Why free-kick king Aaron Cresswell's patience is paying off
Aaron Cresswell’s set-piece ability has never been in doubt.
Throughout his five-plus seasons with West Ham United, and before that with Tranmere Rovers and Ipswich Town, the Liverpool-born left-back has possessed the ability to deliver and shoot from dead-ball situations.
The only problem has been that, for long periods of his career in Claret and Blue, Cresswell has had teammates who also fancy themselves as set-play specialists.
Whether it was Stewart Downing, Enner Valencia or Mauro Zarate, Dimitri Payet, Manuel Lanzini or Marko Arnautovic, Cresswell often found himself losing the argument when West Ham were awarded a free-kick near the opposition penalty area.
However, when the Hammers were given an opportunity to shoot with six minutes to play the recent Premier League meeting with Manchester United at London Stadium, holding a narrow 1-0 lead, nobody was going to stop the No3 from setting his sights on David de Gea’s goal – not even Andriy Yarmolenko!
Yarma came up and he’s a funny character and he looked at me and he said ‘Really! Are you going to take it?’ and we laughed about it
“The funny thing was, I’d just had one about ten minutes before and it wasn’t a bad effort, to be fair, it was pretty close, and I stepped up to the second one and I had it in my head that I wanted to take it,” said Cresswell, who netted his only previous direct free-kicks for the Hammers against Stoke City in April 2015 and Manchester City in April 2018.
“Yarma came up and he’s a funny character and he looked at me and he said ‘Really! Are you going to take it?’ and we laughed about it. Anyway, I took it and luckily it went right in the top corner!”
Cresswell’s memorable match-clinching strike was no fluke, either. He has spent years learning and honing the technique which enabled him to curl his shot past one of the world’s best goalkeepers.
And, next time the Hammers are awarded a free-kick in shooting range, just try and stop him grabbing the ball and taking it!
“I’ve always fancied by myself from a dead-ball situation,” he confirmed. “Even back at Tranmere, 12 or so years ago, and then Ipswich, I scored a few, and I’ve scored a couple for West Ham.
“Of course, though, we had a couple of years when Dimi was here and I didn’t get a look in, and rightly so! To be fair to him, he’d stay out after training and practice them every day and his standard was on another level. He scored a record number of Premier League free-kicks in a season, or something like that.
“Getting back to me, though, I have practised the skill since a young age and I always fancy myself to hit the target. If another one comes along on Saturday, hopefully I’ll take it again!”