The World Cup in Russia is only 100 days away and as we inch closer towards the summer, we take a look at the various positions on the English team and who is in contention for a place on the plane and the likely starter!
First up we look at one of the more uncertain positions; Goalkeeper. This is all to play for!
The two men most likely to feature as first choice based on the previous few years are Joe Hart and Fraser Forster, but both men are currently warming the bench at their respective clubs. It doesn’t look likely that that will change anytime soon either! Can a nation with hopes of winning the tournament really rely on a keeper who isn’t first choice for their club?
The 30 year old West Ham keeper has 75 caps to his name and has been first choice since he broke into the national team a decade ago. Hart hasn’t really done a lot wrong for the national side, at least no big calamities like his predecessors; David James, Paul Robinson & Rob Green.
But his club form over the past 3 season has been very questionable, after being dropped by Pep Guardiola at Manchester City Hart sought salvation in Italy with Roma. This was rather unsuccessful despite being first-choice for the season. He struggled for consistency and was often at fault with poor positioning and decision making.
This season he found it difficult to secure a new club before completing a season long loan to West Ham United. He started the season as first choice before eventually losing his place to Adrian after a poor run of form. Time will tell if he can get some game-time before the end of the season.
This is a strange one to me as coming into this season I would have put good money on Forster being England#1 heading into the World Cup. He had been playing great football for Southampton and most importantly was playing consistently great.
But this season he has come off the boil rather surprisingly. Now warming the bench behind Alex McCarthy at St. Mary’s he looks to have taken a major step back in the running for first choice national goalkeeper!
Forster has all the attributes required to be a world class keeper but for reasons-unknown his concentration and consistency has gone completely this year.
Heaton is close to a return to action after a long spell on the sidelines following a shoulder injury. As club captain it is probable he will step back into the team but the form of Nick Pope might pose an obstacle for Heaton.
If Heaton can reclaim his place in the Burnley team and puts in his usual level of performance then I expect him on the plane and possibly even on the pitch for the first game!
Butland has come back from a serious injury this year and has put in some good performances from Stoke City. Bizarre blunder against Leicester aside, Butland has looked in good form in the past couple of months. If he can keep this form up he deserves a run out in the two friendlies coming up and probably a spot on the plane to Russia.
Pickford has turned a lot of heads in the past two years with his form for Sunderland last season and now Everton. Pickford has arguably been the most consistent English keeper over the duration of the whole season. If a team gets picked on form then Pickford is probably wearing the #1 shirt. His international experience is probably the only thing holding him back against the others on this list.
This would have been unheard of before the season started but due to Heaton’s injury, Pope has performed admirably in his absence. If Pope can retain his place at Burnley, keeping Heaton out, then Pope has to be in the conversation for a World Cup squad place.
So I think it’s a case of choosing 3 from 4 when it comes to picking the goalkeepers going to Russia. Forster will be unlikely to make the plane at this stage stopping short of a miracle happening. That leaves Hart, Heaton, Butland and Pickford fighting it out for 3 spots.
I can’t see Southgate leaving Hart at home, nor should he. His experience alone will be a boost to the squad and even if he doesn’t play he will be able to help the other keepers. Unfortunatley, due to his lack of game time I can see Heaton being the one to miss out, it will be harsh to choose him over Pickford/Butland at this stage. Ironically, if Heaton had stayed fit for the season I would have put him in as guaranteed starter!
So Butland, Pickford and Hart are my picks to make the plane to Russia and with a gun to my head I would give the edge to Jack Butland right now to be the starter heading into the tournament.