Gareth Southgate said Jordan Pickford remains his undisputed England No 1 partly because no other goalkeeper is “challenging seriously to push him out of that position”.
The manager’s support comes as the Everton goalkeeper endures a difficult period, having been castigated for his challenge on Virgil van Dijk during the Merseyside derby last month that left the Liverpool defender with cruciate damage.
Pickford has been up and down this season. He was at fault for the decisive penalty concession in England’s last game – the 1-0 home defeat by Denmark – and was dropped for Everton’s 2-1 defeat at Newcastle on Sunday. Carlo Ancelotti did say he would put him straight back in for Saturday’s home game against Manchester United, which was a clever way to handle the situation, firing a shot across Pickford’s bows but at the same time defusing some of the drama.
Pickford has also made fine reflex saves and Southgate’s comments about the other England contenders failing to press a claim is perhaps true. His No 2, Nick Pope, has made errors during Burnley’s terrible start, most glaringly giving away a penalty at Newcastle last month, and the third choice, Dean Henderson, has played only three times for Manchester United – twice in the Carabao Cup.
“When people say I have been loyal to Jordan he has deserved that,” Southgate said, as he announced a 29-man squad for the internationals against the Republic of Ireland, Belgium and Iceland who featured a recall for Phil Foden but not Mason Greenwood.
“Jordan’s performances have been excellent for us. We have some competition for places but I would have to say that there is nobody who I think is challenging seriously at the moment to push him out of that position.”
Southgate phoned Pickford after the Van Dijk incident. “There has been a lot of collateral fallout in a very public way, so I just felt it would be an appropriate call to make to see how he was and if I could help him in any way,” Southgate said. “It is an unfortunate situation [for Van Dijk] but there is nothing Jordan can do about that now. He has to get on with playing.
“He is also benefiting from having as experienced and successful a manager as you can have at club level. Over the years, he [Ancelotti] has taken an opportunity to rest his goalkeepers and he did that last weekend but within 15 minutes, you knew Jordan would be playing this weekend so those small things help settle the decision down. Jordan will appreciate that.”
Southgate said Greenwood who, like Foden, was sent home after the Iceland game in September for breaking coronavirus rules and then ignored for the October get-together, would not be called up for the under-21 squad, either.
The idea, as agreed with the United manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, is for the 19-year-old to spend time working on the training pitches at Carrington, although the majority of his teammates will not be around.
Southgate mentioned how Greenwood had not played 90 minutes regularly for United this season, even if he has started three of the club’s six Premier League games. The bottom line is that even with Danny Ings injured, Greenwood is a way down the pecking order.
Southgate has Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Tammy Abraham behind Harry Kane as centre-forward options with Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Jack Grealish in wide areas.
“We have to look at the players that we know are going to get into the games and Mason is at a stage where I don’t necessarily think we could guarantee that this time,” Southgate said.
Southgate will stick with his 3-4-3 system for the triple-header and he urged England players not to do anything stupid off the field this weekend.
“We want to be going into next week’s camp just able to focus on football as much as we possibly can and it would be very helpful for all of us if the players recognise that over the weekend,” Southgate said.