England’s first World Cup match is less than three months away. But who will bag the coveted number one spot when they meet Tunisia in Volgograd?
Unlike his predecessors, Gareth Southgate has a difficult decision to make. Joe Hart has been England’s go-to keeper since 2012, but his place is under threat.
So, who are the new contenders, and who should start when the Three Lions get to Russia?
Pep Guardiola has effectively railroaded Joe Hart’s career.
The Manchester City stopper has been England’s undisputed number one since the 2012 European Championships, but he is fading out of contention now.
Hart maintained his profile with a solid stint in Serie A at Torino, but the loan move to West Ham United has not gone well.
He’s struggled to hold down a starting place, and though his international experience may see him in the 23-man squad, Southgate looks set to move into a new era this summer.
Jordan Pickford’s reputation has gone from strength to strength following his big-money move from Sunderland to Everton.
He was handed his international debut in November, and kept a clean sheet against no less a side than the reigning world champions, Germany. He has plenty of experience at international youth level, too.
The 24-year-old has been a commanding presence in the Toffees’ box this season, and has produced a string of top saves.
Pickford rarely makes mistakes, and is a vocal commander for defenders to boot. On paper he is arguably England’s best option right now.
Stoke City goalie Jack Butland has had his work cut out this season, but that hasn’t stopped him impressing between the sticks.
The 25-year-old has managed five clean sheets, and that’s a good return behind a soft Potters defence.
Butland has been tipped to oust Hart in recent years, but injuries at crucial stages have denied him his chance.
That said, there’s little in it between him and Pickford for the number one spot this summer, and with six caps dating back since 2012, Butland’s greater international experience could swing it.
It seems increasingly likely that Burnley will have at least one goalkeeper at the finals.
Nick Pope received his first senior call-up for the friendlies against the Netherlands and Italy.
The 25-year-old has stepped up at Turf Moor following aninjury to club captain Tom Heaton.
Pope only made his Premier League debut this term, but has gone on to keep 11 clean sheets.
A lack of experience in the top-flight could count against him versus Pickford and Butland.
Burnley skipper Tom Heaton is another man in the frame, but he faces a fight.
Like Butland, Heaton has been talked up as England’s potential number one, but injuries have hindered him too.
The 31-year-old played the opening four matches of the campaign, but a should injury has kept him out since September.
Nick Pope has since come in and done remarkably well at Turf Moor. Heaton is nearing full-fitness now but must win the club battle first before he has any chance of returning to Southgate’s attention.
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