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Who should really start in goal for England? We spoke to a goalkeeping expert

Gareth Southgate's toughest selection dilemma will be deciding on his goalkeeper for the tournament

One thing’s for certain, it won’t be Joe Hart.

Let’s face it, the goalkeeper will be a pretty important position for England this summer.

We need to have the best man between the sticks in anticipation of our last-sixteen clash with Poland going all the way to penalties.


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Gareth Southgate faces arguably his toughest decision in deciding who will start in goal

AFP or licensors
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Gareth Southgate faces arguably his toughest decision in deciding who will start in goal

It’s safe to say that Southgate has one of those “good” selection dilemmas on his hands.

The England Manager has three competent choices to pick from between the posts, more than the Three Lions have had going into recent tournaments.


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Everton’s Jordan Pickford, Stoke’s Jack Butland, and Burnley’s Nick Pope are the stoppers in the frame for the No1 jersey in Russia this summer.

Despite Pickford being given the nod against Nigeria on Saturday, it could be the case that Southgate is still yet to make his mind up.

“Eeny, meeny, miny, moe”

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“Eeny, meeny, miny, moe”

The remaining training sessions and Thursday’s friendly against Costa Rica, all provide opportunities for the three men to stake their claim for the starting spot.

So, to give Southgate a bit of a hand with his decision, we sat down with Sam Jackson, Head of Research and Analytics at World in Motion, about who the stats are suggesting should be England’s No1 in Russia this summer.

Dream Team: So, Sam, empirically speaking, of the three keepers (Pickford, Butland and Pope) who should be starting for England at the World Cup?

Sam: “Well, based on the unique data we’ve collected from the 2017-18 season, Pope is the best shot-stopper of the trio, with Pickford and Butland evenly matched in this department.

“Pickford is the best distributor of the bunch and is also the most comfortable sweeper, he’s the most comfortable playing in the ‘modern goalkeeper’ style.

“Pope has been okay passing over long distances, with Butland being quite poor in terms of distribution this season.

Pope is yet to an England appearance

Reuters
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Pope is yet to an England appearance

“Given the way that England are looking to play, with buildup play starting from the back, Pickford is by far the best fit of the three.”

Is there any evidence on how they might have to adapt their games from their clubs teams and how that might affect them?

“Pickford is probably the one who is most used to the ‘England DNA’ style of possession play and tidy distribution out from the back.

“That said, the Everton man is far from as comfortable as the likes of Ederson and Kasper Schmeichel at this time, so he still has a lot to learn.”

“Butland and Pope would likely take more time to adapt to England’s style though.”

The Everton mans composure at the back could tip the scales in his favour

Getty Images - Getty
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The Everton mans composure at the back could tip the scales in his favour

Pickford’s final game of the season had some people talking as he didn’t look totally assured – is he prone to those errors at all?

“It’s true that Pickford is fairly inconsistent, but his average levels are good.

“So he can occasionally be a bit shaky – but he’s equally likely to have a worldy.

“You never quite know what you’re going to get!”

Butland obviously got relegated with Stoke, Pickford has been relegated with Sunderland – do you think that experience will have shaped their characters in any way, especially as they have now moved into a national team full of (better) talent?

“Almost definitely, but only speculating.

Butland’s Stoke side were relegated last season

Reuters
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Butland’s Stoke side were relegated last season

“You would expect them to have taken the positives from those experiences and be better players as a result.”

Let’s talk penalties… Pickford has said they’ve already started practising spot-kicks, but is there actually any benefit to them doing this in training?

“It makes sense in terms of normalising the experiences.

“Obviously tournament penalties are a very different beast psychologically to practising them in training, so you can never completely replicate the atmosphere and pressure that is placed on you.”

You can never fully prepare for the pressure of tournament penalties

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You can never fully prepare for the pressure of tournament penalties

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Who should be in goal for penalties, if it comes to it? Can you foresee a situation like Louis Van Gaal situation in the last World Cup, when he swapped his keepers before the shootout?

“Of the three, the stats would indicate that both Pickford and Pope are around average at saving penalties.“Butland then falls behind the pair in this department, he’s a bit below average.

“The reserve goalkeeper on the standby list, Tom Heaton, is actually above average for saving penalties, it’s a shame he was injured for much of this season.

Heaton’s injury presented his Burnley team-mate Pope with a big opportunity

PA:Empics Sport
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Heaton’s injury presented his Burnley team-mate Pope with a big opportunity

“Funnily enough, the best English penalty stopper is actually Alex Smithies at QPR!

“That said, it’s all based on very small samples, so there’s not a huge degree of predictive power for how they’ll do if facing 5+ in a tournament shoot-out.

“In terms of swapping goalkeepers as van Gaal did with Tim Krul, I think it’s more of a psychological move against the opponent, so it makes sense in that respect, but equally not playing a 3rd outfield sub and having nine players with tired legs for 120 minutes seems potentially inefficient.”

It’s unlikely we’ll see any goalkeeper swapping this summer… you never know though!

Reuters
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It’s unlikely we’ll see any goalkeeper swapping this summer… you never know though!

Finally, who do you personally want to see play in goal, and why?

“I think Pickford suits England’s tactical set-up best, though Pope’s shot-shopping in 2017/18 has been different class.

“It’s a really tough decision.”

We’ve narrowed it down to two candidates

News Group Newspapers Ltd
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We’ve narrowed it down to two candidates

So, you heard it here first, Gareth, all the stats say you should go with either Pickford, or Pope.

Commiserations to Butland.

Stats never lie, right?


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