Joe Hart shouldn't be anywhere near England's squad for the World Cup
In addition to being a potentially decisive game in the relegation battle, Monday's Premier League match between West Ham United and Stoke City was also billed as a battle for the England number one jersey.
England manager Gareth Southgate was in attendance to see how Joe Hart and Jack Butland performed. Both had the chance to stake their claim to be the starting goalkeeper for the national team in Russia this summer, and neither covered themselves in glory, particularly the West Ham 'keeper.
Hart made yet another costly error, fumbling a shot into the path of Peter Crouch who put Stoke ahead on the night. The former Manchester City goalkeeper had played well in the game against Chelsea last week, but the mistake on Monday night was a more accurate reflection of his true form.
In 18 Premier League games this season, Hart has made four errors that led to goals, which is more than every other English goalkeeper in the division.
Joe Hart (18 appearances) has made as many errors leading to goals this season (four) as every other English goalkeeper in the Premier League put together (179 appearances).
— Adam Bate (@ghostgoal) April 16, 2018
But his poor form goes beyond dropping the occasional clanger. Of the 26 Premier League goalkeepers who have made more than 25 saves this season, Hart ranks second from last for save percentage. He has stopped just 57.83% of the shots he has faced. Only Southampton's Alex McCarthy, who has played seven fewer Premier League games than Hart this campaign, has a lower save percentage, stopping 54% of the shots he has faced.
David de Gea has the best save percentage of any 'keeper in the division this season. The Manchester United goalkeeper has stopped 80.15% of the shots he has faced, which is both extremely impressive and completely unsurprising.
Nick Pope is a close second, having stopped 80% of the shots he has faced. To rank alongside De Gea for saves is astonishing and it indicates how brilliant the Burnley goalkeeper has been this season. Needless to say, no other English goalkeeper comes anywhere near this save percentage this season, and if Southgate selects his starting goalkeeper for the World Cup on form, it should be Pope.
The 25-year-old benefits from playing behind one of the most solid defensive structures in the Premier League - Burnley have conceded just 29 goals - but he has played his part. Pope has been flawless since stepping in for the injured Tom Heaton, showing the talent, concentration and confidence needed to be a Premier League goalkeeper.
There's little to suggest he would be fazed by playing in a World Cup, but it appears Southgate will opt for either Butland or Jordan Pickford.
He started the Everton goalkeeper in the win over The Netherlands last month and then gave Butland a chance against Italy in the 1-1 draw at Wembley. If the England manager had designs on starting Pope at the World Cup, he probably would have given him some playing time in the March friendlies.
It looks like it will be between Butland and Pickford to start for England at the World Cup, and there is little to choose between the two in some aspects. The Everton goalkeeper has won two caps, Butland has seven caps. For Stoke this season, he has saved 68% of the shots he has faced and Pickford has stopped 67% of the shots he has faced.
Gary Neville said last month that he would choose Butland over Pickford because he has more "experience" at international tournaments. Yet, the 25-year-old's tournament experience for the England senior team is as an unused substitute at Euro 2012. This "experience" shouldn't be a factor in Southgate's decision.
Pickford has proven to be better with the ball at his feet than his Stoke counterpart, and this could prove key in Southgate's decision. The former Sunderland 'keeper suits how England are trying to play. He is calm in possession and precise with his passing. Southgate looks certain to select a back-three and aims to build from the back
This pass against the Dutch last month showed off his range of passing, and how he has the trust of his teammates. Even with the opposition pressing high, the England defenders weren't worried about passing it back to Pickford on his goal line.
With less than two months to go to the tournament kicking off in Russia, there are still doubts about who will start in goal for England. If Southgate is to choose his goalkeeper based on form this season, it must be Pope. If he wants a goalkeeper to fit how he aims for his team to play, then it'll be Pickford. Both warrant inclusion and are better options than Butland or Hart, particularly the West Ham goalkeeper.
In truth, Hart shouldn't even be in contention for the England squad. He may have 75 caps and would be the most experienced member of the England squad in Russia, but his form has been poor for a couple of seasons.
It appears Hart is experiencing a decline in his ability, rather than a patchy spell. He didn't impress on loan at Torino last season and only recently regained his place at West Ham. He has also made several errors in big games for England over the past few years.
At Torino last year, he faced 44 shots down low to his left and just 25 to his right.
The season before that, his last with City, the Hart faced 28 shots down low to his left and 18 to his right. Opposition players are aware of his weak-spot and Gareth Bale exploited it at Euro 2016.
As did Iceland.
And Leigh Griffiths for Scotland last summer.
And he wasn't much better at dealing with shots to his right.
If Hart is even part of the England squad for the World Cup this summer it will be based on his status in English football and his past reputation. He has essentially become the goalkeeping equivalent of Wayne Rooney, included for his "experience" and past achievements, despite being in obvious decline.
Except, whereas the former England captain was once world class, Hart has never come close to such levels. He was a good goalkeeper six years ago, but is now a shadow of his past self and not among England's best three goalkeepers.
England have also long selected players based on reputation over form or in some cases ability. Danny Drinkwater was one-half of Leicester City's title-winning midfield, yet was left out of the squad at Euro 2016 for Jack Wilshere, who had barely kicked a ball that season.
When Michael Carrick was a key player for Manchester United, he was constantly overlooked for England, with players such as Phil Jones and Scott Parker starting ahead of him in midfield. Stewart Downing and Shaun Wright-Phillips have more England caps than Carrick.
Southgate should avoid falling into this old trap of choosing players based on their "character", status and reputation. He should select his squad based on their form, and that means ditching Hart.