In everything from style of play to shared influences, Romeo Lavia appears the natural heir to Oriol Romeu in the heart of Southampton’s midfield.

Rising through Barcelona’s La Masia academy, Romeu was considered the next great defensive midfielder to follow Sergio Busquets and while he never reached his fellow Spaniard’s meteoric heights, his protege in waiting - Lavia - grew up idolising the same player Romeu was chasing.

READ MORE: How Saints' summer business affects academy stars

Sources have told the Daily Echo that Southampton hope to have Lavia's arrival sealed within the next 24 hours and assuming all goes to plan he will become Saints' fourth signing of the summer transfer window.

The fee - thought to be in excess of £10m - is a significant sum for a player who has made just one professional appearance at 18-years-old. 

But inexperience is clearly not something that turns Southampton off, Ralph Hasenhuttl and Sport Republic believing above all in the talent of the player and the club’s ability to get the most out of that prodigious talent. Time will obviously tell whether the strategy works, but it’s not hidden anywhere - that is the strategy.

So why the hype? Who is Romeo Lavia and what will he bring to this Saints team?

Born in the Belgian capital of Brussels, Lavia joined Anderlecht’s youth system at the age of eight and quickly rose up the ranks before truly introducing himself to a wider audience against a collection of the best academies in the world. 

Daily Echo: Lavia on his Man City debut vs Wycombe. Image by: PALavia on his Man City debut vs Wycombe. Image by: PA

With Anderlecht invited to the 2018 KDB Cup - a youth tournament hosted by Kevin De Bruyne in his hometown of Drongen - Lavia was given the platform to showcase his rising star.

Despite being a year younger than the U15 tournament norm, Lavia dominated as Anderlecht emerged victorious over a host of massive clubs including Chelsea, Borussia Dortmund, PSG - and of course - Manchester City.

Pep Guardiola was in attendance for Lavia’s emergence and two years later, the midfielder departed his hometown for Manchester.

Expected to get to grips with English football in the U18s, Lavia was promoted to the U23s in a matter of months and he continued to stand-out amongst players a half-decade his senior. The 2020/21 campaign ended with his side crowned as Premier League 2 Champions with Lavia earning Player of the Season honours.

READ MORE: Inside Dynel Simeu's impressive Carlisle loan

Seemingly on an unstoppable rocket, Lavia soon began training with Guardiola’s first-team on a regular basis before making his professional debut in September 2021 against Wycombe Wanderers in the Third Round of the Carabao Cup.

But with no more minutes available and Kalvin Phillips’ arrival to replace Fernandinho, Lavia is betting on himself and what he can show with increased time on the pitch.

Daily Echo: Romeu in action for Saints this season. Image by: Stuart MartinRomeu in action for Saints this season. Image by: Stuart Martin

Still just seven months past his 18th birthday, Lavia will require patience but Southampton haven’t just signed him for the future. Romeu - the club’s second-longest serving player - has just one year left on his Saints deal and there has yet to be discussions over a new contract. 

It hasn’t worked out (yet at least) with Ibrahima Diallo and now Lavia look could be in line to succeed the ever-reliable Romeu. And while Busquets might be Lavia’s idol, he is far more similar to the player he will now try to replace.

From a physical stand-point the two sit at 6’0” (Romeu) and 5’11” (Lavia) and while there could be concerns about the youngster’s physicality in the rough and tumble world of the Premier League, his tenaciousness should alleviate most worries.

Lavia averaged 8.07 defensive duals per 90 minutes last season, winning 58.8% of them compared to the 7.26 competed by Romeu with a success rate of 59.7%

While all of Lavia's statistics come with the caveat of youth football, he comes with impressive references and game-tape to back it up.

“When Romeo was still training here with the A-squad, he showed he was very eager to learn and willing to listen,” former Anderlecht manager Vincent Kompany said of Lavia. “He picked up a lot and showed that he is aggressive in recovering the ball and while also being calm on the ball.”

