No.1 spot is up for grabs: Southgate
Gareth Southgate has confirmed Jack Butland will start in goal when England welcome Italy to Wembley tonight but insisted the decision is not an indicator of his World Cup plans.
The England boss named four goalkeepers in his squad for the friendly double-header against Holland and Italy, with Jordan Pickford being given the nod ahead of Butland, Joe Hart and Nick Pope in the 1-0 win against the Dutch on Friday.
Butland will be given a chance to press his claims tonight, with the experienced Hart, who started in all but one of England's World Cup qualifiers, once again overlooked.
Southgate said: "At the beginning of the week we decided to give (Pickford and Butland) a game for the experience. We've stuck with the plan right the way through with those decisions and there's no reason to come away from that.
"In lots of positions we've got really good options and players that can go into the team and do well for us. We've got tough decisions further down the line. There's a lot to play for.
"It's important that we have competition for places, that breeds good performances. You need a clear understanding of how we want to play but then there's the additional pressure of knowing you've got to play well to keep your place."
Hart has lost his first-team spot at West Ham to Adrian, prompting speculation about how he fits into Southgate's plans ahead of this summer.
Southgate was quick to pay tribute to the 30-year-old, adding: "Joe's professionalism has been brilliant with us. He's always performed well for us. We had the best defensive record in Europe in qualifying.
"This week, even though he knew he wasn't going to be involved in the games, he's been a positive influence."
Southgate believes Italy will present a tougher test than Holland did.
The Azzurri did not qualify for this year's World Cup but Southgate is not writing them off.
He said: "I'm not so sure they're in so much of a state as people think. They're not at the World Cup because they were in Spain's group. The coach that's in charge (interim boss Luigi di Biagio) I've coached against him before. Italian teams' detail is always good.
"They'll press us with more intensity than we got pressed the other night and it's a really good challenge for us to be able to play."