Jose Manuel Lopez plays for Lanus in the first Argentinian Division. He is a mixture of a target man and deep-lying forward, usually deployed in tandem with the legendary Jose Sand. This is his first proper senior season, and he will turn 21 in December this year. Let’s take a deeper look into what makes him such an interesting prospect.
Manipulating defense with movement
For a player so young, inexperienced, and with such dimensions, Jose Manuel Lopez is a very intelligent drifter. He possesses a great combination of anticipation and off-the-ball movement. That becomes apparent in three different ways.
While he plays as the second striker behind Jose Sand, he is given free rein to explore the spaces between the opposition defense and midfield. Here we can see his great understanding of how the opposition in the game approaches marking. He notices that they are lost between zonal and man-marking and makes a run towards the ball, fake a reception, which leads to a 2 on 1 situation that ends up with a Sand goal.
Here again, we can see his off-the-ball trickery. He positions himself well against his marker and pretending that he will receive the ball, just turns and blows by his man. The attempt wasn’t a goal but it shows that intelligence, creativity, and movement can cause great runs behind the defense even if great pace and explosiveness are lacking.
While he usually occupies the central space between the opponent’s defense and midfield, he is also very adept at finding spaces on the wings. Lanus like to create an advantage in transition, so whenever they win the ball, one winger, the one further up will press forward, Sand will stay centrally and Lopez will fill the other flank. More often than not this is the right flank, while Mancorra occupies the right side.
Lopez has a great combination of size and vertical leap but also knows how to create space for himself to run towards the ball as well as anticipate its flight. While he still isn’t winning most of his areal duels, mostly due to lack of strength lower body strength, and frame that still hasn’t hit its athletic peak, he is an absolute nightmare to defend in set pieces.
More than half of his goals this season have come after set-pieces. He knows how to position himself, sometimes using movement feints, and at times slight pushes and shoves, which the refs never call. But once he creates a step or two separation between himself and his marker, it is usually game over. He accelerates and jumps quickly, freeing himself for powerful headers that often find the back of the net. With more strength and experience, he should get his duel numbers above 50% with ease and increase his areal duel volume to 10+.
As I said earlier he still isn’t as dominant in the air in live play, as he is in set-piece situations, but there are flashes of his ability to get at the end of crosses and threaten the opposition or even score. Here we have one such situation. There are three Lanus players in the box and a bunch of opponents. But, once the ball is crossed from the right, there is only one player who knows where it will go and at what height. That one player is Josema Lopez and he scores a precise header with power.
Creator in Transition and as the Focal Point
In most cases, Lopez acts as the primary target in Lanus’ transition. He will either receive the ball to his feet or play it on with his head towards Sand or one of the wingers.
It is not only his size that is an asset in transition. Lopez is an above-average technical and creative player for a target man of his size and age. As we see in the example above, he has the technical ability, agility, and vision to shake a man in transition and play a through ball for Sand who sadly misses a clear-cut chance.
He also exhibits composure and spatial awareness well above his experience. A lot of players would usually rush the pass or shoot, but Lopez calmly lets the players occupy their spots and finds a teammate whose run creates a penalty.
He is also capable of making quick one-touch passes that open up the opposition when he acts as an anchor or focal point of Lanus’ attack, which he rarely does because they use Sand that way primarily. In total, he averages 1 key pass per 90 so far this season. His passing numbers aren’t all that great, but he is asked to always push the tempo and play his passes as forward as possible as soon as possible. His combination of size, composure, ball control, and agility make him a good candidate for holding up the ball.
Hardworking out of possession
Lopez is a hardworking player when his team is out of possession. While Sand drifts for lose balls, Lopez tries to press and win the ball back. He engages in 17 ground duels per game, winning 8 of them. While that still isn’t over 50%, it is close and at his age, it is very likely that he could become a very good and very hard-working forward that wins you the ball back at an above-average clip both in terms of volume and percentages. He is also willing to tackle, which not every striker likes to do. He averages close to 1.5 successful tackles per game. In total, he has over 4 tackles, interceptions, and clearances per 90 minutes combined so far this season. The team uses him as a man marker during defense set pieces, and he handles those responsibilities well.
One of the things that he is lacking and is important to a striker is his ability to be a consistent threat while shooting the ball with his feet. The volume of shots take with his feet is around 1 and it’s under 40% shots on target so far. While his left leg is dominant, he has shown that in the future he might also be able to score with both feet. If he adds strengths and power gradually he should be an even better areal threat, especially in live play. Still not much of a dribbler, with 1 per game and a 45% success rate.
Potential Outcomes Eldor Shomurodov / Luuk de Jong
When I watch him play, two players usually come to mind, one is Eldor Shomurodov and the other, Barcelona’s latest head-scratching signing Luuk De Jong.
Shomurodov is an Uzbeki national playing for Roma this season. Before that, he spent a couple of years in Rostov and a season at Bologna. He is what I think Lopez would be if he stays primarily an areal threat with little improvement as a goal scorer from the ground. But still, Roma paid 18 mil euros for him to Genoa this summer.
Luuk de Jong was always incredible in the Dutch league, scoring and assist at will. He is of a similar size and built as Lopez. If everything clicks for Lopez and improves in every facet of the game, drains every single drop of his potential he could be a player with a career similar to that of De Jong. One of the best strikers in terms of production in a non-top 5 league, like the Dutch, Belgium, or Russian league, or a very good striker who brings a lot to the table for an above-average team in a top 5 European league, like a Sevilla, Bayer Leverkusen or Lazio.