There is a perception in football that experience is important for a goalkeeper. It’s rare, for example, to see a young goalkeeper relied upon as Dean Henderson has been at Sheffield United. History also confirms that experience is even more valuable at international level.
World Cup and European Championship-winning goalkeepers are almost invariably between the ages of 27 and 31, which seems to be the perfect age for success in goal in international football. All but one first-choice goalkeeper in a team that has won a major international tournament this century has been in that age bracket, the exception being Greece’s then 33-year-old Antonios Nikopolidis at Euro 2004. Pickford will be 27 by the summer of 2021 – and, in addition to recovering his form, could also benefit from the time he will have to hone his abilities.
Pickford is under pressure from Henderson, who should feel the benefits of a further season to convince Southgate that he is ready to be England’s number one, even if at 23 he remains a way off that sweet spot between the ages of 27 and 31. Henderson has started all but once for the team with the second best defence in the Premier League in 2019/20; before the season was halted, Sheffield United had conceded just 25 goals in 28 games. According to Understat‘s “expected goals” numbers, Sheffield United had faced shots that should have resulted in around 37 goals conceded. Henderson has therefore been largely responsible for preventing 12 opposition goals – the biggest positive differential in the Premier League.
Pickford, meanwhile, has been ever-present for Everton, conceding 46 times in 29 appearances when, according to the expected goals numbers, the shots on target he has faced should have resulted in 37 goals. His negative differential of around nine goals is the worst in the Premier League. It does not feel like the ideal time for Pickford to be heading in to an international tournament as England’s first-choice goalkeeper.
It wasn’t long ago that perhaps five players could make a decent case to be called England’s best left-back, but now there is only one. Heading towards Euro 2020, Ben Chilwell was a guaranteed starter on the left side of Southgate’s defence. He is defensively sound, poses a significant attacking threat and is accustomed to playing in a 4-3-3 similar to that which England will likely employ next summer.
Playing so regularly for Leicester City took its toll, however, and his form suffered slightly. The emergence of Bukayo Saka gives England a much-needed alternative at left-back. By the summer of 2021, he could have had two full seasons in Arsenal’s first team, meaning that he could even become England’s first choice. His impressive performances for the Gunners – he has recorded more assists than any teammate during 2019/20 – have threatened Luke Shaw’s England chances and suggest that he has a very bright future.