‘My save will mean nothing if we don’t escape the drop!’: Jordan Pickford opens up on THAT stop to deny Cesar Azpilicueta, the stress of relegation battle at Everton and the scrutiny of being England’s No 1
- Jordan Pickford is the key figure as Everton try to maintain the top-flight status
- Goalkeeper is being lauded for an astonishing save in 1-0 win against Chelsea
- His new maturity has seen him captain Everton for the first time this season
Jordan Pickford has not usually been able to enjoy the best saves of his career. Stopping two penalties in the Euro 2020 final shoot-out against Italy last summer would have turned him into a national hero had England not missed three.
A gravity-defying leap against Colombia at the World Cup lost its afterglow when the South Americans scored from the resulting corner.
Now the England No1 is being lauded for an astonishing save in last Sunday’s 1-0 win against Chelsea, initially diving to his right as Mason Mount’s shot hit both posts and then changing direction twice at full speed to keep out Cesar Azpilicueta’s follow-up.
Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford has not usually been able to enjoy the best saves of his career
It could be career defining but only if Everton avoid relegation, which is in the balance as they play at Leicester on Sunday in the bottom three, albeit having played fewer games than their rivals.
‘I hope we can look back at the end of the season and that save has left a bit of a legacy,’ says Pickford.
‘It’s all about staying up. If we do, then I can reflect in five games time with a smile on my face and say it was up there as my most important save. I’d landed outside the post from Mason’s shot and had a look back because I thought it was going in. Then it’s hit the other post so I needed that quick reaction off the floor.
‘We knew Chelsea’s wing-backs like to get infield from a crossing position. That’s where [Cesar] Azpilicueta was. I was going back towards the other post but I read where he was going to shoot so I had to re-adjust my body and dive the other way.’
Pickford is being lauded for an astonishing save in last Sunday’s 1-0 win against Chelsea
As a follow-up, Pickford stopped an Antonio Rudiger shot with his face. ‘I’ve still got a headache now,’ he says with a smile. No wonder he allowed himself a ‘tranquillo’ round of golf the following day as a reward.
The 28-year-old has faced criticism throughout his career but England manager Gareth Southgate has always kept faith and now he is the key figure as Everton try to maintain the top-flight status they have held since 1954.
Their form under new boss Frank Lampard at Goodison Park gives them hope but on the road they have not won in the league since August. It makes the stakes incredibly high. Pickford has played in national occasions like a Euro 2020 final and World Cup semi-final and says the current adrenalin levels are the same.
‘Whether you are playing for a trophy or to get away from relegation, the way the heart is pumping is identical,’ he says. ‘You want the same outcome — to come out on top. That buzz is identical.
Pickford’s new maturity has seen him captain Everton for the first time this season
‘I was at Sunderland when we stayed up under Big Sam [Allardyce] even though Vito Mannone was first choice. It was a struggle but staying up felt like winning something.
‘You have to be in the moment. I know I like to be revved up but it is about keeping that emotion with a level head. I feel I have been a calm figure for the last 18 months.’ Sometimes camera close-ups would beg to differ. Pickford has an expressive face and always seems to be shouting but he explains the verbals have a practical purpose rather than indicating someone overcome by the drama.
‘It’s been so loud in every game, it looks like I’m screaming but I’m actually trying to help get messages across to help the lads out. As a goalkeeper you can see the whole pitch,’ he says.
‘The animation and shouting and balling, it is not crazy stuff, I’m giving information about what is going on in front of me.’
A giant banner of Pickford was unfurled before the Chelsea game proclaiming #1
As a Sunderland boy who went on loan to non-League Alfreton at the start of his career, Pickford has always wanted to be seen as a regular guy.
The status of being England’s No1 has brought scrutiny that makes it more difficult. In February he had to leave a pub in the north-east after being goaded by punters.
‘I’m still a lad who enjoys being with my friends and family and going to a restaurant or bar but it has to be at the right time,’ he says. ‘You need a radar of what you’re doing. That night, we just had to get out of the situation. It is sometimes disappointing you can’t enjoy yourself. It is part and parcel of being England goalkeeper, you have to take on that responsibility.’
On the pitch, Southgate will not want his first-choice goalkeeper to be in the Championship when the World Cup starts in November but Pickford is putting those thoughts to the back of his mind. ‘It would be a distraction,’ he says. ‘We have five finals now. Five games to get points from.’
England goalkeeper two penalties in the Euro 2020 final shoot-out against Italy last summer
Pickford’s new maturity has seen him captain Everton for the first time this season when Seamus Coleman missed out.
A giant banner of Pickford was unfurled before the Chelsea game proclaiming #1. ‘It was good, I’m a passionate person and it touches me,’ he says.
Pickford responded with that save which earned comparisons with England’s Gordon Banks and Pele in 1970.
‘The Banks save is iconic,’ says Pickford. ‘My sole focus has to be on the next game. I might look back at mine when I’m 50 or 60.’
EXPERT VIEW: GOALKEEPER COACH DAVID PREECE
Jordan Pickford’s double save against Chelsea was an incredible feat, but given Everton’s precarious position it was even more important.
As a goalkeeper, there is no more jarring sound than a ball hitting a post. It’s like being administered a shot of hope and adrenalin. Once Pickford was beaten by Mason Mount’s volleyed effort, he is on full red alert.
You don’t always get a sense of where the ball is after it rebounds off the post but this is crucial to allow Pickford to make the save. Rather than just putting it down to ‘instinct’ or the result of years of practice, he’s relying on his senses.
He either catches sight of the ball in his peripheral vision or he hears the sound of the ball behind him and immediately makes a beeline back across goal the moment he lands from his dive.
The next phase of the save is down to Pickford’s intelligence and goalkeeping know-how. Many in this situation end up tangled in the net, along with the ball, as their momentum carries them there in the bid to get to the other side of the goal.
What Pickford does is genius in its simplicity. He runs behind the line so that when he has to make the save, his body is moving forward down the line of the shot to keep the ball out in front of the goal line.
Keeping composure when you’ve just made a big save can be difficult, but from the resultant corner, Pickford manages to do so, closing down the space as the ball drops to Antonio Rudiger at the far post.
Again, his decision-making and execution is perfect. And while the first save will have wowed everyone, the second one is strangely, more satisfying.
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