Despite coming through Barcelona’s famed Las Masia academy, and then through Chelsea’s youth team, Oriol Romeu has never been a fashionable player. His willingness to do the defensive dirty work has rarely seen him lauded with praise, as most defensive midfielders tend to be.
However, despite the Spaniard’s lack of attention, he is quietly putting together an excellent season on the south coast with Southampton. Signed last season to Ronald Koeman’s squad as a back up to Victor Wanyama and Jordy Clasie, the sale of the Kenyan to Tottenham has promoted the former Barcelona man to the first 11, and he has not disappointed since getting there.
The tough midfielder has really stepped up to the plate at the base of Claude Puel’s intelligent diamond system, which really seems to be getting the best out of Southampton’s resources. Romeu sits, making crucial tackles and interceptions. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg provides classy passing and Steven Davis adds an abundance of energy. Without the Spaniard, this harmonious midfield would look like much more of a mess.
Romeu has made an average of three tackles a game this season, a figure bettered only by Jordan Henderson, N’Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater, showcasing just how much work he is doing for the improving Saints. Against Manchester City last weekend, he was brilliant in his destructive role, kept things simple on the ball, and was the driving force behind an impressive performance which really should have resulted in a Southampton victory.
There are a couple of drawbacks to Romeu’s game. For one, he does not quite have the power to run on the ball that Wanyama possesses. The ex-Chelsea man is never going to burst past three players on a rampage forward like the former Saints midfielder used to occasionally do.
Anther problem is his passing. When he keeps things simple, he is fine, but Romeu does not have the talent on the ball that the likes of Hojbjerg, Clasie or Davis possess. Occasionally he gets caught trying to do to much.
But on the whole, Romeu has been executing his role almost perfectly. After a tricky first few games under Puel, the team has settled down and started to win matches, and a lot of that is to do with this man. His defensive work may not get noticed very much, but it is keeping this team ticking over.