On Sunday afternoon at Wembley Stadium, the English national team came up just short. The Italians took home the title of European Champions instead, a thoroughly deserved honor after what was a phenomenal tournament for the Azzurri.
The game was decided by the finest of margins. Italy emerged 3-2 on penalties after the teams were deadlocked at one goal apiece through 120 minutes.
Ultimately, it was a day of disappointment for the youthful Three Lions. However, there were plenty of positives for English supporters to take from the team’s run to the final.
As an Evertonian, I felt a great sense of pride watching Jordan Pickford perform on the stage of a European final. Pickford was locked in throughout the tournament, picking up five clean sheets and conceding just twice in seven matches.
He brought his best again in the final. Pickford made several key stops in the first 90 minutes, including one in the 62nd minute on Federico Chiesa to preserve England’s 1-0 advantage.
Where Pickford truly shone, however, was under the bright lights of the penalty shootout. Pickford’s first save came on Andrea Belotti in the second round, which gave England an early advantage.
The 27-year-old’s second save was as clutch as they come. With England’s backs against the wall in the fifth round, Pickford conjured up a great save on Italy’s best penalty taker, Jorginho.
Although the save extended England’s stay in the tournament, it wasn’t quite enough.
After the tournament, England manager Gareth Southgate spoke highly of Pickford’s body of work.
— Everton (@Everton) July 12, 2021
Pickford’s Play Should Come As No Surprise
It is great to see Jordan Pickford finally receiving recognition for his high level of play. However, Everton fans will know that Pickford performing well is not a particularly new development.
After a few rocky moments early in the 2020-21 Premier League season, Pickford worked hard to turn things around. Working with a sports psychologist helped Pickford regain his confidence, and this change showed on the pitch.
Throughout the Euros, it was common to see Pickford take charge and vocally organize his back line. When he is confident and at his best, Pickford is a great shot stopper who can contribute with his feet and take leadership of a defense.
Pickford consistently played that role for Everton down the stretch. For example, he was fantastic in Everton’s most memorable win of the season. In the Toffees 2-0 defeat of Liverpool at Anfield, Pickford made six saves en route to the clean sheet.
Even when the team in front of him struggled, Pickford was typically solid. Everton’s final day defeat to Manchester City comes to mind. Pickford made six saves in that game, preventing an embarassing 5-0 scoreline from being even worse.
Pickford Deserves the Praise
According to FotMob, Pickford earned a rating of 7.0 or higher in eight of Everton’s final 13 games of the season. His performances for England this summer have extended that run to 15 ratings of 7.0 or higher in 21 matches.
Now that Pickford has demonstrated his standout play in the spotlight of the European Championships, he is starting to get some long overdue credit.
No athlete is ever perfect, and Pickford is certainly not an exception to that rule. However, it seems as though the narrative around Everton’s Number One has often focused on past mistakes rather than acknowledging present success.
Everton fans had taken note of Pickford consistently being one of the Toffees’ best players in the second half of the season. For some reason, many chose to prioritize incidents from November or even seasons gone by rather than recognizing that reality.
As Pickford’s Everton statistics show, he has been very solid over the past six months. He thoroughly deserves the praise that is finally coming his way.
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Featured image courtesy of @Everton.