Here is one example of Lavia’s impressive ball-winning ability from last October in a UEFA Youth League clash with Club Brugge.

Initially wrong-side, Lavia gets back behind the Brugge attacker and instead of waiting for his moment, he immediately pounces to win the ball - cleanly.

Daily Echo: Lavia gets back into position and prepares to strike. Image by: WyscoutLavia gets back into position and prepares to strike. Image by: Wyscout

Daily Echo: As the ball breaks, Lavia dives in to get his toe to it with a crunching tackle. Image by: WyscoutAs the ball breaks, Lavia dives in to get his toe to it with a crunching tackle. Image by: Wyscout

Below is another example against PSG in the same competition.

Once again, Lavia starts on the wrong side of the ball as the Parisians counter at City. He gets back into position while shepherding the attacker towards the outside. 

Daily Echo: Lavia chases back a City counter. Image by: WyscoutLavia chases back a City counter. Image by: Wyscout

His opponent takes the bait and Lavia dives in to win the ball with a well-timed but aggressive sliding challenge.

Daily Echo: Lavia slides in to win the ball as the City player attempts to beat him down the line. Image by: WyscoutLavia slides in to win the ball as the City player attempts to beat him down the line. Image by: Wyscout

Looking at these highlights, Lavia’s trademark tenaciousness and ball-winning qualities stand out, but perhaps even moreso is his athleticism and speed. Occasionally caught up the pitch due to his desire to carry the ball forward, Lavia trusts himself to get back and make whatever intervention is needed.

These are traits that will be crucial to succeeding as the ‘defensive’ midfielder in Hasenhuttl’s demanding 4-2-2-2 system.

We say defensive in inverted commas because Romeu hardly plays the role of the prototypical sitter. Alongside James Ward-Prowse, Romeu sometimes acts as the deepest midfielder but that’s certainly not the crux of his job. 

Off the ball, Romeu frequently leads the press while Ward-Prowse sits.

Here’s one example of Romeu leading the Saints press at Leeds in early April.

Daily Echo: Romeu leads the press from midfield at Leeds. Image by: WyscoutRomeu leads the press from midfield at Leeds. Image by: Wyscout

And here’s another from the final game of the season at Leicester City.

Daily Echo: Romeu again leading the press. Image by: WyscoutRomeu again leading the press. Image by: Wyscout

These are just two examples of many and while Southampton were occasionally caught out last season due to Romeu’s high positioning, it’s clearly an instruction Hasenhuttl has given his midfielder and a priority when looking for any succession plan.

Lavia has the energy to do this job and experience in a similar role with both Manchester City and Belgium’s youth sides.

Below is an isntance of this against PSG. As the French side look to play out from the back, Lavia vacates his deeper role to press Edouard Michut into the corner.

Daily Echo: Lavia leads the press as PSG attempt to play out from the back. Image by: WyscoutLavia leads the press as PSG attempt to play out from the back. Image by: Wyscout

Daily Echo: Lavia presses the PSG player into the corner. Image by: WyscoutLavia presses the PSG player into the corner. Image by: Wyscout

And here is a similar example for Belgium's U19s in March.

As Germany pass the ball around their own half, Lavia sits 20 yards away waiting for his moment.

Daily Echo: Lavia sits in his defensive position waiting for his moment. Image by: WyscoutLavia sits in his defensive position waiting for his moment. Image by: Wyscout

Following a slightly loose touch, Lavia drives forward and presses the Germany player backwards before he has to play it back to his defender.

Daily Echo:

Romeu shone through the first two-thirds of Southampton’s 2021/22 campaign but as his side desperately toiled in the final 13 games, the experienced lynchpin did as well.

At times he appeared to lack the speed and stamina for such a physically demanding role but whether it’s sharing time with Lavia or as the youngster’s back-up, Southampton now have options to either rest Romeu or utilise an equally if not more athletic comparative.

It doesn’t bode well for Southampton’s other central midfield option, Diallo. The 23-year-old failed to make notable steps forward last season and competition has only gotten sterner ahead of what is likely his make-or-break season on the South coast.

