England head to Russia undefeated under new manager Gareth Southgate and full of optimism with an exciting line-up for the 2018 World Cup. Southgate has gained plaudits for building a team based on youth and devising a new formation but there remains a serious issue in his defence.
The Three Lions have landed in St Petersburg with no plan on who will play in goal. It is an such important position that should have been sorted by Southgate long ago. After deciding to drop Joe Hart this year, Southgate has chosen three inexperienced keepers to take to the World Cup. His selected keepers, Jordan Pickford, Jack Butland and Nick Pope have just twelve caps between them.
Incredibly, in spite of Joe Hart abysmal form at club level, he started nine of the ten World Cup qualifiers. Having favoured Hart for so long when it was quite clear he was struggling, Southgate now has a serious problem between the sticks and only rookies at his disposal. All three keepers have mixed fortunes this season at club level too. Pickford played under three different managers at Everton as they shipped more goals than two of the three relegated sides. Alongside him, Butland was relegated with Stoke City and Nick Pope, who starred in Burnley’s incredible season, only played due to an injury to the first choice keeper.
Pickford, the favourite for the No.1 spot in England’s first match vs Tunisia, is a novice at the highest level. The average No.1 keeper at this World Cup has over fifty appearances for his country, Pickford has just three. No number 1 keeper at the whole tournament has fewer caps than Pickford.
England have been here before. Rob Green was struggling at West Ham in 2010 and had just 11 caps to his name when he made his terrible error against the USA. Scott Carson was making his debut when he dropped an early Croatian shot costing England a place at Euro 2008.
The answer was obvious, a replacement for Hart was needed after Euro 2016 after he made several mistakes. But Southgate stuck by him, leaving him limited options. The inexperience of Pickford, Butland and Pope could be costly for England. A big mistake is coming, if he hasn’t been made already.