On Saturday, for the second Merseyside derby in a row, Jordan Pickford made sure he was the centre of attention.
Back in October, when Everton and Liverpool last met, Pickford stole the show for all the wrong reasons. Flying out to try to prevent Virgil van Dijk from finishing at the back post, the Toffees keeper unleashed a horrifically timed challenge. His wild tackle did considerable damage, ruling Van Dijk out for the season with an anterior cruciate ligament injury.
After the game, Pickford received a flurry of abuse from Reds’ supporters, including death threats. He was even forced to hire bodyguards – a sad indictment of the poisonous effect football can have on some (stupid) people.
This time around, Pickford attracted no controversy. Instead, the discussion he generated after the game was solely focussed on how well he played. Overall, he racked up an impressive six saves and nine accurate long balls, also showing composure with the ball at his feet.
He smothered a Mohamed Salah shot at a crucial juncture in the game, as well as making stops from Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, but the highlight of his fine display came in the first half when he produced a fingertip save to deny Jordan Henderson.
Henderson’s edge of the box volley looked destined to nestle in the back of the net and level the scores, only for Pickford to fling himself across the goal mouth, just doing enough to tickle it around the post.
His teammates’ reaction said it all. Michael Keane, Abdoulaye Doucoure and Seamus Coleman were all reduced to fans, just like the rest of us, throwing their hands up jubilantly and rushing towards their saviour. A more cynical interpretation is that his teammates’ response was one of shock and amazement that the consistently unreliable Pickford managed to pull of such a save, but we’ll give him this one.
Last campaign he only registered a save percentage of 63.4%. This figure was worse than every other goalkeeper who featured regularly, except for Kepa Arrizabalaga. That is akin to beating a tortoise in a foot race.
This is not the only damning statistic either. Pickford also posted the third worst post-shot expected goals minus goals allowed figure in the league, one of the most reliable measures of goalkeeper performance available. He also committed four errors leading to goals.
While there has been some improvement from Pickford this time out – his save percentage has spiked significantly – the question marks over his position as England’s number one stopper have not subsided. His post shot xG minus goal allowed numbers remain among the worst in the Premier League and he has already made two errors leading to goals this term.
His man of the match performance against Liverpool was therefore much needed, reminding us all of what Pickford is capable of. It also came at an important time, with England set to play three World Cup qualifiers at the end of March.
As long as Pickford ensures that he continues to attract headlines for the right reasons over the next few months, he should be selected to get the rave on as the Three Lions’ number one at of the Euros this summer. However that, as recent history suggests, is anything but guaranteed.