This article is part of Football FanCast’s Opinion series, which provides analysis, insight and opinion on any issue within the beautiful game, from Paul Pogba’s haircuts to League Two relegation battles…
Jordan Pickford and Everton travel to Turf Moor on Saturday where the current first-choice England keeper will meet his foe Nick Pope, as the Burnley man continues to push him for the number one spot.
Pickford has been involved with England ever since Gareth Southgate sought to replace Joe Hart in 2017, with the 25-year-old taking the number one shirt as the Three Lions approached the World Cup in 2018. In the process, the former Sunderland keeper edged past Pope, Tom Heaton and Jack Butland for the main jersey, but things are looking much different nowadays.
The tide is seemingly changing with the Burnley keeper having a significantly better start to the season than the Toffees man. Pickford was arguably lucky to sneak into the England side based on form as the Sky Sports’ power rankings omitted him from the 23-man squad, based on his statistical numbers.
He also fluffed his lines against Manchester City last weekend, drawing stern criticism from Everton fans for firstly failing to save Riyad Mahrez’s free kick and then almost gifting a goal with an irresponsible failed Cruyff turn in his own third, so it certainly feels as though the pressure is on Pickford to prove he can still be trusted.
Pope, on the other hand, comes with a reputation of steadiness between the sticks, even if he’s a more understated presence than Pickford. The Burnley man has the one cap to his name and was on the bench during each match at the World Cup. However, a shoulder injury kept him out of the squad for many months, which subsequently lost him his place in the Burnley goal, as Heaton returned by the time he was injury-free.
However, having secured the number one spot after Heaton’s move to Aston Villa, now is the time for the 27-year-old to make his mark on the Three Lions setup, and recent form suggests he’s ready to become Pickford’s England nemesis by capitalising on the Everton man’s sloppy start to the season with more assured performances.
Pope currently boasts 3.3 saves per Premier League fixture, whilst winning 0.7 aerial battles each game, and at the same time has conceded three goals less than the 25-year-old’s 12 at Everton so far. On the other hand, Pickford has averaged just 2.4 saves per game in the league, whilst averaging just o.1 aerial battles won per match.
The Burnley shot-stopper has made 24 saves this season, whilst making five high claims and seven sweeper clearances. In contrast, England’s current number one has stopped just 17 shots, made two high claims and two sweeper clearances.
Not only are the statistics significantly in favour of Pope reclaiming the jersey, but his overall performance on a consistent basis proves his worth as well – averaging a 6.86 rating on Whoscored compared to Pickford’s 6.32.
There is no doubt Southgate will be watching closely as Burnley host Everton to determine who takes the spot between the sticks against the Czech Republic and Bulgaria. Right now, it may just come down to whoever makes an error or pulls off a more important save, as the England boss certainly has a tough call to make.
But while it seems Pope can only really go up in Southgate’s estimations as the current second or third choice, Pickford needs to impress to ensure he doesn’t slide down the pecking order. After such ropey beginnings to the new campaign, another disappointing performance could prove incredibly costly. Nothing shows a player up more than failing to deliver in front of a direct rival, or in this case, a potential nemesis.