Southgate must be out of his mind to defend Pickford so profusely

“We have some competition for places but I would have to say that there is nobody who I think is challenging seriously at the moment to push him out of that position.”

This view on Jordan Pickford’s England status must surely have come from an uneducated fan on Twitter? An under-qualified pundit, perhaps? Or a devout Everton fan sticking up for his goalkeeper?

Unfortunately for England fans, none of the above answers are correct. This strange opinion actually came from the national manager himself, Gareth Southgate. 

Southgate’s popularity has certainly declined in recent months. His insistence on employing negative tactics (despite the wealth of attacking talent at his disposal), some poor in-game decision making and his apparent antipathy towards Jack Grealish have raised plenty of questions among a fanbase who, until recently, went as far as bringing about a waistcoat revolution in his honour. 

Perhaps even more baffling, however, is the manager’s downright refusal to speak ill of Jordan Pickford. It has become somewhat of a mystery; what does the 26-year-old have to do to get dropped from the England starting eleven? Nick Pope of Burnley and Manchester United’s Dean Henderson have been knocking on the door for a significant period of time, yet Southgate says there is “nobody” who comes close to the ex-Sunderland man’s shirt.

Southgate may simply prefer Pickford, but this statement is an abomination. Taking a simple look at the numbers instantly dispels his beliefs and may even call his sanity into question. 

Let’s take a look at last season’s Premier League stats, where Pickford, Pope and Henderson were all regular starters for their club sides.

In the 2019/20 season, Nick Pope helped Burnley reach 15 clean sheets – a number which missed out on a Golden Glove award by a mere one shutout. Henderson achieved just two less with 13, but Pickford was significantly worse off with nine. Straightaway, Pickford falls behind when it comes to the most revered of goalkeeper stats. 

Clean sheets aren’t just down to Pickford though, are they? Everton’s defence may not have been providing adequate protection, after all. 

So what about errors leading to goals? This is a category Pickford does excel in – last season, he made four mistakes that cost his side goals. Pope, on the other hand, made just two; Henderson was even sturdier, with just one such costly mistake. This highlights Pickford’s erratic nature and the likelihood of him costing his team in the future (whether that be Everton or England). He has already made another error leading to a goal this season, and it certainly won’t come as a surprise when he does it again.

Am even deeper look into last season’s goalkeeping stats show Southgate’s defence of Pickford to be weak.

England’s ‘number one’ made 94 saves in the Premier League last year. Henderson edged him in this category with 97, and Pope blew both competitors out of the water with a massive 120 stops. 

Pope also made an impressive 94 high claims last year, again streets ahead of Pickford’s 24 and Henderson’s 20. When it came to successful punches away, Henderson’s 16 comfortably seen off the others – both of whom made 11. 

These trends have all continued into this season (barring Henderson’s, who finds himself behind David De Gea in the Manchester United pecking order). Pickford hasn’t made any significant improvements, and if anything is looking shakier than ever. 

These stats prove that both of Pickford’s direct competitors have been performing both better and more consistently than him. So why does Southgate believe there are no serious challengers? 

It’s fairly obvious that he refuses to drop Pickford because he hasn’t made these kinds of mistakes for England, but there are a number of reasons as to why this makes Southgate’s decision making incredibly inept. 

International games offer a very small sample size. Just because Pickford hasn’t made a notable mistake for his country so far doesn’t mean he won’t in the future; errors will naturally come with more games. 

Answer me this; what other player, in any position, can get away with playing consistently poorly for their club and still walk into their national team – especially when there are a wealth of suitable alternatives? At best it shows narrow-sightedness and a refusal to accept being in the wrong; at worst, blatant favouritism.

Whatever the reason, Pickford’s role seems to be safe for the time being. The question for Pope and Henderson, however, is simple – what else are they supposed to do? Henderson can at least blame a lack of game time this season for his exclusion, but Pope has been outperforming Pickford for a long time now and barely gets a look in. 

Southgate’s managerial ability may be lacking, but surely even he can’t be blind to the serious challengers for the England goalkeeper shirt?

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