Big Sam & Sammy Lee Have Their Say on Pickford vs Pope
With three goalkeepers used in England’s last six games leading up to the 2022 World Cup, Jordan Pickford, Nick Pope and Aaron Ramsdale, it has sparked a debate as to who should be Gareth Southgate’s man between the sticks in Qatar, with Pope and Pickford the two Southgate seemingly prefers, due to Ramsdale only ever picking up three international caps.
Former England manager, Big Sam has had his say on Nick Pope challenging Jordan Pickford's position as number one:
“He’s doing great stuff at Newcastle and this has elevated him to challenge Jordan Pickford and the biggest challenge for Jordan since he got in the team as England goalkeeper.”
“Burnley, you don’t get recognised as much as you should do. Newcastle, with all the hype that’s going on there and the performances he's giving and the team doing well, it’s going to take him to the next level to challenge Jordan Pickford”
When Southgate was brought in as England manager, especially entering the 2018 World Cup, the goalkeeper spot was a widely debated topic between Joe Hart, Jack Butland and Pickford, with Southgate deciding on Pickford as his first choice entering the World Cup in Russia, a decision he hasn’t looked back on, with Pickford playing 45 of a possible 64 games since his first cap in November 2017, making him clearly Southgate’s trusted option.
It would be easy to say Southgate would obviously go with his trusted option, but with Pickford only starting seven of a possible 15 games since the Euro 2022 final, it could be seen that Southgate might be looking at other goalkeeping options even with Pickford being his first choice in tournaments which has seen England reach a World Cup semi-final and Euros final.
Although having not played much for England lately, Sammy Lee has backed his former player Pickford to be England’s starter:
“He’s evolved into a fantastic keeper, he’s got his detractors, but everyone involved in this squad will have detractors but I’m a firm believer he’s the best goalkeeper in the country at this moment”
Pope has been a decent goalkeeper when given the opportunity under Southgate, keeping seven clean sheets in ten games, conceding five goals, conceding a goal every 158 minutes, compared with Pickford, in which he has 21 clean sheets in 45 games, conceding 34 goals, averaging a goal conceded every 123 minutes,
Pickford & Pope’s Club Form
Both Pope and Pickford team’s struggled last season, with Pickford conceding 58 goals from an xG of 51.7 and Everton barely staying in the Premier League, whilst Pope was relegated with Burnley, conceding 47 goals from an xG of 44.
However, this season, with Pope moving to Newcastle and Everton improving, they are both part of much more solid defences, with both being key members of that, with Pope being part of a defence that has conceded the least in the league with 10 goals, from an xG of 11.3, with Pickford only conceding 12 himself, from an xG of 14.8.
Both of their save percentages are also up from last season, with Pope saving 80.9% of shots faced in the Premier League this season, his career-best in the top division, whilst Pickford is saving 81.8% of his shots, by far his career-best after averaging a save percentage of 68.8% in his six full Premier League seasons.
Which Goalkeeper has Better Distribution?
With both Pickford and Pope having good shot-stopping seasons and both players only making one mistake leading to a goal since the start of last season, Southgate’s decision will come down to what other attributes he prefers for his goalkeeper. Pickford is definitely the better of the two with the ball at his feet, especially his long passing, completing 36% of his launched passes compared to Pope’s 30%, with almost double the attempts.
However, if it is sweeping and claiming crosses Southgate wants, Pope would be his man, with Pope stopping 7.5% of crosses faced with 2.67 actions outside his penalty area per 90 minutes, compared to Pickford’s 3.1% of crosses stopped with only 1.55 defensive actions outside his penalty area per 90.
With Southgate very unlikely to play a high defensive line, Pope’s sweeping attributes might become redundant which will likely put the selection between the two goalkeepers on Southgate’s personal preference on whether he sees ball progression or claiming crosses as a more valuable asset to his team.
If it was my choice for selection, Pickford would be the selection I’d make, his lack of claiming crosses can be counteracted by the three centre-backs that Southgate has seemingly preferred to use since 2017, and his ball-playing ability along with good connection with his teammates could be very valuable to kickstart attacks that could be few and far between if Southgate does choose to sit back and play on the counter-attack.
Listen & Follow The No Tippy Tappy Football Podcast
You can listen to the No Tippy Tappy Football podcast on Apple, Spotify & YouTube. There will be a new episode each week with new guests alongside Sam Allardyce.