Pep Guardiola described James Ward-Prowse as the best free-kick taker he has ever seen after Manchester City's 1-0 win over Southampton.

Raheem Sterling struck in the first half to secure a hard-fought three points for City at St Mary's Stadium that moved them to within a point of fourth-place Saints in the Premier League.

Ralph Hasenhuttl's side have enjoyed a strong first third of the season but could not find a way through a resolute City defence as they lost for just the fourth time in 14 league games in 2020-21.

Two of their best chances came from Jannik Vestergaard headers from Ward-Prowse corners, one of which was saved by Ederson.

The midfielder's deliveries have proved a persistent source of danger for Southampton. He became just the ninth player in Premier League history to score two free-kick goals in the same game in the 4-3 win at Aston Villa on November 1, while he scored another after setting up the opener from a corner against Manchester United in a 3-2 home defeat three weeks ago.

Indeed, since the start of 2017-18, no player has attempted more free-kick shots (44) or scored more (eight) than Ward-Prowse.

It seems Guardiola was delighted to have limited the 26-year-old's chances to cause havoc from dead balls.

"We had the momentum in the second half, but we couldn't score and we nearly suffered," he told BBC Sport after the win.

"They put a lot of players inside; they provoke you to be narrow. It's difficult. They don't allow you to be compact, that's why they are so good. That's why they're creating problems.

"They have the best free-kick taker I have seen in my life in Ward-Prowse. Their position in the table, Ralph is doing an excellent job."

While they remain short of their exciting best in attack, City have become imperious in defence in recent weeks.

This game was the first in the Premier League in which Southampton failed to score since losing to Crystal Palace 1-0 in their opening match of the season, and no side can better City for goals conceded (12) and clean sheets (six).

"Defensively, we were excellent," said Guardiola. "Last season, we struggled a lot. Ruben [Dias] has helped us a lot. John [Stones] the last few games has been exceptional.

"We continue to play more and more to create more chances."