England squad: Should Jordan Pickford's spot be under threat?
England's squad for their Euro 2020 qualifiers against the Czech Republic and Montenegro is named on Wednesday - at a time when previously undisputed number one Jordan Pickford's form is raising serious cause for concern.
Pickford's frantic performance as Everton lost a two-goal lead to lose at Newcastle raised more questions in an underwhelming season for the 25-year-old, who was one of the heroes as England reached the World Cup semi-finals in Russia last summer.
England manager Gareth Southgate has never wavered in his belief that Pickford is the best man for the goalkeeping job.
So what has been happening this season and is it time to show faith in Pickford or question his role in the national team?
Pickford's display at St James' Park bordered on the farcical at times, mixing occasional good saves, including from a penalty by Matt Ritchie, with indulging in a running exchange with Newcastle supporters only too keen to remind him of his previous existence at Sunderland.
He allowed himself to become distracted into playing the role of pantomime villain, particularly after saving Ritchie's spot-kick.
A video posted on social media of the keeper at the final whistle still involved in exchanges with home supporters, despite playing a key role in Everton's loss, angered just as many of his own fans as it delighted the Toon Army.
BBC Sport pundit Alan Shearer, writing in his national newspaper column, described Pickford's behaviour as "ridiculous and bizarre".
The concession of a first-half penalty for a rugby tackle on Salomon Rondon after dropping a routine cross was a moment of blind panic reminiscent of an incident in England's win against Spain in October, when ill-judged fancy footwork saw him fortunate to escape through a high-risk recovery tackle on Rodrigo.
In his defence, Pickford contributed to two England goals that night with his distribution, but even that has become increasingly wayward.
Pickford has had his moments this term, including a superb stop from Mohamed Salah to earn a draw against Liverpool in the Merseyside derby, but this has not been the same goalkeeper who made a clean sweep of Everton's end-of-season awards following his £30m move from Sunderland in the summer of 2017.
Everton manager Marco Silva defended Pickford's behaviour, saying he was "an expressive player" who coped with the atmosphere of a World Cup semi-final - but the game against Newcastle looked a classic case of a man playing the occasion not the game.
|Premier League 2018-19|
|Player||Errors leading to shots (including goals)|
And, in a development which must surely catch Southgate's attention, it has been that sort of season for Pickford.
He is responsible for more errors (four) leading directly to goals than any other player in the Premier League, including the catastrophic 96th-minute mistake that handed Divock Origi Liverpool's winner at Anfield in December, as well as an injudicious dash from goal and confusion with Kurt Zouma that gave Son Heung-min Tottenham's equaliser at Goodison Park later that month in a game Everton eventually lost 6-2.
Pickford has an increased save percentage but after 30 league games last season he had not made a single error leading to a goal. He has conceded 49 goals compared with 42 and has kept eight clean sheets compared with seven.
He has too often performed like a goalkeeper wired into an electric current, spreading panic in an Everton defence that does not need much encouragement, although the feeling may well be mutual.
Should Pickford keep his place?
This is a question that can be seriously applied to Everton and England for a keeper who, despite all the credit he rightly has in the bank, has been volatile and nervy all season.
The decline in reliability has been marked at Everton but he is being cushioned, so far, from the pain of being dropped by a lack of any credible alternatives, no matter how poorly he performs.
|How Pickford compares to other English keepers this season|
|Games||Clean sheets||Shots on target faced||Saves||Save percentage||Errors leading to goals||Conceded|
|League games only. Only players with 10 or more league games included|
Pickford's current Everton deputy is veteran former Netherlands keeper Maarten Stekelenburg, now 36 and very much a last resort when it comes to selection.
Everton have a promising 19-year-old in Joao Virginia, a Portuguese keeper signed from Arsenal in the summer, but he is not ready.
Pickford has no real challengers Silva can count on - and the player will hope Southgate feels the same.
Burnley's Tom Heaton has been in outstanding form since recovering from injury but did not cover himself in glory in their 4-2 loss at Anfield and would Southgate consider the likes of Stoke City's Jack Butland or Southampton pair Angus Gunn and Alex McCarthy as a better option than Pickford?
He may yet survive based on how highly Southgate regards him, not just as a goalkeeper and a distributor, but also for the fact Pickford has never let England down.
What next for Pickford?
This is not a case of "build them up, then knock them down". Pickford's form has been a cause for concern for some time.
He remains, however, a very fine goalkeeper and in his position a relatively young one at just turned 25.
Mistakes will be made and full maturity is still to come.
Pickford must make sure, though, that the gurning and goading that backfired so badly on Tyneside on Saturday is the start of his rediscovery of what made him such an outstanding prospect, and a time when calm and equilibrium is restored to his mental and footballing approach.
If opposition fans, and indeed players, see how easily he was wound up and lost focus on Saturday then they are sure to play on it.
The hot-headedness has to stop for the benefit of Everton and England.
Every shrewd judge who knows Pickford says he does not dwell on mistakes but learns from them. Silva and Southgate will hope he has.