By Nick Purewal, PA
Thomas Frank believes Southampton’s England midfielder James Ward-Prowse could be the world’s best free-kick specialist.
Brentford boss Frank has hailed Ward-Prowse’s dead-ball ability as all-but unrivalled in the world, rating only Lionel Messi as a current rival to Saints’ 27-year-old.
Ward-Prowse struck his 11th direct free-kick Premier League goal in the 2-2 draw at Crystal Palace on December 15, leaving only Gianfranco Zola, Thierry Henry and David Beckham with more.
Brentford face Southampton at St Mary’s Stadium in the Premier League on Tuesday, with Frank warning his side to beware Ward-Prowse’s dead-ball threat.
“Ward-Prowse is maybe the best set-piece taker in the league, maybe he’s even the best free-kick taker in the world,” said Frank.
“There’s one left-footer at PSG who’s right up there and is pretty good as well.
“So maybe Ward-Prowse is the best right-footed free-kick taker in the world.
“So many times he just puts it into the top corner.
“It’s not the same as a penalty but it’s pretty close to it for Ward-Prowse.
“So we’ve got to be aware of that, trying not to give a foul away around the box.”
Brentford will head to the south coast to face Saints off the back of consecutive wins, having edged out Aston Villa 2-1 in the league before easing past Port Vale 4-1 in Saturday’s third-round FA Cup clash.
Frank expects a stern challenge from Southampton however, with the Bees boss offering high praise for his Saints counterpart Ralph Hasenhuttl.
“I think Southampton are a good, experienced Premier League side,” said Frank.
“Ralph Hasenhuttl and his coaching staff have done a top job down there.
“His team is very well-organised, very well-drilled.
“We know they are coming most likely in a 4-2-2-2 formation, but that they can change very easily to for example a 4-3-3.
“But the energy and structure in the middle, their high press is very impressive.
“They are one of the best or maybe even at some stages the best high-energy pressing team in the league. It is very impressive, so we need to deal with that.”
Premier League newcomers Brentford have hit 12th spot at the league’s halfway point in a hugely credible acclimatisation to top-flight rigours.
Frank insisted he will not impose an upper ceiling on his side with any detailed targets for the rest of the campaign however, challenging his players to hit their peak every day.
“I think it’s been a good first-half of the season,” said Frank.
“We’ve tried to become an asset to the Premier League, we’ve tried to attack it, being positive and brave.
“Maybe we could even have had a few more points which is quite impressive.
“And with the injury list, taking that into mind as well, that’s been good.
“But looking forward, only one game at a time, we are trying to maximise everything and we’ll try to get three points tomorrow.
“We only have two targets; one, to focus entirely on the next game, and two, to end as high as possible.
“So instead of only going for a certain points target, we just push to go as high as possible and to maximise every single day.”