Who should be first choice England goalkeeper?


Time is running out for Gareth Southgate to decide who will be the starting goalkeeper for England at Euro 2020. Incumbent Jordan Pickford is currently sidelined with a rib injury, which has given others a chance to impress in World Cup qualifiers against San Marino, Albania and Poland. There are only a handful of English goalkeepers playing regularly in the Premier League, so Southgate’s options in this key position are somewhat limited. We have delved deep into the data to see if there is an outstanding candidate for the role of first choice England goalkeeper, with Euro 2020 now just around the corner.

 

Jordan Pickford

Pickford has been first choice goalkeeper for England for a while. He thrived at the last World Cup, but his club form for Everton has been decidedly mixed since that tournament three years ago.

Of late, Pickford has shown signs of getting back to his best, but some worryingly error-strewn performances earlier in the season may give Southgate a headache in the coming weeks and give the other English goalkeepers hope. Just six clean sheets this season ranks Pickford a long way behind the league’s leaders.

Save percentage is one of the key individual metrics for goalkeepers. In the Premier League this season, Pickford’s save percentage is 70.4 per cent, which ranks him in the middle of the pack. Since the start of the 2016-17 season, no Premier League goalkeeper has made more errors leading to goals than Pickford.

In 20-21 so far, Pickford has made two errors leading to goals – Alisson and Kepa Arrizabalaga are the only players with more. He also had a game to forget with two more mistakes against in a third round clash with Fleetwood Town in the Carabao Cup.

The flip side is that Pickford’s distribution is regarded as a huge asset for England. Southgate wants his team to play out from the back and Pickford is usually reliable with the ball at his feet. His booming long passes tend to be accurate and they are a handy option for England too.

That said, Pickford’s pass completion this season is just 60.7 per cent in the Premier League. Alisson and Ederson, for comparison, both comfortably clear the 80 per cent mark, as does Leeds United’s young stopper Illan Meslier.

If distribution is the department where Pickford is supposed to shine, this data does not indicate he has been performing particularly well this term. This means that the door is open for others and his position as England goalkeeper is under threat.

 

Nick Pope

Burnley goalkeeper Pope has been established as the number two for England for some time and he is yet to concede a goal in his four appearances for the Three Lions to date. Like Pickford, Pope has not been at his best during some periods of this season. He has also made two errors leading to goals, but he outperforms his rival for the jersey in a few other key areas.

For example, despite playing for a team that has been battling relegation for much of the season, Pope has kept nine clean sheets, though none of those have come in Burnley’s last four games. Pope managed 15 last term and was narrowly pipped to the Golden Glove award by Ederson

Pope is one of four Premier League goalkeepers to have made more than a century of saves this season and his save percentage is highly impressive at 73.7 per cent. In fact, only Aston Villa’s Emiliano Martinez can beat Pope in this stat among undisputed number ones in the Premier League this season. If the primary job of a goalkeeper is to keep the ball out of his net, Pope has been performing at a very high level for a number of years now. However, distribution is considered to be a weakness for 6’6″ Pope and the data seems to back this up this theory.

His pass completion is just 45.2 per cent in the league this season and only one player in the entire division has a lower score. But this does not take into account Pope’s role at Burnley. Sean Dyche’s side are among the most direct in the Premier League. Pope usually looks for target men like Chris Wood with long passes from the back. Maybe it is not fair to say Pope cannot pass the ball out from the back when his manager simply does not want him to do this.

Pope has played 8.8 long balls per game this season and when he has played for England – albeit against fairly mediocre opponents – there have been no issues with the ball at his feet and he is probably currently leading the chasing pack of English goalkeepers hoping to usurp Pickford.

 

Dean Henderson

The timing could hardly be better for Henderson, with the 24-year-old finally starting regularly for Manchester United and with Pickford temporarily out of the picture due to injury.

Two good years at Sheffield United put Henderson on England’s radar and, if he can keep David de Gea out of the side at Old Trafford – having taken over when the Spaniard travelled to Spain for the birth of his baby – he could become an increasingly appealing option for Southgate to be England goalkeeper at Euro 2020.

Henderson has only started five Premier League games this season, so the data for the 24-year-old is from a smaller sample size. His save percentage of 86.4 per cent is excellent, though, and Henderson has so far kept clean sheets in three of his five starts in the league.

An asset Henderson has is a throw that helped to create Luke Shaw’s goal in a derby win against Manchester City recently and earned comparisons to Peter Schmeichel. Henderson may be a future England number one but a relative lack of experience counts against him. Henderson’s 42 Premier League appearances is far below Pickford (168) and Pope (101).

 

Alternative English goalkeepers

Southgate opted for West Brom goalkeeper Sam Johnstone to fill Pickford’s place in the England squad and he has been a rare strong performer for the Baggies, who seem certain to be relegated. Johnstone has made 112 saves in the Premier League this season, with only Meslier at Leeds making more. But his save percentage is just 65.9 per cent, ranking him near the bottom of the league, while his distribution may also be suspect with a pass completion of only 46 per cent.

Aaron Ramsdale was signed by Sheffield United to take Henderson’s place but the young goalkeeper has been inconsistent since his return to Bramall Lane. He has only been able to keep two clean sheets as the Blades have toiled, while his save percentage is comparable to Johnstone’s. Ramsdale also has the lowest pass completion in the league at 42 per cent.

Newcastle fans have been touting Karl Darlow for a call-up for months but the goalkeeper recently lost his place to Martin Dubravka. This makes it hard to argue he should be in the England squad if he is not even deemed good enough to start for Newcastle as goalkeeper at the moment. Nevertheless, Darlow’s data shows only four clean sheets in 25 games, a save percentage of 65.4 per cent that ranks him below Johnstone and Ramsdale, and a pass completion rate similar to Pope’s. Ultimately all three English goalkeepers will need to improve if they are to seriously challenge for a place in the squad.

 


 

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