FIFA 21: Why everyone uses Nick Pope in FUT 21
The go-to meta goalkeeper is cheap, but is he really that OP? What makes a good goalkeeper in FIFA 21 anyway?
It's late at night, deep into the FUT Champions Weekend League, and we are doing surprisingly well. We've put together a run of wins and we are starting to get matched against really good opponents with expensively assembled teams. Easily the most challenging team we face has no fewer than four Team of the Year cards -- Ramos, Kevin De Bruyne, Kylian Mbappe and Bruno Fernandes. That's over 10 million coins right there, not to mention the Icons they use to glue the team together.
Who is in goal, though? 82-rated Nick Pope. Why does everyone love Nick Pope?
The Nick Pope phenomenon explained
The FIFA 21 community loves Nick Pope. The physically imposing 28-year-old goalkeeper is a Premier League stalwart in real life, having plotted a journeyman career through lower-league loan spells before landing at Burnley in 2016 and finding a new level. At the time of writing, he has even picked up four caps for the English national team.
But while he is undoubtedly talented, he is what you might consider a reasonably good card in FIFA 21 Ultimate Team, at least on the face of it: a rare gold, 82-rated goalkeeper. Most of the players in that category -- including fellow internationals like Gianluigi Buffon and Kepa Arrizabalaga -- are solid picks but don't amount to much in the FUT 21 economy due to their relatively low overall rating. You wouldn't expect to get more than a few thousands coins for them at their peak, and the meta should have long since moved on. But Pope endures.
The key to his success seems to be down to a few things.
The first is simply his height. At 6'7" in-game, he is the tallest rare gold goalkeeper in the whole database. (The next tallest rare gold is Thibaut Courtois at 6'6", and he is also quite popular.) Chip shots are more effective in this iteration of the game than in recent years, and something as simple as having a slightly taller goalkeeper can make a difference in terms of what pops over your keeper's head and what gets caught.
The second factor is traits. Pope has a trait called Saves With Feet, which does what it sounds like. Low driven shots aren't as effective as some shot types in FIFA 21, but in tight situations close to the goal line -- things like cutbacks across the six-yard box and volleys taken from a low cross -- the ability to push the ball away more frequently with four limbs rather than two improves the odds in a noticeable way. He also has the Comes For Crosses trait, which is useful now that headers are more viable.
The third is his basic stats, particularly reflexes, which are 84. Put a Cat or Shield Chemistry Style on Nick Pope and that rises to between 90 and 99. Reflexes is considered one of the pre-eminent stats for goalkeepers.
Goalkeeper is also a pretty unglamorous position in a FUT 21 team. Players don't like spending coins on goalkeepers -- who wants to tie up nearly 500k in a Team of the Year Manuel Neuer, for example, when we could spend that money on attackers? Even TOTY Neuer is still going to concede a lot of the OP goal types. Players also see goalkeeper less as a position to upgrade and tweak, and more as a problem to solve once and then never go near again. If Nick Pope saves most of the shots you think he should save, and he fits your team, why would you risk changing something so fundamental to your game?
In other words, Nick Pope is almost perfectly suited to FUT 21. Throw in a bit of YouTuber and Twitch streamer hype and word will get around. Little wonder then that his sole Team of the Week card of this cycle, rated 84, generally costs more than 90-rated Alisson Becker.
Other goalkeeping options in FUT 21
Just because loads of people use Nick Pope, however, doesn't mean that you have to follow suit. He's a convenient choice for price, ability and Premier League links, but he isn't the only choice. Let's look at a few other goalkeepers who are well worth considering.
- UCL Live Jan Oblak (93) - This version of Atletico Madrid's Slovenian goalkeeper is one of the most stat-packed cards you can have in that position, with 93 base reflexes and the Comes For Crosses trait. He's only 6'2" but he seems to reach chipped shots with the sort of ease one associates with taller players.
- Marc-Andre ter Stegen (90) - If you play a high line, 6'2" ter Stegen does everything Oblak does but also has the Rushes Out of Goal trait, which works nicely with the Sweeper Keeper player instruction you can apply through Custom Tactics. He also has a 4* weak foot, which is useful distributing the ball on either side.
- Thibaut Courtois (89) - Another La Liga keeper, Courtois lacks the traits but comes in at 6'6", which explains his presence in a lot of pro teams. His stats are much better than Nick Pope's except for that one missing inch of height.
- TOTW Ederson (89) - Man City have quietly risen to dominate the Premier League this season and their steady goalkeeper is part of their success. 6'2" but with Comes For Crosses and Rushes Out of Goal traits, he does the job as well as anyone.
- Future Stars Andriy Lunin (87) - A relatively new addition to the database, Lunin is a handy 6'4" with 87 reflexes and has both the Rushes Out of Goal and Saves With Feet traits. He was a card a lot of people ended up packing untradeable in rewards and repeatable SBCs, and if you did then don't overlook him as an option. He's cheaper than the other La Liga picks and arguably just as good.
- Hugo Lloris (87) - Lloris has 90 reflexes and Comes For Crosses and Rushes Out of Goal traits, coming in at 6'2". He's relatively cheap and a solid choice.
The FIFA 21 gameplay meta generally points to height and good reflexes as two of the biggest factors when choosing a goalkeeper, but it's also worth considering your play style to some extent. If you like to play a high line and have your keeper sweep up behind the defence, Manuel Neuer and Marc-Andre ter Stegen are both good choices due to their particular stat balances. We wouldn't necessarily go as far as the Team of the Year version of Neuer, unless we really wanted to flex our coin total, as the base card and in-form will likely do just as well, but you do you.
Every year around April time, EA Sports likes to celebrate the anniversary of Ultimate Team's birth with a celebration known, imaginatively, as FUT Birthday. Last year, they dropped a very unlikely card: Nick Pope with 5* skills. Yes, the Burnley keeper was given the ability to pull off five-star-rated skills like the Elastico, the Sombrero Flick and the Hocus Pocus. Given the English stopper's popularity this year, could we see a repeat?
Knowing EA's love of repeating SBCs and their fondness for hoovering up our excess coins and fodder by playing up to the meta, we wouldn't put it past them. One thing is for sure either way: in FUT 21, Nick Pope is here to stay.