With the first game of England’s Euro 2020 campaign just four months away, the debate has already began as to who should start between the sticks at Wembley against Croatia in June.
Friendlies with Italy and Denmark next month will give manager Gareth Southgate a chance to possibly try out his options. Every pundit or fan will already have an opinion on who would be their number one choice and the debate will reach fever pitch as the weeks go by.
Many pundits are tipping Sheffield United stopper Dean Henderson to earn his first full cap soon, whilst others are suggesting Nick Pope of Burnley should be number one choice. There are still those who feel Southgate should stick with Jordan Pickford and there are even calls for Ben Foster to receive an overdue recall.
However, Jack Butland, currently enduring a relegation battle in the Championship at Stoke City, and the injured Tom Heaton seem to have been left out of the debate
Let’s look at the options Southgate has in front of him at this time.
Pickford has endured a somewhat torrid season at Everton so far and an error allowing Crystal Palace’s Christian Benteke to score this past weekend has been discussed even more than the fact his team won the match 3-1.
The former Sunderland stopper came under criticism with his team languishing at the wrong end of the table for the first half of the season and, even though the clubs fortunes have turned around, Pickford still bears the brunt of several negative comments. In part due to the fact he has only kept one clean sheet in the last seven Premier League games despite the Toffees being on a decent run of form.
However, Pickford has been England number one for a while now and his international experience may gain him an advantage over his rivals. He has 24 full caps for his country, keeping ten clean sheets to put him joint 10th on the list for most clean sheets ever kept for England.
On top of that he was number one as England reached the Semi-Finals of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, saving a penalty to help his country win a shoot-out against Colombia, and he was then named in the team of the tournament at the 2019 Nations League Finals.
Pope has had an up and down past few seasons but is currently enjoying a run as Burnley number one, ahead of former England number one Joe Hart and Northern Ireland stopper Bailey Peacock-Farrell.
Having spent the early part of his career in the lower divisions, Pope was thrust into the spotlight in just the fourth match of the 2017/18 season when then Burnley number one Tom Heaton suffered an injury. Despite the obvious step up in class, the keeper proved his worth and went on to win the player of the year award as he helped his club finish in seventh position in the Premier League.
This also earned him a call up to the England senior squad, despite never previously earning a cap at any level, and a place in the squad for the 2018 World Cup.
A serious shoulder injury meant he didn’t appear in a single league game last season but he is back to full fitness and performing well at a mid-table Burnley during this campaign.
His lack of international experience does work against him, as he only has two caps to his name, but his performances for his club have definitely put him in a solid position to add to that in the near future.
Henderson is enjoying a dream first ever Premier League campaign on loan at Sheffield United, with his current side sitting fifth in the table despite being tipped for relegation after promotion last season.
The 22-year-old, officially on the books at Manchester United, has been a star for his side this season and has helped them defy the odds to be challenging at the top end of the table. A costly mistake against Liverpool early in the season earned him some stern comments from his manager, but he showed a maturity above his years to bounce back and keep three clean sheets in the next four matches.
In fact, so impressive has the youngster been for the Blades this term, that many are predicting he could challenge David De Gea for the number one spot at Old Trafford next season.
Although he may not have a single senior international cap, Henderson has been capped at every level from under-16 to under-21. This includes being a part of the 2017 Under-17 World Cup winning squad and the number one at the 2019 Under-21 European Championships.
He has also been a part of the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign, as an unused substitute in the last four matches. This may not have gained him on-pitch experience at the highest international level but being in and around the squad will have given him invaluable knowledge for when his time does come to be selected.
Foster has only an outside chance of earning an England recall and may not even accept it if a place in the squad was offered. The 36-year-old retired from international duty back in 2011 but came back to the fore in 2013, eventually accepting a place in the 2014 World Cup squad.
However, a clean sheet in a 0-0 draw with Costa Rica in the final group game of that competition was the last time Foster was seen in an England shirt.
The Watford number one has found himself being mentioned for an England recall again despite his team sitting 19th in the Premier League, having played one game more than the three teams nearest to them in the table. Part of the reason for this is the fact that without him Watford may have found themselves even nearer to a drop into the second tier of English football.
Foster has remained professional throughout the campaign, despite off-pitch upheaval and poor team form in general, and has kept eight clean sheets in twenty-six appearances this term.
In order to gain a better understanding of each goalkeepers form and develop an informed opinion of who is the better choice to keep goal for England at a major tournament, we must take a look at this seasons statistics for each.
*Command of area is a combined total of high claims, punches and catches*
Who Should be England Number One?
As you can see from these statistics, each keeper has their strengths and weaknesses.
Pope has a fantastic command of his area and is a last line of defence with three times the number of sweeper clearances than Henderson and almost double the amount of Pickford. The Everton keeper does, however, help his team more in an attacking sense with more accurate long balls than any other keeper on the list.
Looking at the stats in an all-around capacity, the preference would probably have to be between Dean Henderson and Nick Pope.
Henderson makes less errors and proved he learns from them by outstanding performances following his howler against Liverpool. He has conceded far less than the other goalkeepers in contention, has a solid command of his area, and still contributes to the team in other ways.
Critics may look at his relatively low number of sweeper clearances and accurate long balls as two negatives though, as it could show a hesitance in coming out of his area to deal with balls in behind the defence and could highlight him giving the ball away when attempting to clear it.
Pope has a stronger command of his area, helps his defence with more sweeper clearances and is strong in pretty much every department. However, he has conceded more goals per game than both Henderson and Pickford and made two errors leading to goals.
Gareth Southgate has an extremely tough decision to make and performances throughout the rest of the season will definitely help to make up his mind.
Based on performances this season and his undoubted ability, Henderson should, however, be given a chance between the sticks in one of the upcoming friendlies to see how he deals with the step up to senior international level.
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