England

Jordan Pickford deserves to keep spot as England's starting goalkeeper

Sean Walsh
Pickford has won 43 caps for England
Pickford has won 43 caps for England / Eurasia Sport Images/GettyImages
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England's heartbreaking penalty shootout lost to Italy in the Euro 2020 final meant that plenty of ready-made tournament-defining narratives were consigned to history.

Harry Maguire rocked up to the competition lacking in fitness and was the best defender in every game that he played, scoring one of the best penalties in shootout history to boot - now he's a laughing stock.

Raheem Sterling forced his way back into international stardom after a difficult club season - now he's on the periphery again. Jack Grealish was the country's heartthrob - now he's just another somebody for Manchester City.

But one of the more intriguing stories came between the sticks.

Gianluigi Donnarumma's heroics were enough to win him the player of the tournament award, as well as a consensus pick for the FIFPro World XI.

Donnarumma had a good campaign, sure, but it wasn't as impressive as his opposite number in that final, a player who managed to shake off his reputation as a liability and stepped up when it mattered - Jordan Pickford.

The Everton goalkeeper came ever so close to writing his name into England legend, saving Andrea Belotti's spot kick prior to Maguire's thumper. He was then seen manically prepping and talking to himself a la Ted Hankey before denying Jorginho the chance to win it, coolly walking away like he was the protagonist of any redemption film ever made. It was a beloved moment lost to the ages.

Pickford's difficult 2020/21 season saw his position come under fire, but a strong second half to the campaign - coupled with Dean Henderson's shaky form when thrust into the Manchester United spotlight - meant that he went into the Euros as the undisputed number one.

Like many of his Three Lions teammates though, Pickford has struggled to replicate his summer form back at club level (though it's hardly his fault that Everton have been a shambles). Despite this, Gareth Southgate has continued to lean on his nearly-heroes from 2021 anyway.

It's a method that's largely worked - England remain unbeaten in their eight games since the Euros final and haven't lost in 90 minutes since 2020, a run stretching back to 21 matches.

Creating a positive club-style atmosphere at national level has been crucial to the Three Lions' relative success in recent years, as has been echoed by core members of the squad. Southgate rarely tinkers unless he truly needs to.

Gareth Southgate, Jordan Pickford
Southgate trusts Pickford / Bryn Lennon/GettyImages

Several young players have emerged onto his radar this season, including Arsenal goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale, who was drafted into the Euros squad for the injured Henderson last summer.

There have been plenty of calls - largely out of north London - to instate Ramsdale as Pickford's replacement, but doing so at this stage doesn't seem like a gamble worth making and would be out of character for Southgate to implement.

Prior to his move to the Emirates Stadium, Ramsdale definitely was not seen as a leading Premier League goalkeeper - he shipped 125 goals in two seasons with Bournemouth and Sheffield United, with both being relegated to the Championship.

Like Pickford's situation at Everton, this wasn't all his own doing, but there were definitely several moments which called his ability into question. At the very least, no one expected him to become such a key player for a resurgent Arsenal side this year.

Aaron Ramsdale, Jordan Pickford, Sam Johnstone
Pickford should retain his spot in the starting XI / Claudio Villa/GettyImages

Football changes very quickly and Ramsdale's rise has been remarkable. As long as he's fit, he's a shoo-in to go to Qatar now. But unless Pickford starts chucking the ball into his own net three times a game or loses his foot in some kind of freak farming accident, he should retain the starting spot.

The 28-year-old held England together when the defence was in disarray in Saturday's 2-1 win over Switzerland, making a string of smart stops and doing his best to guide an inexperienced backline.

It was a performance that Pickford maybe needed to show the general public why he's still the top candidate for the job, why his tournament and big-game experience as part of Southgate's core will matter come the World Cup.

Ramsdale's strengths and weaknesses are very similar to Pickford's anyway - they're both shorter than the average goalkeeper but make up for it with their technical ability, communication and reflexes.

It's Pickford's spot to lose, and unless the argument to replace him is 100% watertight and bulletproof, he's not going to give it up.

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