In the summer of 2018, Jordan Pickford was named England’s starting goalkeeper for the FIFA World Cup in Russia.
As England progressed to the semi-finals, Pickford made a number of very impressive saves and became a fan-favourite for his strong performances. As the 2021 EURO Competition rapidly approaches, Pickford’s seemingly secure position as England’s starting goalkeeper has recently come under pressure thanks to strong performances from other candidates along with being one of the only players at Everton offering performances that are less than ideal for the Toffees, who find themselves top of the table in the early stages of the 2020-21 Premier League season.
While Pickford may be struggling for club form, what arguments can be made for the six goalkeepers who are in the conversation for a spot on the squad?
The First Choices
Starting with, well, the starter, Pickford simply fits what England Manager Gareth Southgate likes in a goalkeeper. With arguably the best side-volley technique in the world for a keeper, Pickford’s distribution can be trusted. Since Pickford began playing for England, he averages 22.76 passes/90 with an accuracy of 84% and sending 7.6 long passes/90 with an accuracy of 60%. He is a safe choice who typically offers England strong performances.
On the negative side of things, Pickford has seen his shot-stopping struggle lately. In 2018-19, Pickford had a PSxG/90 of +0.11. In 2019-20, this flipped to -0.11. With the small sample size of the new season, Pickford’s PSxG/90 has fallen all the way to -0.55, meaning he is conceding more than half a goal of what you would expect per 90 minutes.
Despite his recent poor form, Pickford is still only 26 and has usually given the impression of stronger performances for country rather than club.
Nick Pope is most likely the frontrunner to replace Pickford. The Burnley goalkeeper has a considerable height advantage on Pickford (for those of you with a preference for a tall goalkeeper) and is viewed as a secure option that comes from the usually secure backline at his club. Pope’s saving ability excelled in 2017-18, with a PSxG/90 of +0.31.
After missing 2018-19 due to injury, his PSxG/90 fell to +0.09 in 2019/20 and he has had a rough start (matching Burnley’s rough start) with a PSxG/90 of -0.41. Last Premier League season, Pope had an average of 15.83 passes/90 with a 73% completion rate and 10.47 long passes/90 with an accuracy of 60%.
Pope is arguably a better shot-stopper than Pickford but may have more questions from Southgate about his distribution ability.
One of the next great goalkeepers of English football, Dean Henderson saw his rise to popularity on back-to-back successful campaigns that saw Sheffield United get promoted to the Premier League and finish 9th in their first year up. During 2019/20, Henderson had an incredible season of shot-stopping with a PSxG/90 of +0.14. In terms of distribution, Henderson averaged 15.08 passes with an accuracy of 74% and 11.09 long passes with an accuracy of 65%.
With a better shot-stopping form than Pickford or Pope and more balanced distribution, Henderson proves to be one of the most in-form goalkeepers right now and is only 23, however, Manchester United have kept their trust in David de Gea as the starting goalkeeper since Henderson has returned to the club.
Can Southgate justify starting Henderson for England if he isn’t starting for his club?
*No 2019/20 league data
Thanks to an interview from legendary goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel where the Dane questioned why Joe Hart has fallen out of the picture for England, the former England starter has found himself back in the conversation. A positive argument is Joe Hart really has done nothing wrong in his career and could be considered unlucky. When Pep Guardiola arrived at Manchester City, he wanted a goalkeeper more comfortable with the ball at his feet. This brought in Ederson and saw Hart go to Italy and put in strong performances on loan at Torino.
At West Ham and Burnley, he has contributed average performances and shown reliability to be called upon when needed. Now at Tottenham, it is fair to say he has spent the prime part of his career backing up very respectable goalkeepers (Adrian at West Ham, Tom Heaton at Burnley, Hugo Lloris at Tottenham) and is dependable.
With Hart now 33 and not routinely playing, Schmeichel may be slightly off in suggesting Hart for a return to England as the number one, but could he offer value as the third goalkeeper included in the squad to offer experience and guidance to a relatively young core of goalkeepers?
Next up in surprise candidates comes Southampton’s Alex McCarthy. In a conversation with Alex Stewart (Senior Content Strategist [UK Video] for The Athletic and Chief Tactician for TIFO Football) on McCarthy, Stewart justified a potential callup for the 30-year-old:
“Last season, McCarthy came in after the 9-0 loss to Leicester and steadied the ship, recording the third-best post-shot xG +/- per 90 in the league, according to Statsbomb data.
He’s grown increasingly confident with his distribution, and his long throws are useful. He’s also above average for cross claiming and sweeping. Playing behind Ralph Hasenhuttl’s high line will give him plenty of scope to demonstrate his utility, and also shows the Austrian’s faith in his number one.”
With high praise through a very positive review, could McCarthy emerge as a dark horse candidate as England’s goalkeeper?
England U21 goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale is perhaps the longest shot of the wildcards here, but his distribution can draw comparisons to Pickford simply on success rates. In 2019-20, Ramsdale’s time as Bournemouth’s goalkeeper saw him average 15.69 passes/90 with a success rate of 80% and 6.95 long passes/90 with a success rate of 60%.
A criticism of Ramsdale could be the number of secondary chances he appears to give due to often parrying shots, but his save percentage of 70% is higher than Pickford, Pope, or McCarthy this season. Ramsdale could see himself as an option to be a backup for England should his form with Sheffield United this season replicate Henderson’s form with Sheffield United last season, but it is too soon to truly consider Ramsdale as a number one for England with the level of competitors battling for the spot.
Gareth Southgate has a luxury of quality choices for his starting goalkeeper going forward, but each choice has a downside. Should he stick with what he knows and trusts with Jordan Pickford? Is it time to try a new goalkeeper? Will a goalkeeper naturally emerge as a clear and obvious choice for England before the 2021 Euros begins? Only time will tell.
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