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Jordan Pickford will be a better goalkeeper for his Anfield calamity

A player who oozes self-confidence, back Pickford to improve after his costly derby mistake on Sunday.

Chelsea FC v Everton FC - Premier League
At just 24, Pickford is far from the finished article
Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

They say goalkeepers tend to reach their peak later than their outfield colleagues.

Yet while most men between the sticks enjoy their best years in their late twenties to early thirties, Jordan Pickford, at 24, has already surpassed the levels many could ever reach in their careers.

It is a testament to Pickford’s own determination and self-belief that he has already established himself as one of the Premier League’s best keepers and England’s first-choice stopper despite playing in non-league football just a few years ago.

But while his self-confidence can at times be his greatest strength, simultaneously it can prove to be his most glaring weakness.

At Anfield on Sunday, with the full-time whistle seconds away, and referee Chris Kavanagh set to call time on a goalless draw, it transpired to be the latter.

To a certain extent, it is understandable why Pickford went to claim a looping Virgil van Dijk effort, but ultimately, he did not have to. Even if he could not be sure, it was going over the crossbar to safety. Instead, his haphazard attempt to gather the ball resulted in failure, allowing Divock Origi to bury a 96th-minute winner.

Liverpool FC v Everton FC - Premier League
Pickford’s error left Divock Origi with a tap-in
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

It would be remiss not to also mention Pickford’s excellent first-half save from Xherdan Shaqiri, with the Swiss international through on goal, but on numerous occasions during Sunday’s Merseyside derby, his performance had the semblance of an over-excited individual who, if anything, was too pumped up.

From the opening exchanges, his distribution was uncharacteristically awry; normally one of his best assets, Pickford scuffed numerous clearances, much to his own clear bewilderment.

But for evidence as to why his awful day at the office will make him an even better goalkeeper, look at these facial expressions of disgust, or at his ability to acknowledge post-match his mistake cost the Blues a deserved point:

Pickford still has much learn as a goalkeeper; look not only at his Anfield nadir, but at the home game against Southampton, when he fumbled a ball that, for a keeper of his standing, should have been straightforward, even if he then redeemed himself with an exceptional save.

But no footballer is the finished article at the tender age of 24, and Pickford is hardly the only keeper guilty of making blunders at crucial times in key games.

Take Loris Karius’ infamous pair of gaffes in Liverpool’s Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid last season, or Manchester United’s David de Gea fumbling a tame Phil Bardsley shot in the penultimate minute of extra time in a League Cup semi-final, with the Red Devils heading through.

Indeed, far more significant than the error itself is Pickford’s recognition that he was to blame and his subsequent apology. He did not hide; he took the fall. It will take more than merely apologies to eradicate this side of his game, but it demonstrated just how driven Pickford is to work on his own goalkeeping pitfalls.

A stopper without Pickford’s ambition and mental strength would not be representing England on the biggest stage in world football with relative inexperience; certainly at that level of the game.

Nor would a keeper lacking Pickford’s confidence levels repeatedly save penalties like he does, such as those in consecutive weeks against Crystal Palace’s Luka Milivojević and United’s Paul Pogba.

Amid the storm of criticism currently heading solely Pickford’s way, it is also easy to forget he delivered a standout performance just three weeks ago away at Chelsea. On several occasions, he made exemplary stops to deny a side who only Arsenal and leaders Manchester City have scored more goals than this season. In doing so, he remains the only opposition goalkeeper to leave Stamford Bridge with a clean sheet this term.

Chelsea FC v Everton FC - Premier League
Pickford was outstanding in the recent 0-0 draw at Chelsea

The amount in which he speaks to the defenders in front of him should also not be overlooked; too often in years gone by, the man between the Goodison goalposts has not been vocal enough. Pickford is invariably prepared to shout at his team-mates if need be, even if it’s Wayne Rooney, and the confidence it inspires in his back line is patently obvious.

In a way, it is somewhat harsh that a derby in which Everton gave such an admirable account of themselves - so unlike recent years at Anfield - will forever be remembered for Pickford’s faux pas.

It is also perhaps unfair that Pickford will, to most Evertonians, be entirely culpable for Sunday’s events. Many will now overlook the free headers spurned by the otherwise superb Yerry Mina and André Gomes, or the lack of composure shown by Richarlison and Theo Walcott when in on goal, or the unusually stray passing from one of Everton’s players of the season so far, Idrissa Gueye.

But that is the burden Pickford will now have to shoulder, and only he can put it right.

A boyhood Sunderland fan, he celebrated last season’s home win against the Mackems’ bitter rivals Newcastle, with such zeal and enthusiasm in front of the travelling Geordies to raise their hackles.

Everton v Newcastle United - Premier League
Pickford particularly enjoyed last season’s win against Newcastle
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

If he can put Sunday behind him when the Toon Army return to Goodison Park on Wednesday night, it would be a safe bet to see Pickford enjoy the win in similar fashion.

In Pickford, Everton have their best goalkeeper if not since the legendary, colossal Neville Southall, then certainly since the days of Nigel Martyn.

Sunday’s experience may be permanently ingrained into his footballing memory, and it was undeniably a horrible, costly mistake that does not reflect on Pickford’s obvious ability as a keeper.

But in the long-term, experiences like this will shape him into an even better goalkeeper, and even though every Evertonian would, of course, have preferred it had never happened in the first place, it would take the most bitter Blue not to have faith in him atoning for his error.