Southgate Has to Get off the Fence and Name His England Number One
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Southgate Has to Get off the Fence and Name His England Number One

England’s World Cup preparations step up a notch this week with friendlies against Netherlands and Italy.

We’re not likely to learn anything we don’t already know with regard to England’s prospect for this summer’s tournament, given star striker Harry Kane is out injured and the Three Lions are facing two sides who failed to qualify for the tournament so will be in the experimental stage.

What we need to learn, although we may not, is who will be in goal for England this summer.

It’s concerning that with less than three months until England’s World Cup opener against Tunisia that manager Gareth Southgate still does not know who his number one will be, or is not prepared to say so.

“It is unfortunate we are still weighing the decisions up, but that is where we are,” Southgate said, per the Express. “Everyone is clearer on other positions in the field. But in goal, we have had someone who has been number one for a period of time but he currently isn’t number one for his club due to a change in circumstance.

“Behind that, we don’t have another couple of 27, 28-year-olds who have had a lot of first-team experience or are playing at a Champions League club. Our next two are quite a bit younger.

“We just have to make the right decision. We monitor all their performances; we know their level. We know some are stronger in certain areas than others.

“You have got to balance keeping the ball out of the net with distribution.

“We’ve got to pick the keeper in terms of who is going to be the best to play the way we want to play, handle the tournament and handle the experience of being England number one, which comes with responsibility.”

Southgate named Joe Hart, Nick Pope, Jack Butland and Jordan Pickford in his squad for the meetings with the Netherlands and Italy, so it’s safe to assume one of that quartet will be in goal for the World Cup opener against Tunisia in XX on June 18th.

The choices are a player who has been England number one for a number of years, but is not currently in goal for his club side and has a record of mistakes in big matches for his country. That should automatically rule out Hart, but him being named in the squad suggests Southgate is toying with the idea of sticking with the 30-year-old.

That should leave Butland, Pickford and Pope fighting it out for the number one spot.

Butland and Pickford would have been streets ahead of Pope 12 months ago, as the latter only made his Premier League debut in September and is uncapped at international level. But Pope has not looked back since taking over in goal for Burnley on account of an injury to Tom Heaton and he is an excellent all-round option. What’s more, he’s having a fine season for a side who are punching above their weight – and that is good for a key ingredient of confidence.

Butland and Pickford are not having bad campaigns by any stretch, but their teams are. Butland’s Stoke and Pickford’s Everton have conceded over a half century of goals this season, and no matter how well you are playing on a personal level it cannot be good for confidence seeing the ball fly past you at such regularity.

That is the quandary Southgate is facing, and probably the reason why Hart is still in the squad. The manager has shown a level of forward thinking so far, so he cannot turn back the clock and opt for Hart.

Butland, Pickford and Pope are the forward-thinking options, and one of those needs to be the number one – on form the clear call should be the latter – and sooner rather than later as selecting a player will build confidence in him and prompt those down the pecking order to raise their game.

Building from the back is vital and the team need to know well ahead of time who is the last line of defence. Keeping that decision under wraps will do no favours to anyone.

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