Goalkeepers under fire - Can Adrian and Pickford handle the Merseyside derby heat?

Adrian Jordan Pickford Liverpool Everton GFXGetty Images

Who’d be a goalkeeper, eh?

As Everton and Liverpool prepare to do battle at Goodison Park this weekend, it is the men between the sticks who are in the spotlight. 

The 235th Merseyside derby may well, in fact, be defined by the performances of Jordan Pickford and Adrian, both of whom head into the game with questions to answer, and with doubt and criticism ringing in their ears.

Article continues below

It’s some life, isn’t it? Fear and uncertainty, concentration and conviction, questions and answers, pressure and responsibility. That’s just the way it is, for those who choose to wear the gloves.

There’s a reason it’s known as the most unforgiving position on the field.

It’s been a long old fortnight at Melwood, the international break ensuring memories of Liverpool’s 7-2 thrashing at Aston Villa in their last outing have lasted longer than anyone would have wished.

For Adrian, those two weeks will have felt like two months. The Spaniard, for many, was the fall-guy, the man most responsible for the Reds’ worst league defeat since 1963. He is the player supporters are most concerned about as the Premier League champions prepare to face the Premier League leaders this weekend.

If he wasn’t at fault for everything at Villa Park – and he wasn’t, no matter what anyone says - there is no question that his fourth-minute error set the tone on a harrowing evening for Jurgen Klopp’s side. Liverpool had plenty of time, but barely looked like recovering once Adrian’s loose pass had gifted Ollie Watkins the game’s opening goal. According to Klopp, they "lost the plot". 

Klopp Liverpool 2020Getty

Chris Kirkland knows exactly how it will have felt for Adrian. Kirkland made 45 appearances for Liverpool between 2001 and 2005, and more than 300 across a 15-year professional career. He knows the loneliness which accompanies the position, and the emotions which run through a goalkeeper’s mind after such a chastening defeat.

“I remember playing for Wigan when we lost 9-1 at Tottenham [in 2009],” he tells Goal.

“That was horrendous, the worst feeling in my career. You’re embarrassed, your confidence suffers, everything. You think ‘I’ve let in nine goals in the Premier League, how on earth has that happened?!'”

Kirkland remembers training “harder and better” than ever before in the week that followed, and getting his reward the following Saturday, keeping a clean sheet as Wigan beat Sunderland 1-0. 

“It hurts you, but it motivates you as well,” he says. “You think ‘I don’t ever want to feel that way again’, and it drives you. 

“I know I took that feeling from White Hart Lane with me throughout the rest of my career. It never leaves you, a game like that.”

Kirkland is 39 now, the goalkeeping coach at non-League outfit Colne in Lancashire. But his passion for Liverpool is as strong as it has ever been. And after Adrian’s nightmare at Villa, he was among the first to offer his support.

“I spoke to [goalkeeping coach] John Achterberg,” he says. “He said they would put an arm around him, rally round and make sure they keep his focus and his concentration high, and get him ready for Everton.

“That’s all you can do. There’s no easy cure. Just train hard, train right, prepare yourself mentally and get ready to go again.

“It’s tough being a goalkeeper, especially a No.2 goalkeeper, and especially a No.2 behind someone like Alisson. You’re being judged against the best in the world, so you’re never going to come out of that one well, are you?”

With Alisson sidelined until at least the middle of November, Adrian will once again be required if Liverpool are to put themselves in a strong position heading into the winter months. 

The Reds were able to cope without their Brazilian No.1 last season, winning all 11 games during his absence with a calf issue, but it remains to be seen if they can do so again. The statistics, which show Adrian has made as many errors in 21 games for the club as Alisson has in 92, tell their own story.

Adrian Liverpool 2020-21Getty

“There will always be criticism,” Kirkland says. “People will always say ‘Alisson would have saved that’ or ‘the defence looks on edge because of who’s in goal.’ That’s inevitable.

“Adrian has plenty of experience, but I admit I was surprised at Villa that Liverpool didn’t push up a bit, let him kick a few long to feel his way into the game. It’s not easy to play like Alisson, especially when you’re nowhere near as good with the ball at your feet.

“Against Everton, he’ll be wanting a bit of action early on to calm him down. Hit his first couple of kicks true, maybe come and take a cross, make a save, whatever it is. You don’t want to be waiting for something to happen, because that’s when you can start trying too hard, almost trying to make something happen.”

Kirkland will also have a close eye on the man at the other end on Saturday afternoon, too. He spent a season playing alongside Pickford at Preston North End in 2015-16, and like many, has been concerned by the mistakes being made by England’s No.1 in recent months.

“It’s baffling,” he says. “I always say he’s one of the best I’ve ever worked with, but I don’t see the same goalkeeper now as I did back then.

“He’s almost trying to dictate too much what other people are doing. He’s berating his defenders, he’s on edge, when there were crowds he was getting too involved with them, and it was affecting his concentration. 

“For me he has to get back to basics, forget all the hype, cut out some of his antics on the pitch and get back to just being a goalkeeper. He’s still one of the best around – you don’t play for England and Everton if you’re not – but it’s about working hard and maybe keeping his mouth a bit quieter, for me.”

Jordan Pickford EvertonGetty

Competition may help that. Everton brought in Robin Olsen, the Sweden No.1, on loan from Roma on the final day of the transfer window earlier this month. Kirkland suggests the Toffees should have signed Ben Foster from Watford.

“I think those two would have complemented each other perfectly,” he says. “Certainly Ben would have brought Jordan’s game on, kept him on his toes.

“But they’ve brought in Sweden’s No.1, and they’ve been no mugs down the years.  They’ve often produced good goalkeepers. [Olsen] is experienced, and he’ll provide decent competition.

“I still expect Pickford to play, unless he produces mistake after mistake, but he needs to up his game, for sure.”

It should make for an intriguing spectacle. Everton, flying high and looking to win their first derby in a decade, Liverpool hoping normal service will be resumed after their malfunction in the Midlands. 

“I just hope it’s a game defined by skill and quality, rather than mistakes,” says Kirkland. 

Hopefully, they will not be famous last words. Adrian and Pickford, one feels, have suffered enough of late.

Who will win the Premier League title this season?

238317 Votes

Thanks for voting.

Results will be shared soon.

Who will win the Premier League title this season?

  • 48%Manchester City
  • 16%Arsenal
  • 13%Manchester United
  • 13%Liverpool
  • 5%Chelsea
  • 6%Other
238317 Votes