Soccer-No serious challengers to Pickford, says England's Southgate

Nov 6 (Reuters) - Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford was benched for their last Premier League game after some erratic performances but the 26-year-old is without a serious challenger for the England gloves, national team manager Gareth Southgate said.

Pickford has been named in the England squad for this month’s friendly against Ireland and Nations League meetings with Belgium and Iceland.

“When people say I have been loyal to him, he has deserved that. His performances for us have been excellent, so that has not been a difficult decision for me,” Southgate told a news conference on Thursday.

“We have some competition for places but I would have to say that there is nobody who I think is challenging seriously at the moment to push him out of that position.

“In terms of how his club are looking after him, he has got a hugely experienced manager there who has won everything in the game. He is in a very good place.”

Pickford has also faced intense criticism for a challenge on Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk that left the Dutch defender needing knee surgery and Southgate said he had spoken to the goalkeeper about it.

“I recognised it had been a very high-profile situation. I just felt it would be an appropriate call to make to see how he was,” Southgate added.

“This has been a difficult period for Pickford in terms of the spotlight on that particular challenge and because of the profile of the player involved in it but it’s disappointing to see a player like that miss football.” (Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford )