Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has lavished praise on James Ward-Prowse, describing the Southampton midfielder as the best free-kick taker he has ever seen.
Guardiola’s City ground out a 1-0 win at St Mary’s on Saturday to get their Premier League title challenge back on track following successive draws against Manchester United and West Brom.
They still trail Liverpool by eight points, albeit with a game in hand, and are one place below the Saints.
Guardiola says there is no fluke about the position Southampton find themselves in, given the quality that manager Ralph Hasenhuttl has at his disposal.
Ward-Prowse is one the most talented in the crop, with his delivery from set-pieces up there with anyone in the Premier League.
He was unable to fashion a way past Ederson, but his deliveries caused problems in the City box - and Guardiola was hugely impressed.
"They have the best free-kick taker I have seen in my life in [James] Ward-Prowse,” Guardiola told the BBC. “Their position in the table, Ralph [Hasenhuttl] is doing an excellent job.
"It’s a good result for us, it will help us a lot going into our EFL Cup game.
“They put a lot of players inside; they provoke you to be narrow. It’s difficult. They don’t allow you to be compact, that’s why they are so good. That’s why they’re creating problems.”
Given Guardiola has worked with Lionel Messi in the past and currently numbers Kevin De Bruyne among his ranks, it is high praise indeed for Ward-Prowse.
City have an excellent defensive record, and the 1-0 win on the south coast means no side have conceded fewer goals or kept more clean sheets than them in the Premier League so far this term.
Guardiola is happy with his side’s defensive resolve, as he added: "Defensively we were excellent. Last season we struggled a lot. Ruben [Dias] has helped us a lot. John [Stones] the last few games has been exceptional.
"We continue to play more and more to create more chances.”
There were 2,000 fans in attendance at the game and it is something Guardiola would love to see at the Etihad Stadium.
"I’m jealous of Southampton, they can have supporters, we cannot,” he said. “Everyone can agree we’d love to have fans back. But we have to be alert. We have to be careful."