Sport

Jordan Pickford returns for Everton towards Manchester United and it may well be pivotal in his profession

Everton‘s clash against Manchester United will be huge for Carlo Ancelotti’s men as they look to prove their winning start to the season was no false dawn, but for one Toffees star in particular it could be a fork in the road for his career.

Jordan Pickford is set to return in goal at Goodison Park for Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off, having been dropped for Everton’s previous Premier League encounter at Newcastle United.

England’s No 1 had played 120 league games in a row for Everton since joining from Sunderland in 2017 but was only on the bench for the 2-1 defeat at St James’ Park after Ancelotti opted to start Swedish stopper Robin Olsen who is on loan from Roma.

Having been dropped for Everton's game against Newcastle United last time out, Jordan Pickford is to return in goal for the Toffees against Manchester United on Saturday

Having been dropped for Everton’s game against Newcastle United last time out, Jordan Pickford is to return in goal for the Toffees against Manchester United on Saturday

Pickford was only a substitute for the 2-1 defeat at St James' Park having played in all of Everton's 120 Premier League games following his arrival in the summer of 2017

Pickford was only a substitute for the 2-1 defeat at St James’ Park having played in all of Everton’s 120 Premier League games following his arrival in the summer of 2017

Ancelotti insists that Pickford had not been dropped, in the sense of a tactical or technical decision, and was rather to keep the much under-fire keeper a rest following a run of poor form and off the field incidents relating to a high-profile poorly-timed tackle on Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk.

Pickford was already on shaky ground heading into the Merseyside derby having not kept a clean sheet since the opening day win at Tottenham and making a number of high-profile errors. The most notable coming in the 4-2 win over Brighton where he dropped the ball at Neal Maupay’s feet to allow him to score.

But against Liverpool there were signs that the pressure was getting to him, and his rash leap into Van Dijk was fortunate not to see him sent off for a very poorly attempted challenge which is all but likely to leave the Dutchman out for the rest of the season.

On top of that, he was widely criticised by Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp and the fallout continued long after the 2-2 draw at Goodison where the vile online abuse and threats to him have become so severe he has needed bodyguard protection.

Pickford has come under-fire this season with his terrible tackle on Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk ruling the Dutchman out for the season, leading to abuse and threats to the Everton keeper

Pickford has come under-fire this season with his terrible tackle on Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk ruling the Dutchman out for the season, leading to abuse and threats to the Everton keeper

He has also been out of from, dropping the ball in front of Neal Maupay to allow the Brighton striker to score earlier this season among his high-profile clangers

He has also been out of from, dropping the ball in front of Neal Maupay to allow the Brighton striker to score earlier this season among his high-profile clangers

He featured in Everton’s next game at Southampton where they lost 2-0 but he appeared to do little wrong in the St Mary’s defeat to force Ancelotti dropping him.

Given the current concern over his long-term form and the ongoing fallout, Ancelotti is perhaps justified for pulling the 26-year-old out the firing line. It also appears him claiming he needs a rest is not just a standard public cover line of dropping his keeper.

To reinstall him back to the team for Manchester United’s visit shows the Everton boss does still have faith in his No 1 despite Olsen’s strong showing at Newcastle, where he made two smarts stops, despite the loss.

But this is a pivotal match for Pickford in terms of not just his place in the Everton team but also his career path.

Despite a decent showing in the defeat at Southampton, Pickford was dropped ahead of Everton's next game against Newcastle last weekend

Despite a decent showing in the defeat at Southampton, Pickford was dropped ahead of Everton’s next game against Newcastle last weekend

At St James' Park he watched on as a substitute as Everton fell to back-to-back defeats

At St James’ Park he watched on as a substitute as Everton fell to back-to-back defeats

JORDAN PICKFORD STATS SINCE JOINING  EVERTON 

Everton appearances: 137

Goals conceded: 193

Clean sheets: 38

England appearances: 28

Goals conceded: 25

Clean sheets: 12 

Even in difficult circumstances surrounding the uncertainty in his day-to-day life, he needs to produce at least an error-free 90 minutes against United to convince his manager he can still be relied upon, especially with Olsen having shown he is capable at least of playing a covering role.

