Player Profile – Oriol Romeu

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Updated: July 18, 2014

When the news came out yesterday that Oriol Romeu had extended his contract with Chelsea through 2017, people were understandably surprised. Romeu was a player that had fallen so completely off the radar in recent times that some fans even thought he had been transferred permanently away from the club.  But there he was just a few days ago, playing more minutes than anyone in the friendly against Wycombe and looking generally solid. Now, opinions are rather divided on the still-very-young Romeu (believe it or not, he’s only 22, even if it feels like we’ve been hearing his name since the dark ages), but all I remember is catching a glimpse of one the best pure tacklers I’ve ever seen and being disappointed when he went down to a long-term injury. And I figured, with the news of the new contract, now would be a good time to remind ourselves what exactly Oriol Romeu is all about, and try to see what he might bring to Chelsea in the future.

Oriol Romeu joined Chelsea FC at the tender age of 19 in the summer of 2011, part of the “project” of the AVB era (booooooo!) that also saw other incredibly talented youngsters like Courtois (yayyyyy!) and Lukaku (not sure how to feeeeel!) sign with the club.  Before coming to Chelsea, Romeu was rising up the ranks of the famous Barcelona youth system, playing regularly for their B side in the second division of Spain, where he was born in 1991. Little to nothing was known about him by most fans at the time, but the excellent Stephen Schmidt, over at WAGNH, had Chelsea fans covered with an in-depth profile:

Romeu has played predominantly in the holding midfield role for both club and country, but he’s very capable of playing as a center back.  He’s also been used quite effectively slightly further up the pitch in a box to box role, so he’s quite a versatile youngster… He stands 6’1″ tall, and has excellent pace and strength.  He’s noted for being very technically astute, a quality common in many of the Spanish international players.  He’s also noted for having excellent vision of the field, something that allows him to start the attack from the back on a regular basis.  His passing and tackling are both fairly sound…

Romeu made his Chelsea debut in a 2-1 away win against Sunderland, and was performing well in the holding role after an Essien injury gave him increased minutes under AVB, even scoring a goal in a 6-0 win against Wolves in the League Cup. As time went on and we got to see more and more of the player (first under AVB, then under Rafa), Chelsea fans were beginning to take liking to the youngster from Spain, but a propensity for injuries started to rear its ugly head, keeping him out for long stretches of time, ultimately culminating in an ACL injury that required surgery and many months of recovery in December 2012. Even after recovering, Chelsea were unsure where he might fit into the squad (with the signing of Marko Van Ginkel), or if he would be able to perform to the same level of quality he had been beginning to show pre-injury, and they chose to loan him out to Valencia for the 2013/2014 season. In Valencia, Romeu developed into something of a cult hero amongst the fans, and it looked all-but-certain that the Spanish side would keep him permanently. But what was it exactly that the Spanish side fell in love with? And what is it that made Chelsea so keen to sign him up for three more years? Is it that he recovered from his surgery and is getting back to the glimpses of brilliance that he showed before? Or perhaps he’s evolving? And just how many rhetorical questions in a row can I ask before I start jumping into some data?

All data from Squawka and Opta. Click to enlarge. Numbers are per 90 minutes played.

All data from Squawka and Opta. Click to enlarge. Numbers are per 90 minutes played.

First of all, just take a second to think about the fact that in over 1000 minutes of play and despite a very large number of attempts, Romeu maintained almost an 80% successful tackling percentage before his surgery. It’s little wonder that I thought he was one of the best tacklers I had ever seen; it’s actually likely that he was. That number is astronomically good; for comparison, last season in the EPL, no one broke the 85% mark, and only two players were better than Romeu’s 79.1% (amongst players who played more than 900 minutes and attempted more than 100 tackles), and neither of them were midfielders. Wow.

