After the signing of James Ward-Prowse this summer, West Ham United are the master of set-pieces in the Premier League at the moment, and they will face Liverpool on Sunday.
Jürgen Klopp has delivered a very strong start to the new Premier League season, picking up 13 points for Liverpool from a possible 15 on offer.
The Reds remain unbeaten in 16 matches dating back to April and the landscape is looking much healthier in comparison to last season, but the tricky bouts keep on coming.
This weekend, Liverpool will host West Ham United in what promises to be a difficult fixture to navigate, and one that could almost act as a banana skin for the reds.
David Moyes has built a strong squad at the London Stadium, and his team seems to have improved over the summer despite losing captain Declan Rice.
The former Hammers star joined Arsenal for an eyewatering transfer fee, with West Ham United presented with the task of reinvesting in the squad on the back of his departure.
In the most recent summer window, the Irons went on to sign three players helped by the money raised by Rice’s sale.
Edson Álvarez and Mohammed Kudus both joined from Ajax, and a certain James Ward-Prowse also made the move to London, having left Southampton after suffering relegation from the Premier League last term, finishing 20th in the table.
The latter is a well-known player on British shores, as over the course of his career he’s made 346 appearances in England’s top flight, starting 150 of Southampton’s last 152 matches in the Premier League.
He was an ever-present figure for the Saints and when on the field, he developed a reputation for being the master of set-pieces.
Ward-Prowse has scored 17 direct free-kicks in the Premier League, placing him just one behind Manchester United legend David Beckham, who holds the record having found the net 18 times in 11 campaigns at Old Trafford.
The 28-year-old has remarkable technique, with his ability to strike the ball also proving to be useful from corners.
Indeed, dating back to 2014/15, the Hammers midfielder has registered more assists in the Premier League from dead-ball situations than he has in open play, which is quite remarkable.
He is a true specialist, which perhaps explains why Moyes was so keen to add him to his squad this summer, paying a fee thought to be in the region of £30m for his signature.
Ward-Prowse has only been representing West Ham United for a number of weeks, yet he’s already made a difference. He has three assists from four starts, with two of those originating from corners.
Over the years, Moyes has assembled a team of giants, with Kurt Zouma, Nayef Aguerd, Michail Antonio and Tomáš Souček all proving to be very effective in the air.
West Ham United has a secret weapon in that sense, and on Sunday afternoon, Liverpool will have to find a way to nullify it.
It will not be an easy task, but Klopp will be confident in the ability of his team, especially considering the timely returns of Virgil van Dijk and Ibrahima Konaté.
The former has been suspended for each of Liverpool’s last two domestic matches, with the latter making his injury return from the bench against Wolves after missing the wins over Newcastle and Aston Villa.
Both players are fit and available to face the Hammers this weekend, with the pair known to rank among the very best when contesting aerial duels.
Van Dijk and Konaté stand around 1.93m (6ft 4in) tall and, last season, they placed fourth and third in the division for aerial duel success, winning a combined total of 144 battles, while losing just 48. Zouma, who will be an opponent on Sunday, ranked second by the same numbers.
Van Dijk has won around 75 per cent of his 896 aerial battles in the Premier League since moving to Liverpool in the winter window of 2018, and Konaté has also proved to be dominant, winning around 69 per cent of his 124 battles in the air since moving to England in 2021.
Klopp will be mindful of the threats posed by West Ham United this weekend — especially surrounding dead-ball situations — but with Van Dijk and Konaté on the pitch, the Reds should have enough strength to cope with Moyes’ secret weapon.