Revealed: Europe’s 11 best free-kick takers
We all love a dependable free-kick taker to dig our teams out of a hole, but the statistics suggest these players are much rarer than you think.
Cristiano Ronaldo came under fire at the weekend after it emerged he had scored with just two of his last 88 attempts from set-pieces, but Real Madrid’s Portuguese prince still features on this list. Who beats Ronny, then? We asked the good folks at Opta to find out, using data since August 2012.
So read, watch and enjoy...
11) Zlatan Ibrahimovic (PSG)
Goals: 6 Games: 98 (one every 16.3 matches)
Even if Ibra couldn't take a free-kick, you suspect he’d still take ownership of them at PSG. It’s all about the power for Zlatan, whose sole aim is giving keepers little chance with his bulldozers… if they’re on target. Let's not take away from the Swede’s finesse, though, which he achieves thanks to flawless technique.
10) Daniel Wass (Celta Vigo)
Goals: 7 Games: 113 (one every 16.1 matches)
Wass’s name might not be familiar, but his free-kicks should be. Celta Vigo’s summer signing from Evian has demonstrated a terrific repertoire of everything from curled finishes over the wall to dipping scorchers destined for one corner only to nestle in the other. His cracker against Guingamp is the pick of the bunch.
9) Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Goals: 7 Games: 107 (one every 15.3 matches)
Little Leo can’t even avoid comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo in this arena, either. The Argentine’s tremendous skill of getting the ball up and over the wall makes him lethal around the penalty box, and even further out he’s capable of whipping it around the wall and into the bottom corner.
8) Mario Balotelli (Milan)
Goals: 6 Games: 77 (one every 12.8 matches)
Balotelli's temperament has often let him down, but it’s always been evident that the bonkers Italian can strike a ball well. Liverpool fans weren't afforded evidence of it during his brief stay at Anfield, but he didn’t waste much time showing off upon his return to Milan with this thunderbolt against Udinese.
7) Clement Grenier (Lyon)
Goals: 5 Games: 62 (one every 12.4 matches)
Forever linked with Arsenal and Newcastle without ever upping sticks to the Premier League, the currently crocked Grenier has earned a fair reputation as one of Ligue 1’s deadliest dead-ball bashers. Injuries have hampered the 24-year-old midfielder’s years at Olympique Lyonnais, meaning Les Gones' supporters haven’t been treated more to the likes of this beauty against Rennes on the final day of the 2012/13 season.
6) Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
Goals: 9 Games: 108 (one every 12 matches)
Ronny's free-kick abilities have been well-known for over a decade, but more recently he’s come under the cosh for criticism. His technique still remains incredibly popular, however, and very few things in football can astonish an audience as much as a well-executed dead-ball delivery from the man himself. More impudence like this, against Bayern Munich in the Champions League, in La Liga please…
5) Christian Eriksen (Tottenham)
Goals: 6 Games: 70 (one every 11.7 matches)
This one won’t be much of a shock. Eriksen's technique is arguably the best in the Premier League, helping him to net six since September 2013 – three more than any other player in England’s top flight. Recently he twice clawed back goals with a brace of free-kicks against Swansea at the Liberty Stadium.
4) Miralem Pjanic (Roma)
Goals: 9 Games: 104 (one every 11.6 matches)
Four of Pjanic’s five goals this season have come from direct free-kicks, having made Juventus, Carpi, Bayer Leverkusen and Empoli pay. The Bosnian was hailed as Juninho's replacement at Lyon, and it’s not too difficult to understand why. Any man who can keep Gigi Buffon rooted to his line deserves credit.
3) Francesco Lodi (Udinese)
Goals: 8 Games: 88 (one every 11 matches)
“Who?!” you ask. Well, Udinese’s loaned-a-lot Lodi has made quite the name for his set-piece skills in Serie A. His ambitious range and polished technique have been showcased at Catania (below), Genoa, Parma and Udinese to put him level with Messi on free-kicks scored in the same period. From 19 games fewer...
2) Andrea Pirlo (New York City)
Goals: 11 Games: 82* (one every 7.5 matches)
Pirlo has been a set-piece specialist for his whole career, but his talent blossomed at Juventus in particular. The Italian’s ability isn't particularly surprising when you consider the world-class passing which helped make him an ever-popular figure. He's currently continuing to care very little in New York.
*Matches in Serie A, not since move to MLS.
1) Hakan Calhanoglu (Bayer Leverkusen)
Goals: 11 Games: 75 (one every 6.8 matches)
Europe's newest free-kick sensation is 21-year-old Calhanoglu. Having scored 11 goals directly from free-kicks since the beginning of 2013/14 (in his Hamburg days) – including a staggering six in the Bundesliga last season for Leverkusen – the Turkey international’s set-piece stock has soared. Bayer Leverkusen didn’t lose a game when their young marksman netted with a free-kick last season – including in a 2-0 win over Bayern Munich at the end of the campaign. Not even Manuel Neuer could stop him on that occasion.
Read our exclusive interview with Hakan Calhanoglu in the November 2015 issue of FourFourTwo, available in print, on iPad and iPhone now, featuring 'The New A-List' as Anthony Martial, Kevin De Bruyne and Pedro attempt to take the Premier League by storm. We also go One-on-One with Brazil legend Cafu, chat to Crystal Palace boss Alan Pardew about the England job and experience a new city derby as Westfields host the newly formed Hereford FC. Plus, we ask Football League clubs whether youth academies are really worth it these days, remember when ClubCall was the best way to learn the latest news about your team and hear what England captain Steph Houghton gets up to in a typical week with Manchester City. Subscribe!