When Everton signed a 23-year-old Jordan Pickford for £30 million from Sunderland in June 2017, questions were asked by a lot of people, Evertonians included. Viewed as the long-term replacement for the great Tim Howard, Everton were so keen to snap him up, the deal was sealed whilst he was on duty at the Under 21’s European Championships, in Poland.
His first game in the Premier League for the Blues was at home to Stoke City. Immediately, he seemed to prove his worth, with a stellar save from Xherdan Shaqiri in the 90th minute getting Everton off to a winning start to the season.
But nearly three years on from his debut, and two years on from his heroics at the World Cup, the question that regularly gets asked is ‘has Pickford really improved’ and is he the long-term answer for Everton Football Club? This article will provide some answers, whilst also providing an in-depth analysis on both positives and negatives from the Mackem in between the sticks.
Remarkable Agility and Impressive Distribution
As previously mentioned, Pickford’s Everton career got off to a flying start, ensuring they made a winning start to the campaign. This match-winning save showcased one of Pickford’s qualities, his agility.
The speed in which he was able to get across the goal and keep out Shaqiri’s shot showcased to Evertonians that he was well capable of keeping out some incredible attempts at goal. Pickford famously pulled off an even better save for, albeit, England at the World Cup against Columbia.
Pickford’s agility has saved Everton countless times, which is why I think questions about his height are unwarranted, because whilst he is not the tallest goalkeeper, he more than makes up for it with his agility.
Another example of his agility was against Southampton at Goodison Park in August 2018. After initially fumbling a shot from Cédric Soares, his agility to save the resulting shot from Danny Ings and tip it onto the bar was remarkable.
Everton’s main attraction towards Pickford came in the form of his distribution, in particular, the self-coined, ‘sidewinder’. This is where Pickford effortlessly kicks the ball from one side of the pitch to the other. His distribution has helped Everton put the opposing team on the backfoot, catching the opposing defence out of shape and has helped form some impressive attacking moves.
However, this is not to say that Pickford’s distribution relies on quality than quantity. He has completed more passes over forty metres than any other goalkeeper (251 passes) this campaign, but has also attempted the 632 passes, which ranks him fourth in this category.
Poor Positioning leads to Inadequate Shot-Stopping
Pickford has come under fire due to an array of blunders, whether that came in the form of Merseyside derbies, trips to Newcastle or conceding goals that are way to easy to the human eye. Though pinpointing these is way too simplistic, the keeper has showcased a number of different factors which has put his reputation in doubt.
One of these factors is his positioning. The following clip provides numerous examples of this, just from this season alone. On multiple occasions, Pickford’s indecisiveness when it comes to staying in goal or coming out to narrow the angle, gives him a significant disadvantage to saving the shot.
Take Aubameyang’s strike as a case study. Pickford has two options in this scenario, press the ball carrier to rush his decision making, or stick close to his line and maximise their reaction time. As a goalkeeper, I know that it is always hard to decide what to do, but every goalkeeper needs to make a decision in this scenario. This again shows Pickford’s indecisiveness, and he is almost always caught in, ‘no-mans land’; similar situations can be picked out in Pedro’s goal, as well as Liverpool’s third in the derby.
His poor positioning and decision making has a direct effect to his shot-stopping. As this table, produced by the Athletic shows, he has the second worst save percentage in the Premier League and ranks very poorly in goals prevented. Only Kepa Arrizabalaga has a worse save percentage.
Pickford has conceded 2.1 more goals than he should have. Compared with Vincente Guaita of Crystal Palace, Pickford’s numbers, to put it bluntly, are awful. Guaita has prevented nearly 10 goals with his shot stopping, and has a save percentage of 74.8%, compared with Pickford’s 60.7%.
There have been many times that Pickford’s shot stopping has been called into question, but no more than two of our most recent games at home, Crystal Palace and Manchester United.
Let us start with Christian Benteke’s goal. This goal was easily preventable and should not have happened. Pickford was beaten at his near post by a tame shot. Additionally, Pickford did not get a strong hand behind the shot, meaning that the ball squirmed under and into the back of the Gwladys Street net. For a club that wants to compete for Europe, goals like this need to be stamped out.
Another example of Pickford’s poor shot stopping was Bruno Fernandes’ equalising goal for Manchester United, also at the Gwladys Street end. Whilst the shot itself was a surprise, Pickford will have been disappointed not to have saved it, as it went under his arm. But this goal again called into Pickford’s positioning as he was not in line with the ball.
Is he still England’s Number One? Should he still be Everton’s?
Even though Gareth Southgate has vowed to stick by Pickford, his position as England’s number one was well under threat, even before Covid-19 happened. His poor performances coupled with other goalkeepers’ brilliant performances have put his position under intense scrutiny.
Dean Henderson of Sheffield United is undoubtably the man capable of taking Pickford’s position in between the sticks. Henderson has been in better form than Pickford all season, younger and has performed remarkably better in shot-stopping numbers in comparison to the Everton goalkeeper.
The following table shows that Pickford ranks bottom, again with Kepa Arrizabalaga in, Post-shot expected goals minus goals allowed.
Pickford’s position in PSxG statistics are eye-watering to the Everton fan. In this field, Pickford has faced 39.9 PSxG, which ranks him seventh in comparison to the rest of the goalkeepers in the league. He has faced some tough attempts at goal but attempts that should have been stopped too; and has ultimately cost The Toffees points throughout the campaign.
Pickford is still in a position to be our first-choice keeper, but the likes of Joao Virginia need to be pushing Pickford to make sure that Everton get the best out of him. What a lot of Evertonians tend to forget is that he is still only 26 years-old and whilst he is yet to reach the levels that he can do, his poor positioning and inability to stop half-decent shots puts his future under threat.
Ultimately, the negatives outweigh the positives, although I believe that Pickford should still be our number one, I also believe that if he does not cut out silly mistakes and does not sort out the chip on his shoulder, then Everton should look for another top goalkeeper, that will give us the push we need to finally break the top six and get into Europe. No great Everton team has been without a great goalkeeper between the posts.