GARETH SOUTHGATE last night praised Jordan Pickford’s ‘match-saving abilities’ after the Wearsider enjoyed a dream debut in England’s goalless draw with Germany.

Pickford was one of England’s stand-out performers as they matched the reigning world champions at Wembley, producing three excellent first-half saves to prevent German striker Timo Werner breaking the deadlock.

The former Sunderland academy product exuded a calm composure throughout, and will hope to retain his place in the starting line-up when England return to action against Brazil on Tuesday.

Loading article content

Last night’s performance enhanced his chances of making it into Southgate’s 23-man squad for next summer’s World Cup finals in Russia, but while the England boss was delighted with the goalkeeper’s display, he was not surprised by the way in which he took the step up to senior status in his stride.

“He’s always had that confidence,” said Southgate. “I remember his first couple of Under-21 games, you were thinking, ‘He’s quick around the area and makes saves’.

“With goalkeepers, there are some keepers who make the saves that you would expect them to make, but then there are others that go on to the next level and make match-winning saves. Jordan falls into that category.

“He’s made some important saves tonight, and he’s also very good with his feet. His distribution has given the team another dimension as well. I think he can be very pleased with his performance.”

Pickford was one of five England debutants on a successful night that has left Southgate with a number of interesting decisions to make as he ponders the make-up of his squad for Russia.

Liverpool’s Joe Gomez produced a composed display at the back, while Swansea loanee Tammy Abraham caused problems in attack, but the night’s stand-out performer was Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who excelled at the heart of the England midfield.

The 21-year-old, who is spending the current campaign on loan at Crystal Palace from Chelsea, produced a mature attacking performance that saw him prise open the German defence on a number of occasions, and Southgate clearly holds him in extremely high regard.

“He’s a player I’ve watched do that from Under-16 level,” said the England boss. “Despite his size and appearance, and the way he plays, he’s not that confident at times. I think it took him ten minutes or so to look around and think, ‘Okay, I can do this’.

“He’s got a lot of good attributes that he can bring to the team. I don’t think the wider public would maybe be that aware of him, but we were always confident of what he could do.

“I’m really not surprised by the way he played, or the way that any of the young players played. They’ve been doing that through their various age groups, and also in training this week. They’ve been a really tight group, and they’ve carried that through to their performance, which is really encouraging.”

Southgate tinkered with his system last night, playing three at the back and fielding Loftus-Cheek in an advanced attacking role ahead of Eric Dier and Jake Livermore.

England looked more balanced than in a number of their recent World Cup qualifiers, and having moved away from the 4-2-3-1 formation he was fielding at the start of the qualifying campaign, Southgate has struck upon a system he seems keen to stick with.

“It’s a slightly different system, and it brings different possibilities,” he said. “Looking at where Ruben played today, you could play Dele (Alli) or (Adam) Lallana in that system.

“It opens up a few different options, but if we’re going to play like that, then at the minute I think we need the stability of having three at the back. We did that tonight, and I thought the players at the back used the ball well.

“I didn’t really like us in a 4-2-3-1. In the qualifiers, we came up against a lot of teams trying to do the same thing against us. Against the best teams, we will have different problems to solve.

“We had to be tactically right tonight, with and without the ball, and I thought we were. This is a bright group of players and they’re buying in to what we’re trying to do. I thought it was a brilliant experience for them, and we’ll see if they can repeat that on Tuesday.”