Pep Guardiola reiterated his admiration for the free-kicks of James Ward-Prowse, insisting the Southampton midfielder is the world’s best over dead balls.
The Manchester City manager described Ward-Prowse as the best free-kick-taker he had ever seen in December 2020 after his side won 1-0 at St Mary’s Stadium.
The England international scored a spectacular long-range goal in the 3-1 loss to Wolves last week that took him to 12 goals from direct free-kicks in the Premier League, a tally bettered only by David Beckham (18) in the history of the competition.
Since the start of 2012-13, Ward-Prowse’s first in England’s top flight, only Hakan Calhanoglu (14), Miralem Pjanic (15) and Lionel Messi (33) have scored more often directly from set-pieces. His 12 goals have come from just 90 attempts, though, giving him a 13.3 per cent conversion rate, a figure only bettered by Paulo Dybala (13.5 per cent) among players to score at least 10 such goals in that time.
Ward-Prowse’s repertoire goes beyond spectacular goals, though: he has created 224 chances from set-pieces over the past 10 seasons, providing 19 assists, numbers only beaten by Calhanoglu and Dani Parejo in Europe’s top leagues.
Ahead of Saturday’s match on England’s south coast, Guardiola again drew attention to the threat the 27-year-old poses.
“He is the best taker I have ever seen, right now in the world,” he said. “No player is a better taker than Ward-Prowse.
“He is so good, maybe we miss a little bit this quality of a football player: a guy who adapts in the same position, a team player, great quality without the ball, with the ball, understanding the game.
“Set-pieces and corners are exceptional. We need to pay more attention.”
Beating Southampton away on the final day of the 2017-18 season saw City win their first Premier League title under Guardiola and become the first side in England’s top tier to score 100 points in a single season.
Their latest visit offers the chance of another moment of history, as a draw will see Guardiola reach 500 points since he took charge in 2016. City have already accrued at least 38 more than any other team in the competition in that time, and 108 more than Manchester United.
However, when asked about the milestone, Guardiola said: “I’m not thinking of this when it hasn’t happened. It will happen sooner or later.
“Southampton. We struggled in the first game last season when we played there. When we played home, we won, but we struggle in the actions. Southampton are a tough team. A real tough team.”
Guardiola, who confirmed Riyad Mahrez has been given a week off after Algeria exited the Africa Cup of Nations, has seen his side build up an 11-point lead at the top of the table with one game to go until the Premier League takes a two-week break.
He said there will be no warm-weather training camp in Abu Dhabi during that interval due to concerns around coronavirus.
“We spoke with the club and it’s not safe to go all together with the virus,” he said. “Instead, we decided everyone to go for themselves with family and friends.”
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