Where does Ward-Prowse rank among the best free-kick takers?
James Ward-Prowse’s set-pieces have been crucial for Southampton in the Premier League and Pep Guardiola has called him the ‘world’s best free-kick taker’… but where does he rank compared to other dead-ball stars including Lionel Messi?
- James Ward-Prowse’s set-pieces once again helped Southampton on Saturday
- Midfielder’s corner helped establish a lead against Crystal Palace before defeat
- Pep Guardiola has previously marvelled at the England international’s talents
- But how does his record in front of goal compare to current top stars elsewhere?
Another weekend, and another game where Southampton find the net via the dead ball masterclass offered by James Ward-Prowse.
The midfielder turned provider against Crystal Palace, delivering a corner kick that was headed home by team-mate Oriel Romeu to give his side the lead at St Mary’s.
Although Palace roared back to win the game 2-1 it underlined again just how deadly Ward-Prowse is around a dead ball situation.
James Ward-Prowse has scored more free-kicks than any other Premier League player this year
Back in January, Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola labelled the England international as the ‘best free-kick taker in the world’.
The 27-year-old is now famed for finding the net so regularly from a free-kick that he is often compared to another set-piece king in David Beckham who for many years was the go-to man for Manchester United and England for any free-kicks in and around the penalty area.
He’s already scored four this season, double that of second place man Kieran Trippier who is the only other Premier League star to have found the net more than once this term.
But even branching this out across the history of the Premier League, only Beckham with 18 has scored more than the Southampton star’s overall tally of 14.
But how does Ward-Prowse compare with the rest of Europe’s top five leagues, and does it back up Guardiola’s point about his dead-ball capabilities?
Sportsmail looks at the players with the most goals direct from a free-kick across the previous five seasons starting from August 2017.
Man City boss Pep Guardiola has called him one of the best free-kick takers in the world
10. Memphis Depay (Barcelona)
Memphis Depay never did join the Manchester United greats at Old Trafford to have worn the No 7 shirt including Beckham.
After two poor years at the Theatre of Dreams, the Dutchman started to rebuild his career at Lyon, to the point he secured a move to Barcelona last summer.
But he eventually managed to at least show a glimpse of the former England captain’s set-piece skill and has found the net five times from a dead-ball in as many seasons. Other notable names to have scored five goals include former Liverpool midfielder Iago Aspas as well as Leicester City flop Andrej Kramaric.
Barcelona star Memphis Depay is among many players to have bagged five free-kick goals
6= Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Lazio)
Manchester United have been linked with the Lazio star recently and he too has a habit of finding the net from around the box like Beckham.
There is an admirable technique to the Serbian midfielder, who can deceive a keeper and leave them flatfooted just by his shooting angle.
It’s an under appreciated art which combined with an ‘almost no-look’ quality looks stunning when it comes off.
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic of Lazio has been linked with Manchester United in recent times
6= James Maddison (Leicester City)
Maybe not a surprise name to Leicester fans, but Maddison’s strike rate from a dead ball is bettered only by Ward-Prowse among England stars.
While Ward-Prowse is the England international compared most often to Beckham, it’s the Foxes star whose style carries the most likeness with his knack of cutting across the ball to place it in the top left corner.
It’s how he scored his most recent Premier League free-kick for Brendan Rodgers’ side in a game against Brentford back in March.
James Maddison is also a free-kick hot-shot when it comes to scoring in the Premier League
6= Simone Verdi (Salernitana)
A name not too familiar around Europe but the forward does have four Italy caps and knows how to strike a free-kick.
After joining Salernitana on loan from Torino in January the 29-year-old marked his debuting by sticking two set-pieces into the near post top corner in a Serie A game against Spezia.
But the forward curiously can do little else in front of goal. Since signing professional terms with AC Milan 11 years ago he has only once scored more than six goals a season having also played for Bologna and Napoli.
Simone Verdi (right playing for Torino) appears to be more lethal from a dead ball situation
6= Enis Bardhi (Levante)
Bardhi is another player whose name sneaks under the radar but he has proven since joining Levante in 2017 that giving the Spanish side a free-kick with the goal in sight is catnip to the North Macedonian international.
Frustratingly for goalkeepers, Bardhi is a very difficult player to read from a set-piece as he does not appear to have a favourite corner or technique.
He has shown he can produce a long range top-spin kick, squeeze one into the near post top corner from out wide or even curl an effort low around the wall into the bottom corner. Variety is the spice of life.
Enis Bardhi has proven lethal from set-pieces all around the penalty area with Levante
3= Maximilian Arnold (Wolfsburg)
For any Liverpool fans reading, there is an Arnold on this list but it’s not Jurgen Klopp’s attacking full-back who is often just as effective as setting up team-mates from dead balls.
It’s all about goals here though and Wolfsburg’s 11-year servant has seven of them from dead-ball range over the last five seasons.
The pick of them? A left footed curler with the outside of the boot that sent the keeper the wrong way as the ball sailed across goal into the top corner. You won’t see many better.
3= Nabil Fekir (Real Betis)
Once linked with a big summer move to Liverpool, the midfielder has never been able to find his way into the Premier League.
Yet the 28-year-old is still producing the goods in Europe’s top leagues with Real Betis.
The France international also has a technique similar to Beckham, albeit on his left foot, with his ability to find a precise spot to beat a goalkeeper with a curling near post free-kick.
Nabil Fekir has shown David Beckham-esque like skill with his free-kick taking for Real Betis
3= Aleksandr Kolarov (Inter Milan)
A surprise name among the top three? Not so much up until a few years ago with the former Roma and Manchester City full-back.
In his spell at the Italian capital, free-kicks were how the full-back scored many of his 17 goals for the club in 100 Serie A appearances.
The numbers though have dried up in recent times and he hasn’t even scored for Inter Milan since joining the Italian side two years ago.
Although the goals have dried up recently, Aleksandr Kolarov often found the net for Roma
2. James Ward-Prowse (Southampton)
Guardiola was close if you are measuring consistency over half a decade but his point stands, Ward-Prowse really is one of the best free-kick takers in the world.
From the four he has scored this season against Crystal Palace, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Leeds United and Brighton – all of them have been different.
Palace saw the typical near post curler from central, while against Leeds the same area of the goal came at an angle to the left.
Against Wolves he blasted into the top corner from 30 yards out, while at the Amex Stadium he cheekily found the bottom corner across goal with a dragged effort.
Ward-Prowse scored an excellent long range free-kick against Wolves back in January
1. Lionel Messi (Paris Saint-Germain)
Granted, Lionel Messi has won the French league title this term but it’s not been a season to remember for the Argentine who has struggled to display his world class talents in a PSG shirt.
It could have started so well too as he hit the crossbar from a free-kick on his first league start for the new French champions against Lyon.
Still, his struggles this year only highlight just how lethal he was with Barcelona from a dead ball where at a nearly a rate of every other month he would find the net from a set-piece special.
Lionel Messi has been by far the most prolific free-kick taker in the last five years
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