Aston Villa’s Sam Johnstone, “firmly in England mix” says Jack Butland

As the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia approaches, England manager Gareth Southgate has a decision to make. Who exactly is going to start in goal?

England defeated a nearly full-strength Netherlands squad on Friday on the back of Jesse Lingard’s second half strike. The Oranje will not be taking the trip to Russia this summer, having failed to qualify out of a UEFA group that consisted of France and Sweden among others.

England, however, will be, under manager Gareth Southgate, being drawn into Group G alongside Belgium, Panama and Tunisia. While many of Southgate’s positions are predictable, others remain guesswork. Harry Kane, if fit, will be the center forward, Raheem Sterling will start in either a wing or forward position, John Stones will start in central defense, etc.

One of the questions many have of this England squad is what exactly will the formation be? And who the hell is starting at goalkeeper? While England do not lack in qualified candidates for the number one shirt, they certainly lack in world-class quality. Many of the current Premier League goalkeepers are either under horrendous form or not starting, while the Championship candidates remain overlooked. Everton’s Jordan Pickford got the start for England, keeping a clean sheet against Bas Dost, Memphis Depay, Gigi Wijnaldum and others. Stoke City’s Jack Butland, Burnley’s Nick Pope and West Ham’s Joe Hart comprised the bench.

But there are only three spots for the squad in Russia and it is Jack Butland’s comments recently that tie in Aston Villa. He claims the position is wide open at the moment and that Villa #1 Sam Johnstone remains in contention:

“Defensively, they have been excellent this season and a lot of that is down to Sam,” said Butland, speaking at the launch of the UEFA European Under-17 Championships. “He is a real talent.” “They slipped up the other day but they are doing extremely well. It pains me to say that as an ex-Blue but they look a sure bet for the play-offs maybe even automatic promotion. They certainly have a Premier League keeper and that is a big thing for them. I don’t live too far away from Sam and I bump into him a lot. It is great to see him playing consistently. He has found a home and a club that cares for him, which is so important.” Butland, who who came through Blues’ academy before signing for Premier League Stoke City in 2013, added: “There is more than just me, Joe (Hart) and Jordan (Pickford) fighting for the England shirt – Sam is firmly in the mix as well.”

Does Sam actually have a shot?

Villa Verdict:

In my opinion, no. It is simply too close to the World Cup to breed new faces into the cycle. At this point, Jordan Pickford is a lock to make the squad, and possibly the favorite to start, evidenced by Friday’s victory. Jack Butland, too, I think is safe with an outside chance of being the number one. It does not help that Stoke City have been a raging dumpster fire this season.

If I had to guess, I believe Joe Hart makes the squad based on experience, though his on-field merits of late are limited. Nick Pope, Tom Heaton, Sam Johnstone, Scott Carson and Fraser Forster miss out through a mix of injury, poor form, and second-division play.

For Sam, there is always a European Championship qualifying cycle that follows. He turns 25 tomorrow.