Southampton manager Claude Puel believes Oriol Romeu is almost on a par with Chelsea’s star midfielder N’Golo Kante.
The Blues ace is considered to be one of the finest exponents of the holding role in world football, with the France international seeing his talents recognised with the 2016-17 PFA Player of the Year award.
He is also chasing down back-to-back Premier League titles at Stamford Bridge, having helped Leicester City to a remarkable triumph last season.
Puel, though, places Romeu in a similar bracket when it comes to importance and ability, with the 25-year-old having seen his efforts this term spark talk of a possible return to his roots at Barcelona.
“It’s an important player for this team because he can do fantastic work to recover the ball and start the play,” Puel said in the Daily Echo.
“For me N’Golo is the same quality of Romeu with us.
“It’s an important to player and without him for Chelsea it’s difficult and the same with Romeu, it’s difficult for us without him.”
The French coach added on a man who will return to action from a two-match ban against his former employers at Chelsea on Tuesday: “I think he’s not far off Kante.
“If we see the quality of his games since the beginning of the season, for me, he [Romeu] is not far off Kante because he’s very consistent and every game he gives good performances, with consistency and quality.
“[Romeu] is strong on the recovery of the ball and has a lot of qualities to start on the ball.
“He’s very good player for me and the same level [as Kante].
“We will see for the future, we are confident in him and, for me, he can look to a selection with Spain, for example.”
Romeu has made 31 appearances for Southampton in all competitions this season, leaving him just four short of a personal best return in terms of first-team outings set in the 2015-16 campaign.