England

Is Joe Hart Still England’s First-Choice Keeper?

 • by Dan Ludlam
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As Joe Hart gathered the ball from out of his own net for a fourth time during West Ham‘s humiliation at Old Trafford on Sunday, he did so with the look that his return to the Premier League could also spell an end to his reign as England’s first-choice goalkeeper.

For so long the forgotten man, Hart’s stint as England’s No.1 has so often hit the headlines for the wrong reasons.

The Premier League has recently been blessed with the emergence of some of the best keepers from around Europe and, to the deep concern of Hart, a few of them happen to be English.

But while the 30-year-old settles into life as a claret and blue, under the impression he is set for an extremely busy campaign, is his place as England’s number one heading into next summer’s World Cup duly under threat?

Here we run through the leading contenders who boast the capabilities to displace the on-loan Manchester City stopper and who will succeed him as England’s first-choice in the long-term.

Fraser Forster (Southampton)

England caps – 6

Appearances (16/17) – 38

Clean sheets (16/17) – 14

Saves (16/17) – 76

Rating (16/17) – 6.8

If England are to reach out for a dependable replacement for Hart then they must look no further than Fraser Forster.

The ever-reliable Southampton stopper enjoyed another impressive season last term keeping 14 clean sheets in 38 appearances and duly enhanced his own reputation as one of the finest keepers in the Premier League.

Forster has continued where we left off last season, keeping a clean sheet in the opening day draw with Swansea at St. Mary’s and will be in strong contention to claim the number one jersey ahead of next summer’s finals in Russia.

Tom Heaton (Burnley)

England caps – 3

Appearances (16/17) – 35

Clean sheets (16/17) – 10

Saves (16/17) – 141

Rating (16/17) – 8.2

Undoubtedly one of the stand-out performers of last season, Tom Heaton excelled between the sticks to almost single-handedly preserve Burnley’s top-flight status.

A relative newcomer to the national set-up, the former Manchester United trainee is in contention to claim the No.1 jersey from Hart and will be relishing an opportunity to showcase his talents again this season.

The Burnley stopper was in terrific form as the Clarets earned a shock 3-2 victory over champions Chelsea on the opening day and he will certainly be in for another busy year at the opposite end of the Premier League table.

Jack Butland (Stoke City)

England caps – 5

Appearances (16/17) – 5

Clean sheets (16/17) – 2

Saves (16/17) – 17

Rating (16/17) – 6.6

After a season blighted with injury, Jack Butland heads into perhaps the most important phase of his career, knowing he is well within reach of replacing Hart.

The Stoke City keeper was outstanding before his injury with Stoke manager Mark Hughes hailing him as “the best young goalkeeper in Europe” only last season.

It is of paramount importance that Butland stays injury free and enjoys a sustained run in the Stoke first-team to ensure that he will be in Gareth Southgate’s thoughts ahead of Russia 2018.

Jordan Pickford (Everton)

England caps – 0

Appearances (16/17) – 29

Clean sheets (16/17) – 4

Saves (16/17) – 135

Rating (16/17) – 7.9

To be nominated as PFA Young Player of the Year in a Sunderland side who struggled against relegation for the entire season is quite an accolade.

Jordan Pickford has taken everything in his stride since. Bursting onto the scene last August, the 23-year-old’s string of outstanding displays earned him rave reviews throughout the Premier League.

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Everton were quick to pounce snatching him up for an initial £25million, which could rise to £30million, making Pickford the most expensive British goalkeeper of all time.

An outside bet to displace Hart as number one in time for next summer’s World Cup, a strong season at Goodison Park and the youngster could well force his way into the reckoning for that coveted No.1 jersey.

While it’s clear England are not short of potential successors to Hart going into next summer, it’s important to remember that the West Ham keeper’s tournament experience must surely play a part.

He is the only one of the five candidates who has experience of playing under the most extreme pressures on the national stage and this will certainly enter Southgate’s thoughts ahead of selection.

Nevertheless, the England goalkeeping position is perhaps the strongest it has ever been going into a major tournament and all five contenders for the slot will know with qualification games likely to be one-sided, a strong season at club level could take them to Russia with gloves.

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