Last summer the Saints let go of Oriol Romeu, a defensive midfielder who spent seven years with the club. Romeu wanted a move back to Spain choosing Girona. The side has enjoyed a brilliant season since achieving promotion back to La Liga after three years without top flight football. Most notably, Girona obtained a 0-0 draw against Barcelona at Camp Nou and recently beat Real Madrid 4-2.
The importance of Oriol Romeu
At Southampton, Romeu enjoyed a brilliant partnership in midfield with captain James Ward-Prowse. Last season after a 2-0 win at home to Norwich, Ralph Hassenhuttl commented on Romeu and Ward-Prowse’s “blind understanding.” Romeu also spoke highly of his midfield counterpart after his departure: “We had a different connection to everyone else. We just looked and understood what the other was thinking.”
However, there was a drop-off in his performances, statistically. Romeu won only 39 tackles and 67 aerial duels for Southampton in the 2021/2022 season. This shows a stark contrast to his 2017/2018 season. Southampton showed a drop off in overall performances, yet the midfielder was sixth in the Premier League for tackles won with 64 and was also top of the Saints squad with 97 aerial duels won.
Nevertheless, as Southampton fans know Romeu was a leader and in a team with the joint youngest average age in the Premier League, this experience is deeply missed. Indeed, at Girona, he remains an “authoritative voice in the locker room.” With Southampton deep in a relegation battle, the onus has been left on captain James Ward-Prowse to spearhead his team to survival.
The instant impact of Romeo Lavia
It is well documented that Southampton have thrust many young players into the spotlight this season, such as giving Gavin Bazunu the No. 1 spot after only a successful spell internationally and in League One. However, Romeo Lavia’s place in Southampton’s starting 11 has not been to his detriment.
Lavia’s first start for the club came against Tottenham, Southampton’s opening game of the 2022/2023 season. In his first game in the Premier League, the midfielder registered a passing accuracy rate of 96% and won seven of his eight duels. He displayed great game intelligence and because of his age, he can play with a lot more energy than Oriol Romeu.
How Lavia plays with instinct
The midfielder is positive in his play. So often when Southampton players have chosen to opt for the safe pass this season, Lavia’s instinct is to play forward. Notably, his splitting pass against Newcastle in the second leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final gave Saints a clear-cut opportunity to make the score 2-2, if only Adam Armstrong had not taken a touch too many.
Although the midfielder possesses great ball control, there is still room for improvement with his dribbling. Nonetheless, this season, he is third in the Southampton squad, below only Kyle Walker-Peters and Mohamed Elyounoussi in successful dribbles. The midfielder also often misses slide tackles.
Owing to his intuition to play a forward pass, Lavia has often played balls into right-wingers and wingbacks, hitting passes over the top into Samuel Edozie against Blackpool and Aston Villa. His success this season with long ball passes is 68.5%, however, his accurate long balls per 90 minutes are only 1.9. Even when these long balls are not as accurate, his positive play creates attacking chances that have rarely come from other players this season.
At such a young age he has approached his first season in the Premier League similarly to Edozie, refreshingly playing with his own instinct. Both players’ decision to sign for Southampton has also allowed them more Premier League minutes than they would have initially been offered at Manchester City.
A bright future
Recently Ruben Selles commented on the young midfielder: “Romeo has all the qualities to become a great player, but I don’t think he’s there yet.” Predominantly Selles thought that the midfielder “needs to step up and move forward.”
Whilst many saw this as harsh at the time, Romeo Lavia is still only 19 years old and Selles’ comments indicated more of the importance of keeping him grounded and maintaining his work ethic. After all, Lavia has plenty of time to keep improving parts of his game that would allow him to be more dominant in midfield and further establish himself going forward. His long-range strike against Chelsea earlier in the season showed what he can offer in an attacking sense, even if this is not the most prominent feature of his game.