Comment and Analysis @ghostgoal
James Ward-Prowse's form looks deserving of an England recall
Ward-Prowse scored Southampton's winner against Tottenham
Last Updated: 13/03/19 2:38pm
James Ward-Prowse is flying under Ralph Hasenhuttl right now. Adam Bate looks at the midfielder's stunning form, the running stats that set him apart from the rest, and why finding the right role has been the key...
James Ward-Prowse got his big moment against Tottenham with his wonderfully curled free-kick beyond Hugo Lloris winning the points late on for Southampton. The comparisons with David Beckham and Matt Le Tissier are the result of hours of practice on the training ground, but his overall form right now reflects his resurgence under Ralph Hasenhuttl.
The player himself credited his manager after the win, saying that "the second half epitomised everything he has done for us so far". But perhaps the biggest thing that Hasenhuttl has done for Ward-Prowse is give him a chance. The 24-year-old has started each of Southampton's last 13 games in all competitions - his longest ever run in the team.
He has justified the faith. Indeed, quietly, Ward-Prowse has been one of the most impressive performers in the Premier League since the turn of the year. Incredibly, only Sergio Aguero and Sadio Mane have scored more goals in the competition than him in 2019. Ward-Prowse has scored six times - that's two more than any other midfielder.
His free-kick taking is what will make the headlines, but there has been much more to his role in Southampton's recent revival than that. "His technique is gorgeous," said Hasenhuttl. "It's not so nice for the goalkeeper to stand there while Prowsey steps up to take a free-kick, but he made a fantastic game, he was everywhere fighting for every ball."
When Hasenhuttl says he was everywhere, he isn't far wrong. Ward-Prowse covered 11.9 kilometres against Spurs on Saturday, the most ground of anyone on the pitch. But there's nothing particularly unusual about that. Amazingly, he has outrun everyone else on the pitch in each and every one of Southampton's ten Premier League games so far in 2019.
That appetite was always there but considering that this is his seventh season in the Premier League and he has made more than 200 appearances for the club, it has taken a long time for Ward-Prowse to find his best position. He has even been used as a wing-back this season but it's only now that he seems to have found a role that suits.
He made his debut on the opening day of the 2012/13 season against Manchester City. The game marked Southampton’s Premier League return with Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana, Morgan Schneiderlin and Nathaniel Clyne also involved. Ward-Prowse and Jack Stephens are the only two players from that squad who have stayed at Southampton throughout.
Speaking to his former coaches at both club and international level, it’s clear that Ward-Prowse is a real character. “He’s a very funny lad to have around the place,” says Peter Taylor, his former England U20 coach. Nigel Adkins, the man who gave him his debut agrees. “He is a confident lad but so down to earth,” says Adkins. “He has an unbelievable attitude.”
In some respects, the confusion is understandable. Ward-Prowse has qualities that any team would want in a winger and, in particular, his crossing ability makes it tempting to use him as a conventional wide man. But he is someone with energy rather than outright pace and that makes him a more natural fit centrally, albeit not necessarily in a two-man midfield.
Hasenhuttl appears to have found the compromise option with the 3-4-2-1 system that Southampton have settled upon of late. It allows Ward-Prowse to operate as an attacking midfielder, initiating the team's press with his running, but still drifting towards the right flank when it's appropriate. Perhaps that's all that he needed to reignite his career.
It has certainly been enough to spark talk of an England recall this month. Ward-Prowse made his England debut away to Germany in March 2017 but is still waiting to make his next senior appearance for his country. At 24, there is plenty of time to add to that solitary cap. And in this form, expect Ward-Prowse to seize any chance that he gets.