Off-the-ball is where Lavia’s natural gifts shine brightest but in testament to his Busquets idolisation, the Belgian is no novice with the game at his feet.

When Saints are in possession, Romeu and Ward-Prowse are tasked with coming short to receive the ball from their defenders and break out of the opposition press as Saints look to build up play through the middle.

While Ward-Prowse does his fair share of this, Romeu is often trusted with the highest levels of pressure due to his ability to get out of trouble in tight areas.

Granted, Manchester City’s youth sides largely had more of the ball than Southampton last season but Lavia’s 36.49 passes received exceeded Romeu and Ward-Prowse by 5.77 and 4.97 respectively, evidence of his desire to get on the ball and present himself as an option, even under intense pressure.

Here’s one example of that. The City goalkeeper plays the ball short to Lavia as pressure arrives from behind.

Daily Echo:

Lavia feels the opposition player's arrival and quickly shifts the ball out wide, opening up a huge amount of space for City to attack.

Daily Echo:

While Lavia’s passing accuracy was actually higher than either of Romeu or Ward-Prowse last season, he was guilty of the occasional rash decision or wayward pass in dangerous areas.

The mistakes - one seen below - was the kind that can frequently go unpunished at youth level but will need to be cleaned up for the Premier League where teams tend to be far less generous.

Lavia gets the ball just outside his box and doesn't seem to notice the pressure behind him, letting it run across his body before he has to frantically attempt to hack it away - giving it straight to a PSG player.

Daily Echo:

Daily Echo:

But perhaps where Lavia excels most, at least compared to the midfielders currently at Southampton’s disposal, is when he doesn’t give up the ball but instead runs with it. His 2.31 dribbles per game dwarfed the 1.13 and 0.64 from Romeu and Ward-Prowse last season.

With inconsistency further forward, Southampton need more avenues to get the ball up the pitch and Lavia provides his team with that. He’s particularly adept at wriggling away from the first line of pressure before exploding up the pitch.

Here’s one example of that as Lavia receives the ball on the edge of his box with defenders closing in from both sides.

Daily Echo:

In one fluid motion, he turns away from the pressure and drives up the pitch, leaving the Brugge players in his dust.

Daily Echo:

There are dozens of examples to choose from but the one below showcases Lavia's impressive ability with the ball at his feet in tight spaces.

Facing Italy's U19s, Lavia receives the ball deep inside his own half with his back to goal.

Daily Echo:

As two defenders converge, Lavia turns away from the first, before out-pacing the second into the open space.

Daily Echo:

Daily Echo:

This kind of driving ability from deep is a fantastic weapon to have, with shades of Yaya Toure or Steven Gerrard when Lavia gets into full flow with the ball.

It may not happen overnight, but Lavia appears the perfect fit to follow in Romeu's footsteps at Saints. Just take a look at the below radars of their statistics in possession.

Lavia has the edge in dribbles and passes into the final third while Romeu leads in long passes and passes itno the penalty area. What is most striking though, is just how similar the two sets of data are.

Lavia will make mistakes. He’ll be playing under intense pressure both physically with the speed of the Premier League and mentally with the emotions of top-flight professional football.

At times he’ll make the wrong decision. But Southampton have every reason to believe in his talent while tactically he seems a perfect fit to replace Oriol Romeu in the short, medium and long-term.

The price-tag is eye-watering but the player himself is no doubt exciting. 

A message from the Editor

Thank you for reading this article - we appreciate your support in reading the Daily Echo.

Subscribing to the Echo means you have unrestricted access to the latest news, features and Saints coverage - all with an advertising-light website.

You will also have full access to Saintsplus, your new home for Southampton FC tactical analysis, features and much, much more.

Don't take my word for it - subscribe here to see for yourself.

Follow the latest breaking news in the Southampton area by joining our Facebook group - Southampton News - Breaking News and Incidents

Follow the latest court and crime news on our dedicated Facebook group - Hampshire Court and Crime News