One of Manchester United’s longest-running sagas in recent years has been David De Gea’s contract situation. The Spaniard has been the standout performer for the past few seasons at Old Trafford, Consequently, his stock has risen exponentially, raising interest from Real Madrid amongst others. Gary Neville has commented on rumoured target Jordan Pickford after the England and Everton goalkeeper’s heroics at the World Cup.
Keeping De Gea is the obvious priority for United. With his contract running out next summer, however, there is a very real danger of losing him cheaply. A one-year extension option on his current deal could be triggered to at least ensure that he doesn’t leave for free. Serie A heavyweights Juventus for example are said to be interested. Would Pickford fill the gap in goal if De Gea were to leave?
Pickford passing presence
Speaking ahead of Pickford’s appearance for England in the 2-1 UEFA Nations League win over Croatia, Neville said:
“I thought he was a risk before the World Cup. It was one of the points I was most nervous about. I actually think international football suits him a lot in the sense of the way the team play. I think the fact you get more time to play out at the back than you normally would in the Premier League
“There are so many keepers now of his ilk and his stature and his ability in terms of agility that you have to change with the times. I was always of the Peter Schmeichel, the big presence. He [Pickford] doesn’t look huge in goal but is agile and does make great saves.”
One of Schmeichel’s biggest assets was his throwing accuracy. He didn’t pass the ball nearly as often as modern keepers, hence Neville’s comment about changing with the times. Instead, he relied on his long arm for distribution far more than Pickford and his peers do.
The difference between Pickford’s international and club performances is borne out by the passing statistics. Despite attempting an almost identical number of passes per game, his accuracy drops from 66.4% at the World Cup to just 52.3% for Everton. This is not as a result of making shorter passes either. In Russia he attempted two more long passes on average per game than he has in this Premier League season.
The defences in front of both Pickford and De Gea play a huge role in their statistics. The lack of a consistent ball-playing centre back has been a common thread of Jose Mourinho’s criticisms of the board. Chris Smalling has little ability on the ball besides, while it has taken Victor Lindelof time to adapt.
Interestingly, they have both played an almost identical number of long passes this season so far. In theory, this suggests that were Pickford to replace De Gea he would be familiar with the passing demands. The glaring difference, however, is that Pickford has one of the worst accuracy percentages for long passes.
There are of course many factors, such as the movement and strength of his outfield teammates to receive long passes. England’s number one would have to either improve his accuracy or adapt the length of passes to fit in. This is assuming that the defence and style implemented upon them remains largely the same. Given the license to buy a suitable defender, United might then look to play out from the back more often.
While we could have also looked at statistics for shot-stopping, it is a little spurious in one sense. Save percentages rely on a far greater range of factors than many numbers. Passing the ball however, a feature ever more prominent on goalkeeping, it seems Pickford has work to do. The likely transfer fee would be negated by the premium De Gea’s value would bring in. Jordan Pickford would be an intriguing option for Manchester United if the unthinkable happened, but not the finished article.
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