It hasn’t been the happiest of starts to the new Premier League season for Southampton. The surrender of a lead at Newcastle compounded with a 0-3 defeat at home to Everton, whilst signs of their misfortune are also apparent on the touchline as manager Ronald Koeman sits with his protective boot after rupturing his Achilles.
The Europa League, so often the unwanted irritant of many Premier League clubs, has been the provider of the Saints’ good news as they eased into the play-off round with a 0-5 aggregate win over Vitesse Arnhem.
They will face Midtjylland of Denmark in the play-off and Koeman will be desperately hoping the tie can be generate a return to form with Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United to come before the end of October.
It has been another difficult summer for the Saints who, after responding to the exodus of Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Luke Shaw and Callum Chambers last year with a record-breaking campaign, have lost Morgan Schneiderlin, Nathaniel Clyne and Toby Alderweireld in another uprooting.
The loss of Schneiderlin, player of the year in 2012/13 and instrumental in the two following campaigns as Southampton have broken into the top half of the Premier League, to Manchester United is a potential hammer-blow and with Jordy Clasie, signed from Feyenoord as Schneiderlin’s midfield replacement, suffering an early injury it has left Koeman short in the central-midfield area.
In the loss to Everton the absence of Schneiderlin’s diligent defensive protection and composure was clear, with Romelu Lukaku scoring his first from a break-away originating from a Southampton corner and his second after Vincent Wanyama was caught in possession. Ross Barkley then added a third as he drifted into a vacated space on the edge of the Southampton box.
The loss of Alderweireld, who decided to sign for Tottenham ahead of a return to the south coast, is being sorely felt at the back with Steven Caulker, loaned in from QPR, also injured, but it is in midfield where Southampton now look particularly vulnerable.
It was telling to see Koeman sacrifice an attacking midfielder in Dusan Tadic for a more defensive one in Oriel Romeu at half-time against Everton. By then the home side were 0-2 down.
Clasie out, Romeu stands in
With Clasie out for the rest of the month, Romeu will be thrust into a starring role from the off and after voicing his frustrations about his lack of playing time at Chelsea being behind his decision to leave Stamford Bridge, the Spanish midfielder will surely welcome his chance.
Romeu, who moved to Chelsea from Barcelona in 2011 to much promise, had not kicked a ball for the Blues in two-and-a-half years as he spent time on loan at Valencia and Stuttgart.
The 23 year old had spoken of his hope that this new campaign would provide opportunities to finally break into Jose Mourinho’s plans but with Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas seemingly immovable in the crux of Mourinho’s team, he has seized a £5 million move to Southampton.
“Now I just want to keep going and to keep developing as a player, and I’m looking forward to playing as soon as possible” he said and the latter part of that soundbite seems to have materialised pretty quickly.
Having been reared in Barcelona’s La Masia academy and talented enough to be installed with a buy-back clause as Andre-Villas Boas made the holding midfielder his first purchase during his short-lived reign at Stamford Bridge, Romeu possesses a mix of gifted vision, intelligence both off and on the ball and a Premier League experience that renders his capture a bargain in the context of the currently hyper-inflated market.
While the midfielder, who has represented Spain at every age-level up to under-23, may not have the energy to replicate Schneiderlin’s drives from midfield he does have the bite in the tackle and technique to use the ball wisely once he gets it back.
Alongside Wanyama, Steven Davis and the inexperienced but very promising Harrison Reed, Romeu will offer good, disciplined foil to a team that desires to make the most of its creative assets in attack.
There is little doubt of the appeal that has convinced Koeman to track the player for a considerable while, “he makes the team stronger…. He is a good player” said the Dutch coach.
Koeman will also take encouragement from Romeu’s two spells away from Chelsea which have both been moderately successful. His time with Valencia, where he made 18 appearances despite suffering a knee injury, convinced Chelsea to tie him down to a new three-year deal, whilst at Stuttgart he was an ever-present for the first four months of the season before Armin Veh’s dismissal and the appointment of Huub Stevens saw his playing time cut dramatically.
Stuttgart, for whom Romeu eventually managed 27 appearances as they avoided relegation, were even in talks with Chelsea to lure the Spaniard away on a permanent basis before Stevens’s intervention.
That has been the story of Romeu’s career to date, the stop-start nature of a talent that has often been disrupted by managerial changes or injuries.
Romeu featured in 22 games under Villas-Boas before the Portuguese’s sacking in the Spring while his successor Roberto Di Matteo was also persuaded by Romeu’s ability enough to hand him nine appearances the following season only to see an ACL tear, suffered in December 2012, rule him out for the rest of the season. Mourinho has taken over since then and Romeu has been unable to convince him of his worth.
Southampton’s current injury troubles now present Romeu with the chance to kick-start his club career and to put together a sustained run of appearances which will help to show Chelsea they were wrong to discard him.
The Saints will be hoping he can hit the ground running before a slow start to life without Schneiderlin becomes a cause for deeper concern.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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