Jordan Pickford has been handed a golden opportunity to press his World Cup claims against Holland, just as Jack Wilshere’s fragile fitness casts a doubt over his.
Everton goalkeeper Pickford will start against Holland in Amsterdam on Friday, named ahead of long-term number one Joe Hart, Stoke’s Jack Butland and the uncapped Nick Pope following an impressive debut against Germany in November.
Wilshere, though, was laid low by a flare up in his knee and did not travel with the rest of the squad.
The Arsenal midfielder had been lined up for a first international appearance since Euro 2016 but has been left at St George’s Park for treatment and faces a race against time to be ready for Tuesday’s Wembley meeting with Italy.
On the battle for the number one jersey, which has been muddied by Hart’s failure to nail down a spot on loan at West Ham, Southgate said: “If Jordan Pickford does well tomorrow he gives himself a huge boost and gives us food for thought.
“We’re not in a situation where we have a goalkeeper who’s established in the team and playing at his club regularly, all things aligned as you might hope at this point.
“There’s not a clear number one because of what’s happened, particularly with Joe at his club.
If Jordan Pickford does well tomorrow he gives himself a huge boost and gives us food for thought.Gareth Southgate
“There’s still plenty of football to be played, it is a tight call at the moment.”
Despite the crowded field, Pickford has clearly done enough to thrust himself to the forefront of the manager’s mind.
“He’s agile, quick around his goal, capable of making big saves and his distribution is excellent,” added Southgate.
Wilshere’s situation looks entirely less promising.
The possibility of an outing against the Azzurri still lingers should he respond well over the next 48 hours but an injury scare was the last thing the 26-year-old needed after finally earning the trust of a manager who has been sceptical thus far.
“Jack just felt some tendinopathy in his knee,” Southgate said.
“It’s a problem he’s had before and nothing too serious. We had the option to bring him out and treat him here or let it settle and keep him back at base.
“It’s something he’s managed over a long period of time, there are just days when it needs to settle down, it’s nothing new to him.
“He’s disappointed not to be involved but he’s trained well with us and if you think about the journey he’s been on in the last couple of years and the big injuries he’s had to come back from he’s progressing really well.”
Southgate also explained the Football Association’s decision to give squad members voluntary tests for asthma ahead of the World Cup.
Treatment of the condition is a controversial talking point in the cycling world at present but Southgate explained he saw it as a duty of care issue.
“There are a number of mandatory pieces of information we have to have to submit to FIFA for medical testing: heart situations, ECGS, blood tests…as part of that process we think it’s important that we tested for asthma as well,” he said.
“That’s quite commonplace, several of the clubs have already done that. That was completely voluntary for the players, the other tests weren’t voluntary because we need to have that information, God forbid, if anything happens to one of our players or anyone else’s players.”