Kane’s late penalty secures Three Lions start to World Cup-winning year

Gareth Southgate insists Jordan Pickford has ‘always played well’ for England and backed the Everton keeper to continue as the Three Lions’ number one.

Pickford’s place in Southgate’s squad has been in question throughout his tenure as first-choice, although Aaron Ramsdale’s form for Arsenal this season has led to heightened scrutiny of who deserves to play between the posts .

Everton’s form has not helped, with the Toffees struggling in 17th place in the Premier League and having conceded the fifth most goals in the competition this season (47).

Pickford, meanwhile, conceded 44 of those goals, in 25 appearances. Although he has been a relatively consistent performer in a disappointing and inconsistent Everton side, only three Premier League goalkeepers have conceded more so far this season, although the 28-year-old has been busy, with his 85 saves ranked sixth. The highest.

His save percentage of 65.9 is the seventh-lowest goalkeeper to feature at least 10 times in the top flight, and is down from Ramsdale’s impressive 76.3 per cent.

Pickford however slightly outperformed their expected goals conceded (xGOT), by 0.6, although Ramsdale are again top in this metric, with a goals prevented figure of 3.3.

Yet on the international stage, Pickford is still Southgate’s undisputed number one. He made three saves as England came from behind to beat Switzerland 2-1 in a friendly at Wembley on Saturday, including a superb save from Fabian Frei as the visitors led 1-0.

“He’s always played well for us and he’s very focused with us,” Southgate told a news conference.

“He has a very good relationship with [goalkeeper coach] Martyn Margetson, who I think does a great job with him. Thus, he knows the structure that surrounds him. He clearly knows how we want him to play.

“There’s competition for everyone’s position and that’s what we want. We don’t want people to sit around thinking confidently that there’s no competition that doesn’t help a team.

“I think the form of other goalkeepers is important. But he still showed big saves at important times.”

Pickford has kept 20 clean sheets in 43 England appearances, conceding 32 times and committing no errors that resulted in a goal.

Indeed, at Euro 2020 he kept five clean sheets – more than any other goalkeeper – while his save percentage (88.9) was also the best in the competition.

“I thought he was very calm with the ball,” Southgate added. “It allowed us to take the pressure off by going in and out of the press.

“Of course he has all the clubs in the bag because he can play for a long time which is also a problem for the teams. So a very good performance from him, especially the saves in the first half.”

Premier League stats this season don’t back up the claims of Pickford’s reliable distribution, however, with his 48.9 per cent passing accuracy ranking third among goalkeepers with more than 10 Premier League appearances.

This data could be skewed slightly by the fact that only Burnley’s Nick Pope has attempted more long passes this season (581 vs. 544), with Everton having preferred a more direct approach under former manager Rafael Benitez.

Charles P. Patton