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In Focus: Three Lions keepers aim to claw their way into contention
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Mitchell Fretton

With Jordan Pickford ruled out of England duties this month through injury, Gareth Southgate faces a dilemma over who should feature in goal.

The Everton No1 looks set to start for the Three Lions at the upcoming World Cup, but there is still uncertainty about who will serve as his reserve.

With Nations League games against Italy and Germany on the horizon, now is the perfect chance for one of Nick Pope, Aaron Ramsdale or Dean Henderson to book their place on the plane to Qatar.

Ahead of tomorrow's clash against the Azzurri in Milan, we take a look at Southgate's options and what will determine his decision in the coming weeks.

Fancy footwork

Despite a goalkeeper's primary job being to use their hands, Southgate has always valued Pickford for being able to play with the ball at his feet.

It is likely that the Three Lions boss will be seeking a similar skill set from his deputy, which would put Ramsdale in pole position.

The Arsenal stopper makes 25 passes per match in the Premier League compared to Pope's 18, although Henderson does boast similar numbers to the 24-year-old.

Any modern keeper is expected to be able to play under pressure and it has been a feature of England's play in recent times — particularly since shifting to a back five.

The idea is to have multiple outlets to beat the opposition press, but being able to shift the ball and pass with accuracy into tight spaces is not something everybody can do.

And with Ramsdale sporting 60% passing accuracy this season in comparison to Pope's 51% and Henderson's 52%, the advantage in this area certainly lies with the Gunners star.

Southgate loves a leader

Aaron Ramsdale, Nick Pope and Dean Henderson will be hoping to get their chance in the upcoming Nations League games
Aaron Ramsdale, Nick Pope and Dean Henderson will be hoping to get their chance in the upcoming Nations League games

Southgate has made a point of creating a national squad with multiple leaders — evident with the inclusion of Harry Kane, Jordan Henderson, Harry Maguire and Pickford.

Strong personalities are known to strengthen squad unity and Pickford is no stranger to leadership, having worn the captain's armband for Everton on several occasions.

However, none of his understudies have captained their club sides so it leaves them all short on experience in this area, although both Henderson and Ramsdale are known to play up to the crowd.

Ramsdale himself admitted he enjoys the pressure of the fans, saying: "I think it makes me play better, it makes me prove a point, it helps me prove someone wrong."

This is something his head coach will have picked up on and will consider when balancing his squad.

Pope comes across as the least expressive of the three, but his heroics for Newcastle in the Premier League cannot be ignored ahead of the World Cup.

Perfect under pressure

Dean Henderson is another keeper who is good with his feet
Dean Henderson is another keeper who is good with his feet

Playing for England is not easy, especially in the wake of heightened expectations following the disappointment of the Euro 2020 final.

Southgate will want his keepers to have a strong head and the courage to get up and carry on. This is something he has actively praised when talking about Pickford.

He said: "Under the biggest pressure moments, you want a goalkeeper that can play out from the back well, and then how are they going to handle pressure?

"Because everybody would have a view on Jordan Pickford, but what you can’t dispute about Jordan is he’s dealt with the pressure of being England No1 extremely well.

"A lot of goalkeepers over the years haven’t been able to handle that, and he’s fulfilled that in the biggest tournaments, in the biggest moments. 

"So the others have still got to chase him, and it’s important we acknowledge that fact.”

Stats do not lie

Aaron Ramsdale and Nick Pope have been key figures for their clubs this season
Aaron Ramsdale and Nick Pope have been key figures for their clubs this season

Those in contention to play as England's second-choice keeper all have their own arguments to suggest they should be favoured. 

For Pope, he has made more saves than his international team-mates with 30, whereas Ramsdale has the most accurate kicking.

Henderson is an expert at saving penalties having prevented two this season — including one from Kane, who had not missed in four years.

Each of these qualities are going to be pivotal for the 1966 World Cup champions to mount a claim for the Jules Rimet trophy this winter and Southgate will have to make his decision soon.

If you are looking at balance and numbers, Ramsdale is the best bet. His distribution, shot-stopping and leadership make him the perfect replacement for Pickford.

Henderson arguably lacks experience on the national stage, but he and Pope could prove their worth in the upcoming games — starting with Italy on Friday night.


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