Four days to save Jordan Pickford's season?
Four days to save Jordan Pickford’s season? Denmark showdown and huge Merseyside derby will be acid tests for Everton’s nervy No 1… he must mirror England form with high-flying Toffees or risk losing starting spot
- Jordan Pickford’s position as Everton and England No 1 has been under scrutiny
- Despite perfect start to Premier League, he has been the weak link for Toffees
- Gareth Southgate kept faith and he only conceded one in five for England
- He must start showing his solid international form for Carlo Ancelotti’s side
There seem to be two Jordan Pickfords at the moment – the steady England goalkeeper and the nervy No 1 at Everton.
His two careers collide this week with two important games in quick succession for club and country. On Wednesday, England face Denmark in the Nations League and on Saturday lunchtime it’s back home to Goodison Park for a greatly-anticipated Merseyside derby against Liverpool.
Everton have won seven matches out of seven in all competitions this season but they are top of the Premier League in spite of Pickford rather than because of him.
Jordan Pickford has been the one weak link for Everton in their perfect Premier League start
Pickford has made numerous errors for the Toffees, including this one against Brighton
He started by making two errors against Fleetwood in the League Cup – one with his feet and one with his hands – and was indebted to his forwards for scoring five at the other end.
It was a similar story in Everton’s last match against Brighton. He fumbled a Leandro Trossard shot that gifted a goal to Neal Maupay before his team-mates pulled away to win 4-2.
However, Gareth Southgate has stuck by him at international level – and with good reason.
Pickford has conceded only once in his last five England appearances, Romelu Lukaku’s penalty for Belgium on Sunday. His clean sheet percentage with The Three Lions is 48.1% – a marginally better ratio than World Cup winner Gordon Banks.
It’s no wonder therefore that even the professionals are divided. Pickford’s excellent kicking skills are a huge asset to Southgate’s England. But the edginess in his game at club level – in addition to his blunder against Brighton he got away with needlessly palming a cross straight to an opponent – might cost Carlo Ancelotti’s side a run at a Champions League berth.
Southgate has spent much of 2020 defending Pickford, who faces competition from Nick Pope and Dean Henderson, but acknowledges: ‘I’ve got to bear in mind that Jordan has had excellent performances for us with England and has never let us down in terms of his performances for us.’
Neville Southall, regarded as Everton’s greatest ever goalkeeper, is also a Pickford admirer. ‘His mistakes aren’t killing us and once he finds his form, we’ll be flying,’ he says.
‘There’ll be a time when we’ll have to rely on him. Maybe people will have to change their opinions.’
The goalkeeper may be fortunate that the rivals for his shirt are not breathing down his neck
Gareth Southgate has remained loyal to Pickford, who is expected to start against Denmark
Others would consider Southall’s statement as an example of the goalkeeper’s union trying to defend the indefensible.
Peter Schmeichel, who has no ties to Everton, is perhaps more independent and sees Pickford in a frame of mind where he feels pressure to compensate for mistakes, and that is affecting his natural game.
‘He probably feels like he’s got to show the world all the time that he is the best and by trying to show the world, that’s where all the big mistakes come from,’ says the Great Dane.
‘You’re trying to come for a cross you’ve got no chance of reaching.’
Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher, the influential voices of Sky Sports, disagree on plenty but are united about Pickford’s current malaise.
‘It is clear to me that he is struggling with the criticisms,’ Carragher has said. ‘Using it as motivation is one of the great challenges of the game.’
Pickford’s mistakes against Fleetwood did not cost his side a win but left him red-faced
Pickford is trying hard to prove his class but this can lead to forcing more mistakes
Gary Neville criticised him for laughing when Everton were 3-1 down to Manchester City last season, prompting Pickford to respond: ‘The punters – look at Gary Neville – they want to come for England players.’
Yet Pickford has to accept the statistics give his critics plenty of ammunition. Since he made his Everton debut in 2017, no goalkeeper has made more errors (11) leading to goals. Even he labelled his blunder in February, allowing Christian Benteke’s shot to slip under his body for the Crystal Palace striker’s first goal in 34 matches, ‘disgusting’.
There is plenty to like about Pickford. He has risen through the ranks the hard way, even going out on loan from Sunderland to non-league Alfreton in order to toughen up.
Everton signed him for £25million in 2017 and the following year he was an England World Cup hero, helping Southgate’s men reach the semi-finals after his crucial save in a penalty shoot-out against Colombia.
Yet, some have never been convinced he can develop from being a good goalkeeper into a great one.
Pickford may be shorter in stature than other stoppers but has a sensational passing range
At 6ft 1ins, he is relatively short compared to today’s goalkeeping giants and has a clear height disadvantage over Pope and Henderson.
Belgium’s Thibaut Courtois, four inches taller, mocked Pickford for conceding a goal because of his height to Adnan Januzaj at the World Cup. ‘I would have caught it. He was too busy throwing his legs in the air.’
Yet Pickford has assets tailor-made for the modern game. His long and short kicking is comparable with anyone – ‘the passing weapon he has is so good and threatening,’ remarked David Seaman – and he has pulled off amazing saves, the tip around the post from Mateus Uribe at the World Cup would have gone in folklore itself had Colombia not later taken the game into penalties.
But once he hits a dodgy run of form, he seems unable to stem the mistakes. His positioning and handling in Everton’s goal has led to uncertainty at the back, something Liverpool will try to exploit this weekend.
Carlo Ancelotti will be desperate for his No 1 to pick up form, starting in the Merseyside derby
Carlo Ancelotti has hinted he will hold talks with Pickford when he returns from international duty, and signed Robin Olsen in the transfer window – ironically the goalkeeper who was at the other end to Pickford when England beat Sweden in the World Cup quarter-final. In that game, Pickford became the youngest England goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet in the World Cup.
He’s now 26 and can perhaps be thankful that Pope hasn’t started the season well for Burnley while Henderson can’t get a Premier League game for Manchester United.
The biggest threat to his England place may be losing his regular spot at Everton. He’s got to start showing his international form in the Premier League.
Share this article
Source: Read Full Article