Football Features

England’s Euro 2020 goalkeeper options: Should Southgate stick with Pickford, or twist?

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 11:30, 12 February 2020

With Euro 2020 fast approaching, England have a bit of a selection dilemma at a key position.

Now this is nothing new, England always manage to make one position a controversial showdown between different players, but it’s rarely the position of goalkeeper. For whatever reason, in the last decade, England have largely avoided the kind of goalkeeping controversies that other nations have dealt with, until now.

England’s No.1 is Jordan Pickford, he of the infant appendages, and there has been an increasing wave of criticism aimed at the Everton stopper lately. This is nothing new as criticism has followed Pickford like a shadow all his career, many mocked Everton for spending £30m on him in 2017 only for him to be really quite good for the Toffees as well as having a great World Cup for England.

But as we enter 2020, things are less solid for him. A soft bit of goalkeeping against Crystal Palace has seen the voices of dissent rise again. Pickford, however, is nonplussed by his critics. “Everyone gets stick. That’s part of being an England player. You have to live with it, you’ve got to learn,” Pickford said, adding: “I just get on with it. I know what I’m capable of and I know what I’m good at.”

The thing is; the question isn’t whether Pickford is good, it’s whether he’s good enough. Back in 2018 he was the safest pair of hands for the back of England’s net, but is that the case in 2020? With Sheffield United’s Dean Henderson and Burnley’s Nick Pope performing excellently, does Pickford have a fight on his hands to retain his spot? Should he? Let’s take a look.

Pickford has played 26 games this season whilst, thanks to the Premier League’s winter break and loan rules, Henderson and Pope have played just 25. Still, the numbers should be essentially the same. Straight away what jumps out is that Henderson and Pope have both kept nine clean sheets (a league-high along with Liverpool’s Alisson) whilst Pickford has kept only six.

But alright, a clean sheet is as much a measure of an entire defence as a goalkeeper, so let’s delve deeper. Pickford and Pope have both conceded 38 goals while Henderson here is well ahead, having been beaten just 21 times. So, again, England’s No.1 is lagging behind.

Looking at where the goals have come from is interesting too. Henderson has conceded just 20 goals from inside the box while Pope and Pickford have 32, that tracks given their overall numbers but what’s worrying is that both Pope and Pickford have been beaten six times from distance whereas Henderson has let just one goal in from outside the box.

That goal was also Henderson’s only error this season as he let Gini Wijnaldum’s dribbler of a shot go under him. By contrast, Pope has made two errors leading to goals, as has Pickford who also made an error leading to a shot.

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The Everton man just hasn’t looked anywhere near as solid as his peers. Pickford has made 64 saves so far this season, whilst Henderson has 65 and Pope is out ahead with 79 saves. Pope also leads the way when dominating his area, catching 26 crosses and making 30 high claims. This is better than Henderson (12 crosses claimed, 15 high claims) and Pickford (10 and 11).

But save percentage is really where we see the difference. Pickford’s 64 saves are 62.75% of the shots he has faced. Pope, by contrast, has saved 67.24% of the shots on target he’s faced while Henderson stands out as the most impressive here. His 75% save percentage is second only to Alisson among goalies who have started at least 15 games. He’s a cut above.

The final damning stat for Pickford is that he hasn’t saved a penalty this season, whereas both Henderson and Pope have stopped one. Given that knockout matches at Euro 2020 could go to penalties, this is a worry. Obviously, Pickford helped England beat Colombia at the World Cup, including saving Carlos Bacca’s penalty, but again, that was 2018 and this is 2020. He’s not the same man.

The question is now, who does Gareth Southgate go with? On the face of things, Pickford is by far the weakest entrant in this triple threat contest. You can argue Henderson vs. Pope, for sure. With Pope being the more experienced and the more physically dominant while Henderson is the young hotshot who looks more solid and could take over the No.1 shirt for years.

But Jordan Pickford? His mental resilience in the face of criticism is admirable, but being able to take criticism is not going to help England win games. You would assume Pickford will still be in the squad as Southgate has three spots to fill, but as for him starting?

It would be a tremendous mistake to keep Pickford as England’s No.1, the Everton stopper simply isn’t playing well enough to justify retaining his place in the face of such impressive competition from Pope and Henderson.