England’s performance in the Euro 2016 qualifying group was everything Roy Hodgson hoped it could be and more. A remarkable run of ten wins from ten matches left the England team top of group E after their last competitive fixture back in October.
All the while, a Premier League season which is going to see one of the most unusual finishes in the competition's history has given Hodgson a selection headache in every position on the field possible.
Starting from the back, foundations for any team’s success is a reliable goalkeeper. For Hodgson in the summer is seems as though he will have a choice of three to go at; Joe Hart, Jack Butland and Fraser Forster of Manchester City, Stoke City and Southampton respectively.
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On the face of it, at the moment favourite to be the first choice keeper is probably Joe Hart. His consistent performances for Manchester City over the last few years have made him the first choice England goalkeeper for the entirety of Hodgson’s four years service.
However, since Asmir Begovic left Stoke City for Chelsea in the summer, Jack Butland has had the opportunity to flourish in the Stoke goal, and it's fair to say he has done so in outstanding fashion. The 22-year-old shot-stopper has been in tremendous form for The Potters and remains a crucial factor in their push for Europe.
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Butland’s performances before Christmas had many people calling for him to be given a chance to play for England in the final few qualifiers when our place at the top of the table was already secure. Hodgson gave him this chance against Lithuania at the end of the qualifying run. Butland kept a clean sheet and made a couple of good saves but generally didn’t see too much of the ball.
For the nine games Hart was in goal, he only conceded three times, helping England to a goal difference of +28 from just ten matches. This left no reason for Hodgson to consider changing goalkeepers as England progress through the competition.
The third man in possible contention, Fraser Forster, was out injured for the first half of the season but returned with a clean sheet against Watford in January. He has since not conceded in a further six matches from nine appearances. This has helped Southampton push back up the league table after going on a bad run over the festive period.
Despite having a remarkable season last year that saw Southampton finish seventh and qualify for Europe, Forster probably hasn’t had enough game time so far this season to be in with a shout of featuring.
However, it's fair to say that if his current form continues he could challenge any goalkeeper for a number one spot. Forster has apparently been targeted as a potential summer signing for Liverpool. If Hodgson does have a ‘big team bias’ as people suggest, would a move to a ‘bigger’ side influence the decision making for the future number one spot?
Statistics suggest that the battle between Hart and Butland is ongoing.
Butland has appeared in each of Stoke’s 29 league fixtures, whilst Hart has started 26 times for the Sky Blues. Hart has kept 12 clean sheets, enough to put him level league-best with Petr Cech meanwhile the Potters' star has kept two fewer, with ten for the season.
Hart is marginally better than Butland in distribution accuracy (60% vs 56%), average catches per game (2.88 vs 2.86) and goals conceded on average per game (1 vs 1.17). However, Butland does make an average of 2.26 saves per goal which is slightly higher than Hart’s 2.20 - again that might say more about the defences in front of them, though.
Both goalkeepers have had to deal with the loss of their captains at centre-back through injury for similar lengths of time. It might be worth considering that City spent a combined fee of around £70 million on their current centre-backs while Stoke’s net spend on that position is just under £5 million.
Butland’s heroics have helped Stoke build momentum as they are set to achieve another record breaking finish in the Premier League. Joe Hart’s efforts in goal seem to have been overlooked as a Leicester team set out to re-define the hierarchy of English football.
A cup final penalty-winning performance by Manchester City backup keeper Willy Caballero pushed the English stopper further from the spotlight.
In terms of how all of this translates to the international stage, it is probably Joe Hart’s wealth of invaluable experience in the England first team that looks set to secure his place in the starting 11 once again.
Would this outcome be fair on Butland, who has been outstanding in the Stoke City goal for the whole season? Or should Forster get a chance if his remarkable form continues? Leave your comments below!