defensive actions outside the penalty per 90, and the distance of those actions away from goal. We all know the 30-year-old’s insane cat-like reflexes and exceptional ability to seamlessly stop the impossible, but it’s perhaps underrated just how composed and controlled he is in timing his decisions away from goal. He’s an immaculately quick goalkeeper who expertly times his runs off his line, and few others in the world can compete with his defensive instincts. Martin Dubravka on the other end ranks closer to the David De Gea‘s and Edouard Mendy’s of this world, who prefer to stay rooted to their line and contribute only when the ball comes closer to goal.

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As Eddie Howe expands his style of play to incorporate more forceful pressing and perhaps even a Bournemouth styled high-line to match, the necessity for that to be backed up by a ‘Sweeper Keeper‘ becomes imperative. As we illustrated several times this season, Manchester United’s lack of personnel to style fit and concoction of players that failed to work in tandem (such as their slow centre-back pairing matched with De Gea’s unwillingness to sweep), caused much of their defensive woes this season. Newcastle United already began to find the balance in their team toward the end of the 2021-22 campaign, with a formidable back-line led by their new signing Dan Burn. In Pope, the Magpies now have another tall, robust, bruising force to add to their ranks, contributing to the imposing nature of their back-line as they grow into one of the Premier League’s elite clubs.

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Meanwhile, Martin Dubravka provides a useful back-up to feature in circumstances where the British keeper finds himself unfit, something the Clarets often lacked following their departure of Tom Heaton. Dubravka positively prevented 4.1 goals last season (PSXG +/-), wonderfully matching Nick Pope’s 4.4. Dubravka could have easily continued as the number one for another year, but Nick Pope offers greater shot stopping and sweeping capabilities in tandem, making it an easy upgrade for a minimal price.

POPE’S UNDERRATED DISTRIBUTION

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As I wrote about in late April, Nick Pope’s distribution is an underrated facet of his game, and there’s no reason to think that he wouldn’t be able to cope under pressure at a top tier, dare I say, possession-based team.

Pope averaged 52.8 yards from open play passes and 65.9 from goal kicks, proving himself to be massively capable of playing long passes over a great distance, and contributing to the attack. Newcastle also prioritize quickness and directness toward the final third, albeit not to the level of Burnley. The likes of Jonjo Shelvey, Kieran Trippier, and Pope’s predecessor Martin Dubravka love to spray long passes forward into the attack, and in Chris Wood they have a natural target man capable of winning aerial duels and holding up the play. They also boast the energetic channel running capabilities of Callum Wilson, and typically ensure at least one player between wing and full-back holds the width on one side to connect with switches of play and diagonal passes across. Nick Pope only provides one more sound distributor to aid in those quests, and one more than capable of improving upon Dubravka’s success of last season.

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In all the discussions of goalkeeping at the international level, Pope’s supposedly ‘poor’ distribution has become completely overstated. He completed 100% of his short passes and 96% of his medium-length passes in 2021-22, proving himself to be more than capable of supporting the build-up. It’s true that Dubravka ranks either equal to Pope or higher in all three categories from short to long, but the Burnley man completed a significantly higher number of passes into the final third in 2021-22 – i.e. pulling off significantly more riskier, cutting-edge passes. It would be unlikely for Pope to attempt the most long passes in the league two seasons in a row, but his impressive distance and distribution will be key to the Magpies this season nevertheless.

CONCLUSION

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Nick Pope has been one of the Premier League’s standout keepers for years, and has long deserved a move to a bigger club. Now at the age of 30, a big move to a top six club became out of the equation. But the Magpies smartly snapped up his signature, securing the keeper for just 10 million pounds. Pope will immediately improve upon Dubravka’s quality, command, and shot stopping ability, whilst providing a better fit for Eddie Howe’s intended style of play. Best of all – we get to see the magnificence of Pope for at least one more year in the Premier League, plying his trade at the highest level.


So there it is! Why Nick Pope is perfect for Newcastle United. Be sure to check out more of our tactical analyses, and follow on social media @mastermindsite to never miss an update. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

You might also enjoy…

-> The myth of Nick Pope’s ‘poor’ distribution
-> David De Gea – Player Analysis
-> Explaining the Sweeper Keeper – Player Role Analysis

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Explaining the Sweeper Keeper – Player Role Analysis

The ‘Sweeper Keeper’ came to deserved acclaim at the 2014 World Cup, when Manuel Neuer showcased his ability to rush out of his goal, and “sweep” in behind Germany’s high-line, almost playing like another centre-back out of possession. Since then, the role of the sweeper keeper has only grown and evolved, becoming a player who is capable in build-up phases, ventures out of their goal to involve themselves in passing sequences higher up the pitch, and completely commands their penalty area by coming off their line and taking control of any situation.

Explaining the Shot Stopper – Player Role Analysis

While formations may exclude the never-changing goalkeepers from their numbering, we could never fail to recognize the importance of goalkeeping in the game. As a result, we start with one of the most scrutinized positions on a football pitch – that of the keeper. We break goalkeepers down into two broad categories – ‘Shot Stopper’, and ‘Sweeper Keeper’. We can then use these classifications to help distinguish between different types of players, and measure accordingly. Today’s article is all about the ‘Shot Stopper’, defining role expectations and answering the soon to be common question of – ‘What exactly is a shot stopper?’

The myth of Nick Pope’s ‘poor’ distribution

Leading up to both the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020 (which famously took place in 2021), a common commentary surrounded Nick Pope, and the potential reasons for Southgate’s favouritsm toward Jordan Pickford. “Pope’s distribution isn’t as good,” was said on repeat, almost as though all the pundits of the English game together as one big monster blob out to slight Nick Pope and find justifications for something that few were willing to admit made little sense. Despite Nick Pope’s heroics at Burnley for the past five years, and the potential that he will keep them in the Premier League almost single-handedly for another season, Pickford remains England’s firm number one.

David De Gea – Player Analysis

Manchester United have been abysmal in 2021-22. You know it. I know it. Everybody knows it. But despite their team woes, a few key individuals have continued to go about their business and perform to reasonably remarkable heights. No one more than David De Gea – who has had one of his greatest seasons in a Manchester United shirt, just one year after losing his place to Dean Henderson. David De Gea has been exceptional in 2021-22, regaining his illustrious reputation as one of the best keepers in the world, and pulling off saves like it’s 2015 again. So with that, we bring you our David De Gea Player Analysis, and finally discuss both the strengths and limitations of one of the greatest goalkeepers in Premier League history.

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