With the 2018 World Cup in Russia just a few months away, there is no shortage of English players jockeying to make Gareth Southgate’s final 23-man senior squad. Unlike some other sides, the England goalkeeping spot is fairly wide open with a number of high-profile candidates. Step up, Sam Johnstone!
The Three Lions likely won’t be among the odds-on favourites once the World Cup gets underway, but there is a reason for optimism in England. Southgate will have a good mix of youth and veteran talent on the squad, and that’s a positive sign moving forward. The event is still several months off, but it’s never too early to start placing your bets now on a sneaky underdog like England.
While Joe Hart, Jordan Pickford and Jack Butland seem like the most likely trio of keepers set to make the trip to Russia, might Aston Villa’s Johnstone be making a late push?
Johnstone’s stellar form has played a huge role in Villa’s race for the Championship playoff. The 24-year-old has made 121 saves and kept 15 clean sheets this season. His 121 saves are the most by any English goalkeeper in the league, and he’s raising eyebrows all over the country as a result.
Johnstone’s form has been so impressive that it’s even drawn the praise of those fighting with him for a spot in the England squad. Butland, who formerly played with Bristol City and currently plies his craft at Stoke, said, “Defensively, they (Villa) have been excellent this season and a lot of that is down to Sam.”
Butland added, “He’s 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 playoffs and maybe even automatic promotion.”
Through 38 matches, Villa is 20-9-9, which is good for fourth in the league. They are tied on 69 points with Fulham, though both clubs are 13 points adrift of Wolves at the top. Cardiff City is still second with 76 points.
Butland continued to heap praise on Johnstone, saying, “It is great to see him playing consistently. He has found a home and a club that cares for him, which is so important.”
Johnstone has spent the past several seasons bouncing around England on loan spells from his parent club, Manchester United. The Preston native still has yet to make an appearance for United despite the fact that he has been their player since signing in 2011. This is Johnstone’s second consecutive loan spell at Aston Villa, and many supporters are hopeful that a permanent deal can be reached in order to keep the talented keeper for the foreseeable future.
Butland admitted that he believes Johnstone should be a viable candidate to secure a spot on Southgate’s roster. He continued, “There is more than just me, Joe (Hart) and Jordan (Pickford) fighting for the England shirt – Sam is firmly in the mix, as well.”
Butland and Johnstone were teammates on the England U-17 squad that took home the UEFA U-17 championship in Liechtenstein in 2010.