England boss Gareth Southgate to keep opposition guessing over goalkeeping selection ahead of World Cup qualifiers

Gareth Southgate believes Burnley keeper Nick Pope is in “excellent form”.

Thursday, 18th March 2021, 2:46 pm
Updated Thursday, 18th March 2021, 2:50 pm
Dean Henderson and Nick Pope

But he will keep the opposition guessing as to his number one for the start of World Cup qualifying.

England host San Marino and Poland, either side of a trip to Albania, as the Three Lions kick off their bid to reach Qatar 2022.

They do so without recognised first choice Jordan Pickford, who suffered an injury to his oblique abdominal muscle while in action for Everton against the Clarets on Saturday evening.

That gives Pope, Manchester United’s Dean Henderson and Sam Johnstone - called up for the first time after an impressive campaign with West Brom - chance to stake a claim for the jersey.

Southgate has a plan for what he wants to do, but Pope is in pole position as the man recognised as Pickford’s number two, having started friendly games against Wales and the Republic of Ireland in the last two international camps.

Southgate said: “We’ll firstly wait to see how everyone emerges over the next few days, because we have some games to get through - Nick doesn’t have that, so all being well, he should be fine.

“Also I don’t want to give too much of a clue to other teams, because the goalkeeper we play does make a difference in this instance, to how we will play.

“But we will be very comfortable playing them all.

“Dean and Nick have had a taste with us.

“Nick has consistently performed at a really high level with his club.

“Dean is getting that run he’s been waiting for with Manchester United, so he’s got some very important games over the next few days to try and stay in the team and perform well.

“But we have a good understanding of all of their attributes, and we know in our mind what our plan is, but a lot of our plans we had three weeks ago have changed dramatically!

“So you’ve got to be adaptable.”

Southgate admits the side may have to alter how they play, depending on which keeper is selected, with Pope less renowned than Pickford for his ability to build play from the back, although his all-round game more than compensates: “Not all of the goalkeepers have the same sort of attributes, so we would have to adapt, but that’s the same with outfield players, certain players in certain positions change the profile of that role.

“We’ve got to be pragmatic in how we do that.

“The most important thing for goalkeepers is to keep the ball out of the net, and sometimes that’s a much-overlooked quality.

“We’re fortunate in that it’s good to see Dean getting a run at Manchester United, and Nick is in excellent form.

“Whenever he’s played for us, he’s been a calm presence.

“And now we have an opportunity for Sam to come and work with us and find out more about him.”