Error-free does not mean avoiding blunders leading to goals either. Pickford will be under the microscope on Saturday and anything from a stray pass that might put a team-mate in trouble to a minor drop of the ball which he can quickly gather at a second attempt could now be magnified to assess whether he is actually ready to return. 

While this might seem unfair, Pickford for a long time now has not been the same keeper that convinced Everton to pay £25million for him, with his confident and energetic displays that helped him become England’s No 1 having become rarer.

Two years ago, he was widely regarded as one of England’s heroes at the 2018 World Cup following an impressive march to the semi-finals where he was largely faultless and indeed crucial, especially for his penalty save heroics in the last-16 match against Colombia.

Sweden goalkeeper Robin Olsen has put pressure on Pickford following an impressive and largely faultless display despite Everton's Premier League defeat in the North East

Sweden goalkeeper Robin Olsen has put pressure on Pickford following an impressive and largely faultless display despite Everton’s Premier League defeat in the North East

He has not done much wrong in a Three Lions jersey to consider his place to be under a severe threat, but if he loses his Everton spot then with such strong competition at international level too he might start to struggle trying to add to his already gained 28 caps – especially with Gareth Southgate’s tendency to lean towards picking players in form. Nick Pope of Burnley is waiting in the wings.

If Pickford doesn’t convince Ancelotti against Manchester United then alarm bells will start ringing, especially with the Everton boss having already dropped him once. He can’t keep rotating his keepers and will need an established No 1 eventually.

Another warning for Pickford is we have seen a similar scenario involving another England keeper in recent times.

Paul Robinson looked assured as England’s No 1 for a three years after replacing David James in 2004 following a series of impressive displays for Tottenham Hotspur during that period.

But following a run of error strewn performances at the north London side and a high-profile gaff in Croatia, where his air-kick led to a crucial England defeat, he was soon dropped at international as well as club level.

Pickford's form has declined since his World Cup heroics with England at the 2018 World Cup and losing his place at Everton puts his role as the Three Lions' No 1 under severe threat

Pickford’s form has declined since his World Cup heroics with England at the 2018 World Cup and losing his place at Everton puts his role as the Three Lions’ No 1 under severe threat

His drop in form is a reminder back to Paul Robinson who after three years as England and Tottenham's undisputed No 1 lost his place in both teams following poor displays, most infamously of all in the Three Lions' 2-0 defeat in Croatia in 2007 (above)

His drop in form is a reminder back to Paul Robinson who after three years as England and Tottenham’s undisputed No 1 lost his place in both teams following poor displays, most infamously of all in the Three Lions’ 2-0 defeat in Croatia in 2007 (above)

At 27-years-old his international career was over and he moved on at club level too to Blackburn Rovers in 2008 where he would suffer relegation four years later.

It’s a warning to Pickford that his career could decline very quickly if he does not negotiate his tailspin and return to his best from, something Robinson sadly never quite managed over a long period.

The preliminary signs to his big test are good. Ancelotti had hinted that Pickford was angry about being dropped for Newcastle when he said: ‘The reaction of Jordan was the reaction of a player who understands he was not going to play today, because I explained to him really clearly that I wanted to give an opportunity for Robin to play.’

Pickford is up for the fight it seems but it was quite noticeable he is also still backing the Toffees to succeed first. When Newcastle scored a penalty against Everton last weekend, the keeper was clearly visibly frustrated at seeing Olsen unable to keep out Callum Wilson’s effort. If he is going to win back his place for good, he has started in the most professional manner.

Everton head into the United clash without a win in three games in just over a month having started the season with seven consecutive victories. Now is the time for Pickford to show he can get back to his best as well as helping the Toffees get back to winning ways. 

Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti will give Pickford a chance to prove himself once more against

Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti will give Pickford a chance to prove himself once more against 

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