Southampton midfielder Oriol Romeu is a surprising summer transfer target for Barcelona.
The defensive midfielder left the Catalan club six years ago with very little chance of first team opportunity. His path to the first-team was blocked off by a certain a Sergio Busquets.
He joined Chelsea and initially looked good under Andre Villas-Boas, but the Portuguese coach was soon sacked and Romeu’s chances of first team football deteriorated.
In the ensuing years, the player became somewhat of a journeyman, enjoying spells back in Spain and Germany too, before making a return to the Premier League with the Saints last summer.
Oriol Romeu is such an underrated defensive midfielder. Finally beginning to show why so many bigger sides were interested in him.
— Andrew Gaffney (@GaffneyVLC) March 19, 2017
Now, at 25-years-old, he has certainly matured, making a real positive impact under Claude Puel. He has become a key member of the Frenchman’s team this season.
So are the links with a move to back to the Camp Nou justified? We’ve compared Romeu’s stats to the Premier League’s top holding midfielders to find out.
We're comparing the Saints midfielder to Chelsea's N'Golo Kante, Liverpool's Jordan Henderson, Spurs destroyer Victor Wanyama and Everton's Idrissa Gueye.
Romeu with the ball at his feet
A graduate of the famed La Masia academy, keeping possession was always going to be natural to Romeu, but the stats collected reflect more the playing style of the teams, not the players, in question.
Despite missing the last 3 games, Henderson has still made the most passes in the Premier League this season (2057). https://t.co/Gfbo2u6JJV
— Mootaz Chehade (@MHChehade) March 14, 2017
In terms of total passes, it is no surprise to see Henderson, the hub of Jurgen Klopp’s Reds side, well out in front with 2057 passes in his 24 games, 599 more than Romeu who was fourth on the list with 1458. Kanté (1655) and Wanyama (1589) make up two and three while Gueye (1293) ranks bottom of this mini league.
Most interestingly, though, is perhaps the fact that Romeu has the worst pass completion stats of the five players. His passes find their target 84 per cent of the time, lower than Gueye (85), Henderson (86), Wanyama (87) and Kanté (88).
There are two types of midfield players who sit deep; those there to primarily win the ball and those who instigate attacks with their passing from deep areas.
Wanyama tops the list for key passes this season. The former Celtic man has made 27, one more than the Liverpool captain. Kanté (17) and Gueye (13) are both more effective than Romeu (9).
Such numbers are not going to impress Barcelona, but it is also a signal of the changes made at Southampton this year. Under Ronald Koeman, a former Blaugrana star, the team placed much more emphasis on keeping the ball, and his impact has clearly rubbed off on Gueye during their short time together at Goodison Park.
Although he falls short on some of the passing stats in comparison, Romeu surprisingly rises to the top when looking at a more defensive angle.
In terms of blocks per game, for example, the Southampton man comes out joint top alongside Wanyama (8), surprisingly beating Kanté (3) and Gueye (7) in particular. Henderson makes just the three blocks per game.
Interceptions are what has made Kanté’s reputation soar at both Premier League Champions Leicester City and champions elect Chelsea over the last 18 months, so it is no surprise that he leads the way with 63, but that is only two more than Romeu. Gueye falls a further eight behind on 53, before Henderson (44) and perhaps most surprisingly Wanyama, who only has 32 to his name for Spurs this season.
When looking into the playing style of Mauricio Pochettino’s side, and particularly how attacking they are, it shows just how effective their high press is, particularly at White Hart Lane, that Wanyama has more impact as a ball-playing midfielder despite being a traditional play breaker.
It is a similar story in terms of tackles won.
Southampton have been the busier side defensively this campaign, so there is much more need for Romeu to be winning the ball back than any of his rivals. He has won 71 so far this term, but Gueye leads the way on 78. Henderson has made 65, two fewer than Kanté and ten more than Wanyama.
Looking at the barefaced statistics can only tell you so much about these players. There is little doubt Wanyama would rate higher in terms of tackles if he was playing for a team who sacrificed the ball more, and Romeu would certainly have better passing statistics if he saw as much of the ball as some of the others on this list.
What they do show, though, is that Romeu has grown into a very good holding midfielder in the Premier League. Of the five stats analysed, he was in the top two for three of them, but it may take a lot more convincing if he is to seriously be considered for a return to Barcelona.