Pickford primed for World Cup role but Southgate plays waiting game
The England manager looks likely to prefer Jordan Pickford over Jack Butland in Russia.
Gareth Southgate dropped a heavy hint that Jordan Pickford will be England’s World Cup number one by selecting him for the victory over Nigeria, but declined to publicly settle the issue with one more friendly to go.
Southgate has yet to reveal whether Pickford or Jack Butland will be his first-choice goalkeeper in Russia but the scales tipped heavily in the Everton man’s favour as he was given 90 minutes in the 2-1 win at Wembley.
That was only Pickford’s third senior cap, meaning another outing would surely be beneficial if he is to don the gloves against Tunisia on June 18.
But when invited to put the issue to bed he demurred, opening a slim chance for Butland to play the final warm-up fixture at Elland Road on Thursday.
“We’ll give consideration to who plays in goal against Costa Rica over the next 24 or 36 hours,” he said.
“But I was really pleased with what Jordan did. Normally, when you play for England, there’s not an awful lot of opportunity to produce a lot of saves. But his decision making on crosses, the punch he made, his distribution and calmness to slide passes into midfield… that was really important to the way we want to play. He can be very pleased with his performance.”
Barring a late change of heart, that endorsement should see the 24-year-old start his first competitive England match in the Group G opener in Volgograd.
Another player who did his chances no harm at all was Tottenham’s Kieran Trippier.
He only emerged as a starter at right wing-back when Southgate decided to utilise first choice Kyle Walker as part of a central three in March.
The selection of the uncapped but precocious Trent Alexander-Arnold means he has fresh competition too, but his corner provided the opening goal for Gary Cahill on Saturday, moments after testing the keeper with a sharp free-kick.
Those at Spurs have long been aware of Trippier’s crossing skills and corner-taking prowess and they could yet be important in the Three Lions’ World Cup bid.
“His quality on the ball is outstanding,” said Southgate.
“There were two set-plays, the one just before the goal – a free-kick bang on the money – then the corner for Gary.
“It was a great delivery. But we also know his quality on the ball when he’s in the final third.
“Kieran has outstanding quality and that kind of profile in that position is very important.”
England would be content if they kick off their campaign with an identical result against Tunisia, but Southgate was quick to stress that the game was not scheduled as a direct dress rehearsal.
“We didn’t choose this game to replicate exactly what Tunisia would do,” he said.
“We play most of our matches against European teams, so this was a good opportunity to play an African team.
“Tunisia play different to the style of play to Nigeria. They keep the ball very well and press very well. They’re ranked one place below us in the rankings. We’ll have to be spot on in our preparation and performance to win.”