Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe explains why Oriol Romeu could become a key figure under new Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhüttl...
In 2016/17, Oriol Romeu clocked in his best-ever season – for any club – by a distance.
He picked up both the Fans’ Player of the Season award and Players’ Player of the Season award at Southampton thanks to a dominant campaign at the heart of Claude Puel’s side, becoming a leader and a standard-setter in a team that reached a League Cup final and finished eighth.
We haven’t quite seen the Spaniard in that sort of form since, spending spells out of the side this season and last as both Mauricio Pellegrino and Mark Hughes remoulded the team, but if what we saw at the Cardiff City Stadium last weekend is anything to go by, Romeu might well be back under new manager Ralph Hasenhüttl.
The No. 14 sat at the base of a midfield three, between Mario Lemina and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, acting as the positional stabiliser to complement his colleagues’ runs and dribbles.
Mopping up in the centre in a manner reminiscent of that 2016/17 campaign, he turned a series of loose balls away from dangerous areas and intercepted aggressively.
He proved important on the ball, too. Unflustered in possession while being chased down, he distributed cleanly and calmly, totalling an 88% completion rate – the highest on his team.
It was also notable how often he switched play, picking up short passes from the centre-backs on one side of the pitch and feeding the ball across to a man running into space.
In doing this, he adhered to one of few tactical tenets Hasenhüttl was able to transmit to his players on short notice. He’s always utilised switches of play in an attempt to release runners into space, and Romeu appeared to be put in charge of fulfilling that duty in game one.
It’s also difficult to ignore the fact the Spaniard compares well with Hasenhüttl’s previous trusted midfield general, Diego Demme.
The German was counted on throughout the coach’s time at RB Leipzig, anchoring a high-octane midfield and providing that same presence Romeu did at Cardiff.
Demme’s defensive output in the 2016/17 season (3.3 tackles and 2.9 interceptions per game) was eerily similar to Romeu’s (3.3 tackles and 2.5 interceptions per game).
They played a similar breaking up role for their teams – one which suits their abilities well – and the fact Hasenhüttl always balanced his team out with a “Romeu type” points to a clear role for the No. 14.
Neither this performance, nor this historical comparison, guarantee a key role for the Spaniard; it merely stands as an extremely positive first step under the new manager.
What shape Saints eventually take on under their Austrian coach remains to be seen, and there’s good competition for places in the centre, but Romeu’s done himself no harm, and has placed himself at the front of the queue for minutes.