It seems Jordan Pickford will remain England’s starting goalkeeper under Gareth Southgate for the foreseeable future, despite concerning form for club side Everton. Sam Broad contemplates Southgate’s statement: “There is nobody who I think is challenging seriously at the moment to push him out of that position.”
What is the impact of Gareth Southgate’s statement?
Southgate’s public statement of support for Jordan Pickford must reassure England’s current number one. Pickford is under mounting pressure to improve his form for Everton. His poor performances resulted in the decision for Carlo Ancelotti to drop him for the Premier League fixture against Newcastle United.
Yet Southgate’s undeniable loyalty remains persistent, despite the increasing doubt experienced by those focused on Pickford’s form on a weekly basis. We expect Southgate to have his favoured players, as a manager’s job is ultimately judged by results.
However, elements of Southgate’s recent team selection have showed a slight sign of favouritism within the England setup. This is notable in the lack of game time given to Jack Grealish, who is currently one of England’s most exhilarating attacking players operating in the Premier League. Encouraging this current England team to compete for an international tournament is a long-term project. There must be a general consistency throughout the squad, to ensure the team performs adequately.
However, Southgate is receiving weekly data to support his England team selection. We misuse this evidence when a player’s domestic league form doesn’t match their game time for England. To not properly acknowledge these performances by certain players, means within an England team context, these domestic league appearances become irrelevant. Southgate’s public refusal to acknowledge any competition for England’s first-choice goalkeeper puts pressure on Ancelotti, who might become obliged to continue playing Pickford for Everton.
In the run-up to the international break, Everton have now lost their last three Premier League matches. It’s the first time Ancelotti has lost three league games in a row since November 2006, when he was managing AC Milan. A manager of Ancelotti’s calibre doesn’t remain idle when his team crumbles, and I expect the Italian will make changes to ensure the Premier League table favours a sound position for Everton.
Pickford looked like Everton’s major weakness, even throughout the Toffee’s bright start to the current Premier League campaign. Frequently VAR has sided with Pickford when he has made questionable decisions. The horrendous challenge on Virgil van Dijk, which occurred only 11 minutes into the game against Merseyside rivals, Liverpool. Everton’s most recent defeat to Manchester United saw Pickford wildly kick Harry Maguire after he dropped the ball in the penalty area.
With the aid of VAR, Pickford escaped punishment for both incidents. In a different game, we would expect these reckless tackles would have resulted in penalties. Pickford’s decision-making ability in pressurised situations has seen him make many mistakes within the penalty box. If this pattern continues, it is likely Robin Olsen will feature more for Everton after the international break, regardless of Southgate’s favouritism towards Pickford.
Who are the alternative goalkeepers?
To fully analyse Gareth Southgate’s statement surrounding the lack of competition for Pickford’s position, it is worth acknowledging English goalkeepers that could prove to be a threat.
Nick Pope has been the obvious opposition to Pickford in recent years. However, Pope is struggling for form himself, and Burnley are placed 19th in the Premier League table.
Dean Henderson deserves a notable mention after featuring heavily for Sheffield United in the 2019/20 Premier League season. However, Henderson has struggled for playing time with David de Gea remaining the starting goalkeeper for Manchester United. For Henderson to be considered a challenger to Pickford, he must go out on loan in January to secure game time at a domestic level.
While Pickford, Pope, and Henderson are the trio for the current England squad, Alex McCarthy is an external threat to Pickford’s position as England’s goalkeeper. Southampton are flying high in the Premier League, even reaching the top of the league for the first time in the club’s history.
McCarthy has kept four clean sheets in Southampton’s first eight games of the 2020/21 Premier League season. At 30, McCarthy has subtly progressed within the Southampton ranks as he enters his peak years as a goalkeeper, assuring himself as a clear number one for the Saints ahead of Angus Gunn and Fraser Forster. With only one senior England cap, McCarthy doesn’t get the attention that Pickford does, allowing him to develop his ability under the radar.
Does Jordan Pickford deserve to be England’s first-choice goalkeeper?
With the delayed Euros taking place in the summer of 2021, it seems Gareth Southgate has shown his hand unreasonably early. If Pickford and England had continued to build momentum following the 2018 World Cup, then there are no doubts or complaints that can be made.
However, neither party has been very inspiring in the matches that have followed England’s semi-final defeat to Croatia. Therefore, Southgate’s internal perspective would suggest that he is settling for the familiarity of Pickford, not his overall ability.
At times, Pickford has shown his potential, the highlight of his career being the 2018 World Cup. The quarter-final penalty shoot-out performance against Colombia is one memory that will be etched into the memory of England fans forever. Although he tends to operate with a more instinctive playing style than one that lends itself to the technical side of the game. The goalkeeper’s fundamental weakness is not necessarily his ability, but that he is so often ruled by his emotions.
The 26-year-old has displayed this for Everton, typically when playing against Liverpool FC and Newcastle United. It seems no coincidence that Ancelotti dropped Pickford for the recent fixture against Newcastle, suggesting that he is firmly aware of the former Sunderland goalkeeper’s emotional unpredictability. If Pickford’s club manager is doubtful of the goalkeeper’s ability to cope in pressurised situations, then Southgate should think twice about closing the door on Pickford’s opposition.
England fans have already seen the detrimental impact of having an emotional goalkeeper. Joe Hart was a very agitated figure in the tunnel before England’s 2-1 defeat to Iceland in the 2016 Euro’s. He then went onto make a mistake for Iceland’s second goal and England couldn’t get a foothold back in the game.
At 26, Pickford is still young for a goalkeeper. However, he must mature emotionally if he is going to feature heavily for England in the coming tournaments. With a growing international team, the players must have confidence in their goalkeeper’s reliability. Judging by past tournaments, England cannot afford to make too many mistakes if they are to have a successful campaign.
Whoever England’s goalkeeper is in the foreseeable future, they need to exude a calm personality. Leading by example and keeping clean sheets will generate trust, when a goalkeeper is not of esteemed quality, it is ideal to leave the vocal leadership to the more established outfield players.
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