Since the 2018 World Cup there has been a steady narrative that Jordan Pickford isn’t good enough to be England’s number one and we should be looking elsewhere for a replacement. His performance against Chelsea, and his performances since the turn of the year suggest this isn’t a problem position for Gareth Southgate and he has someone who is confident, improving and with the experience of a tournament behind him.
His performances in 2018 shouldn’t just be disregarded because they were three years ago. He was crucial in England’s run to the last four, didn’t put a foot wrong and in the big moments, he proved he had the bottle needed to cope with the pressure. His performance against Colombia was absolutely remarkable and not just because he became the only England goalkeeper to win a World Cup penalty shootout and the first England keeper to save a World Cup penalty in a shootout since David Seaman in 1998.
His last second save from Mateus Uribe was acrobatic and throughout the tournament his organisation of his defence was admirable. In an England shirt, under Southgate, he simply hasn’t put a foot wrong, despite some mistakes for Everton during that time period. In a position where confidence can make or break a player, the England manager has stuck by his side and given him the complete confidence to perform at his best.
It is also telling that under Carlo Ancelotti, even after bringing in Robin Olsen, Pickford has retained the number one shirt and performances have improved. In his last performance, critics were once again quick to jump on his back as he gave away a penalty, but equally as ignorant to the two or three brilliant saves he subsequently made across the rest of the game. Without him, the Toffees would have conceded four or five.
Southgate is clearly considering his options, with Nick Pope and Dean Henderson the other two goalkeepers who should be heading to this summer’s tournament. However, Pickford is clearly better with his feet than his two counterparts which is now vital to the way the Three Lions play, while he boasts the sixth highest save percentage in the Premier League, with Pope in fourth. In terms of a shot stopper, Pope could claim to be slightly better than Pickford, but as an overall goalkeeper with international experience, it is a no-contest.
The England manager was in the Turf Moor stands this weekend as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s shot squirmed past the England keeper at his near post. Little was made of this on social media, rightly so as all keepers are prone to mistakes, but you can bet your bottom dollar if it was Pickford who made the same error, he would have been utterly crucified online. It has to stop.
The Chelsea game came after a run of three consecutive clean sheets in which we saw the very best of England’s number one. Against Southampton his distribution was immense as he made 35 successful passes out of 45, while he made countless pivotal saves as Everton scooped nine points out of nine and put the pressure onto the others chasing European places. It seems as we approach international tournaments, we get to see the best of Jordan Pickford.
Meanwhile Dean Henderson is a promising candidate to challenge him over the long-term, and competition for places is certainly a positive thing for what has been a problem position for England over the past 15 years. His gametime for Manchester United will benefit him, but it is hard to see him permanently displacing David de Gea as the number one.
England’s goalkeeping situation is looking more positive now than it has ahead of any recent tournament. Ahead of 2018 we had three keepers lacking international experience, in ‘16 & ‘14 a declining Joe Hart was our best option, while back in 2010 when Hart was our most promising goalkeeper, we watched a horror show unfold as Rob Green and David James shared the shirt.
Pickford is far from perfect, but he is a hell of a lot better than people give him credit for. He will rightly be England’s number one this summer, and there is nobody we’d rather see between the sticks when it inevitably comes down to penalties once again.
“SAVED! JORDAN PICKFORD! ENGLAND ARE ON THE BRINK!”