MOTD Top 10: Premier League set-piece takers

MOTD Top 10: Premier League set-piece takers

by Emily Smith
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Do Gianfranco Zola, James Ward-Prowse or David Beckham make your top three Premier League set-piece takers of all time?Smashing in a 30-yard free-kick or hammering home a penalty into the top corner – highly satisfying.

Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer and Micah Richards will return in the spring with their latest series of the BBC Sounds hit, ranking their top 10s from an assortment of topics across the Premier League era.

But we’re giving you an early chance to get involved, by letting you pick your top three for each of the upcoming shows, and the trio will get to see your choices before they record the pod for BBC Sounds.

Today’s subject is set-piece takers.

MOTD Top 10: African players in the Premier LeagueMOTD Top 10: Premier League derbiesMOTD Top 10: Rest of the world players in the Premier LeagueMOTD Top 10: Premier League’s best number 10s”I am no expert here, because in my whole career I don’t think ever took a free-kick, unless it was a quick one after I’d been fouled,” Lineker told BBC Sport.

“I certainly never took a shot at goal or tried to create anything from a set-piece, but I have obviously admired many players who were experts with a dead ball. In my time, Glenn Hoddle obviously stood out. Ray Wilkins was pretty good too and Kevin Sheedy was excellent.

“But in those days it was harder of course because the ball was heavier, so most free-kick takers kind of battered them – like Johnny Metgod and Julian Dicks, people like that – because you couldn’t quite get the swing you can with modern balls.

“Everyone from Rivellino to Roberto Carlos to Lionel Messi have managed some wonderful free-kicks over the years, and Messi is probably the best there is now, but for these lists we are talking about the Premier League only.

“It is going to be an interesting subject because obviously Shearer was quite good at them, but he used to just smash them, I think – although he claims to have been more inventive with one or two that he scored.

“Cristiano Ronaldo sort of just smacked it as well but he had a spell where he put top-spin on his, which was something you couldn’t do with the older balls.

“I am sure Ronaldo will feature heavily in the conversation, as will David Beckham who is probably a strong favourite to win this category because he was just an unbelievable free-kick taker. The same can be said for James Ward-Prowse now though.”

1. Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United)Who would have thought we would see Cristiano Ronaldo return to the Premier League? One of the greatest players of all time is back in a Manchester United shirt and back firing.

The Portuguese forward has played over 200 times for the Old Trafford side, scoring 11 free-kicks and 13 penalties.

And who could forget his incredible strike against Portsmouth in 2008, lacing a thumping effort that rocketed into the top corner. “This free-kick was as good as any I’ve seen in the Premiership,” United boss Sir Alex Ferguson said at the time.

2. David Beckham (Manchester United)”Bend it like Beckham.” The former England captain was so good at set-pieces he had a film named after him.

Beckham left Manchester United in 2003 but remains the most potent free-kick taker the English top flight has seen, scoring from the situation a record 18 times. He also scored twice from the penalty spot.

The winger played 265 games for the Red Devils and additionally provided 80 assists with his trusty right boot.

3. James Ward-Prowse (Southampton)”He’s the best taker, right now, worldwide. There isn’t a better taker than Ward-Prowse. At free-kicks, set-pieces, corners he is exceptional and people pay most attention to that.”

Let’s hope Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola is reading this piece because he would put the Southampton man straight at the top of it.

What you don’t want to do is give England midfielder Ward-Prowse an opportunity from a dead ball. He has scored 12 goals from free-kicks and added 10 penalties for good measure. Dangerous.

4. Gianfranco Zola (Chelsea)Italian magician Zola was small in stature but big on finding the back of the net, scoring 59 times during his time at Stamford Bridge.

The former Italy international showcased his prowess by curling, thumping or dinking in 12 free-kicks in the Premier League.

5. Thierry Henry (Arsenal)One of the best players the Premier League has seen and a deadly finisher from any situation, Henry lit up the division with his array of goals.

Like Ward-Prowse and Zola, the Frenchman also scored 12 free-kicks in his time in England with a memorable one coming in 2004, when a quickly taken effort went in while Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech was still setting up his wall.

While spectators rejoiced at the ingenuity, it left Blues boss Jose Mourinho fuming, saying after the game: “More than unhappy. Unhappy is a nice word and I cannot say what I have in my heart and my soul.”

6. Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)Alexander-Arnold – and Liverpool team-mate Andy Robertson – have changed the game in terms of how a full-back operates, becoming the primary source of goal assists for the Reds.

Although England international Alexander-Arnold has scored only four goals from direct free-kicks, he has provided 43 assists since his debut in 2016 – including 10 this season already – with plenty coming from his vicious set-piece deliveries.

7. David Silva (Manchester City)There were so many strings to Silva’s bow that it is easy to forget his ability from dead balls. He may not have scored as many direct free-kicks as some of the other names on this list – three in 309 games – but more often than not his delivery was right on the money.

Two of those three free-kick goals came in his last four Premier League appearances for City – in a 5-0 thrashing of Newcastle and a 2-1 victory over Bournemouth. Needless to say, both were absolute peaches.

8. Ian Harte (Leeds)Like Silva, former Leeds full-back Harte had a wand of a left foot. The ex-Republic of Ireland international was a master at getting the ball up and over the opposition wall – and down again – from all angles. In 237 appearances for the club, he scored 10 direct free-kicks.

He was no less deadly from the penalty spot, scoring 10 of them during the Yorkshire club’s most successful Premier League spell.

9. Rory Delap (Stoke)Fans of a certain generation will forever associate Delap’s name with those lethal long throw-ins that used to wreak havoc among opposition defences during his time with Stoke City.

While Delap was with the Potters, they scored an incredible 23 goals from throw-ins – an invaluable weapon during their maiden top-flight campaign in particular.

“People only really talk about my throw-ins, but it doesn’t really bother me,” Delap said. “It’s more to do with the players that put their head on the end of it than me throwing them in.”

10. Alan Shearer (Blackburn and Newcastle)Of all the dead-ball specialists to have graced the Premier League over the years, few were as reliable from 12 yards as Newcastle’s record goalscorer.

The former England striker was lethal from the spot, combining power and precision to score 56 penalties for Blackburn Rovers and the Magpies. His approach was no different outside box, hammering home seven direct free-kicks – the majority of which were in the net before the opposition goalkeeper had the chance to react.

He could also be lethal from an indirect free-kick, as fans of Sunderland, West Brom and Manchester United will testify.

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