Nick Pope and Jordan Pickford are both contenders for the England number one spot | Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Had coronavirus not struck, Jordan Pickford could have been lining up for England in the Euro 2020 in July.
Instead, he was clawing Daniel Podence’s tame shot off his line as it had wriggled through his clutches during Everton’s 3-0 defeat to Wolves in the Premier League. Although the diminutive winger’s effort was kept out, it was one of a number of hair-raising, edge of your seat moments that Pickford produced last season – and the fun hasn’t stopped during 2020/21.
Undoubtedly, the Everton stopper’s place as England’s number one is under threat, and Carlo Ancelotti’s decision to bench him against Newcastle shows that anything is possible between the sticks.
So who are the candidates to be England number one and how do they compare ahead of next summer’s rescheduled Euros? Let’s take a look.
After a couple of shaky seasons, Forster was back to his best in a Celtic shirt | Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
Forster’s performances for Celtic and Southampton saw him earn six England caps between 2013 and 2016, and he was tipped to one day take the number one shirt for the Three Lions. However, he struggled for form during the 2016/17 season, and these inconsistencies continued into the following campaign.
He rediscovered his form on loan at Celtic in 2019, enjoying a superb year that was capped by a player of the match performance in the Scottish League Cup final. He’s back to being bench fodder at Southampton behind Alex McCarthy, but he’s back to being a reliable understudy, rather than a nervy calamity waiting to happen.
Ramsdale enjoyed a major breakthrough year with Bournemouth | Visionhaus/Getty Images
Ramsdale has enjoyed a remarkable rise over the last 12 months. An eye catching loan spell at League One strugglers Wimbledon was the turning point in his career, and he went on to establish himself as a first-choice keeper in the Premier League with Bournemouth.
The Cherries were relegated, but Ramsdale himself made just one error that has directly led to a goal; and that form was enough to persuade Sheffield United to bring him back to the top flight immediately.
He is probably not quite ready right now, but give him another season of top flight football and he could zoom up this list.
Foster has shone towards the latter stages of his career | Robin Jones/Getty Images
All-round nice guy Ben Foster initially retired from international football in 2011, but was persuaded to come back ahead of the 2014 World Cup. However, he has not played for his country since.
Relegation with Watford was an obvious low point, but Foster was the Hornets’ stand out performer, keeping a number of clean sheets throughout their difficult campaign.
Age is against Foster – he’ll be 38 by the time at the Euros come around – but David James had the season of his life and turned out for England at the 2010 World Cup aged 39. So, as the old saying goes, never say never.
Heaton has been a big miss for Villa | Jan Kruger/Getty Images
Aston Villa were dealt a huge blow last season when Tom Heaton was ruled out through serious injury in January.
What the Burnley stopper can’t be questioned on is his dependability, making just two errors that have led to goals over the past four seasons. Ironically, Heaton would have been out of the running for the Euros had they not been postponed, though he’s yet to return for Villa – and they’ve since signed Emiliano Martinez.
He’s not quite in the same league as Pickford, Henderson and Pope – with Burnley allowing Heaton to depart Turf Moor as Pope was regarded as Sean Dyche’s number one – but he is a safe, reliable and dependable pair of hands.
McCarthy is an excellent shot stopper – but he does have an error in him | Pool/Getty Images
McCarthy wrestled with Angus Gunn for the number one spot at Southampton during 2019/20, and came into the side after their infamous 9-0 thrashing at the hands of Leicester. After winning that particular battle, he’s enjoyed playing his part in the Saints’ substantial upturn in fortunes.
That said, stopping shots is the most important thing and he’s pretty damn good at that.
An excellent shot-stopper and confident with the ball at his feet, McCarthy does have a tendency to get caught out when attempting to play out from the back – and given Southgate’s building from the back philosophy, that could hamper the Southampton stopper’s chances of making the plane.
Pickford has blown hot and cold for Everton this season | Pool/Getty Images
Although the Everton goalkeeper has endured a patchy couple of years, when it comes to form in an England shirt – on the biggest occasions – he is the most tried and tested option at the Three Lions’ disposal.
Pickford is also an accomplished penalty saver, and has the confidence and swagger (maybe bordering on arrogance) that is required for the intense, high-octane environment of major tournament football.
His distribution is superior to any of his rivals for the number one jersey, with his successful long pass completion and overall pass completion considerably higher than any other English goalkeepers in the Premier League.
However, the consistency and dependability that are a necessity for a goalkeeper have wavered, and crass, sloppy errors have crept into Pickford’s game. In the past four seasons, he has made 13 errors that have directly led to goals. In a major tournament where the margins are so fine and one mistake can send you home, someone with a couple of errors in their locker is not a desired characteristic for a number one.
Dean Henderson shone in his debut Premier League season | Pool/Getty Images
Although Henderson is only young, hasn’t ‘been there and done it’ on the international stage and has only one season of Premier League football under his belt, he possesses a similarly commanding aura to that of Pickford. Come Euro 2020 (+1), he will be the same age Pickford was at the 2018 World Cup.
Henderson kept the joint-third highest number of clean sheets in the Premier League last season, with only Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United conceding fewer goals than Sheffield United – although that was in part thanks to Henderson, and partly down to the expertly drilled defence in front of him.
It was against Liverpool where Henderson had his one moment to forget, allowing Gini Wijnaldum’s winner to squirm through his arms. That is the only blot on his copybook though – and it pales into insignificance in comparison to the number of Pickford’s errors.
Pope has been outstanding this season, turning in a selection of player of the season performances since the Premier League restarted | Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images
When it comes to dependability, few can compete with Nick Pope. The Burnley stopper has been a figure of consistency for the Clarets, and has particularly caught the eye over the past year.
Pope kept the second highest number of clean sheets last season, narrowly missing out on the Golden Glove. The 28-year-old is arguably the greatest shot-stopper out of Henderson and Pickford – although England will not be expect to face the same volume of shots that Burnley often do. His ability to dictate from the back is also not quite as accomplished as Pickford.
He epitomises the graft and determination that Southgate values, having climbed from non-League football to the Premier League in the space of five years. Furthermore, he’s yet to make an error leading to a goal (at the time of writing) and when it comes to calmness and reliability, you would always put your faith in the Burnley number one.