Second, let’s talk a little bit about what those numbers tell us about Romeu’s evolution since his surgery.  Keep in mind that he’s still only 22, and defensive minded players don’t start to see their best numbers until much later on average than most other players.  The numbers tell me that Romeu is still tackling and intercepting at a very high rate, but that he is reading the game more slowly than he used to (hence the decrease in interceptions and tackling percentage), which makes sense for someone who spent the majority of 14 months on the sideline.  However, that his interceptions and especially his total number of tackles won hasn’t dropped off that much despite his tackling percentage falling back down to Earth indicate that he’s working his socks off when he’s on the pitch.  The numbers also say that he has evolved new aspects to his game, which might go a bit of a ways to explain the drop off in possessions won. Notice that his aerial duels and successful take-ons numbers have almost doubled, and that his forward passing has also gone up dramatically. This indicates that Romeu is probably playing higher up the pitch than he used to, and also that he’s got his mind more on going forward than he ever did before. This leads to him being in a more advanced position, and thus he doesn’t have the time to read the game in front of him as much as when he would stay deep and set up to be in a good defensive place when opponents moved the ball towards him. That’s probably a good thing that he’s developing new aspects to his game, and it fits in with the notion that he has a good work rate. Ideally, he’ll strike a balance as he matures, but the fact that despite getting forward more and having to scramble to recover on defense, he still didn’t see a huge drop in his tackles won number is impressive.

Third, you might notice that I did not provide statistics on goals scored or shots taken or shots on target or really anything of the sort. That’s because over the course of the entire 2013/2014 season, Oriol Romeu scored 0 goals and took only 3 shots in total. There are many things that Romeu does well. Providing anything like a goal scoring threat is not one of them. He is primarily a defensive midfielder who can break up the other team’s play and then play the ball to his teammates so that they can attack. And now that we’ve seen how his game evolved pre- and post-surgery, let’s take a look at how he compares against the midfielders that Chelsea employed in 2013/2014:

All data from Squawka and Opta. Click to enlarge. Numbers are per 90 minutes played.

All data from Squawka and Opta. Click to enlarge. Numbers are per 90 minutes played.

Here we see that even with the huge drop-off after his surgery, Romeu’s tackling percentage is still significantly better than anyone’s except Mikel’s. He also had the most Aerial Duels won per 90 minutes besides David Luiz, who had the added benefit of playing a large portion of his minutes at CB, and Nemanja Matic, who I believe is approximately 12 feet tall. His possessions won stat, which I’ve defined as successful tackles + interceptions, was well above average, and his pre-injury stat would’ve been good enough to beat even Matic.

Oriol Romeu is very good at getting the ball back from opponents.

Oriol Romeu is very good at getting the ball back from opponents.

As we can see above, Romeu also managed to keep pace with the best defensive midfielders on Chelsea in terms of the total number of successful tackles, and despite a big drop-off in that number compared to before his injury, still had more interceptions per 90 minutes than any of Chelsea’s midfielders last season.  And how about his passing? Where would he have ranked on the team in those numbers last season?

All data from Squawka and Opta. Click to enlarge. Numbers are per 90 minutes played.

All data from Squawka and Opta. Click to enlarge. Numbers are per 90 minutes played.

First, the bad parts. Despite the large increase compared to before his injury, Romeu still falls very short in terms of successful take-ons per 90 minutes.  He also falls very far behind the curve in terms of chances created, which implies that he’s passing it to guys who have to then pass it again instead of guys who can have a shot at goal.  That said, his passing percentage is very high, second only to Mikel, and so at least he’s not giving the ball away a lot if he’s not going to be creating goal scoring chances. And again, let’s keep in mind that he’s still only 22, and that he spent a lot of time on the sidelines before coming back, and that his primary function is to shore up the midfield (and not to attack).

Oriol Romeu is a better passer than any midfielders Chelsea employed last season.

Oriol Romeu is a better passer than any central midfielders Chelsea employed last season.

All that being said, it’s probably fair to claim that Romeu is the best passer of the bunch by a pretty wide margin. He not only played the most total passes, but thanks to his high level of accuracy, he also had the most successful passes, and was very close to having the most forward passes. One of the biggest complaints about Mikel that I see from Chelsea fans is that he only ever plays the ball sideways or back to his own goal (a ridiculous misconception, by the way), so it’s good to see that Romeu plays the ball forward so much.

All in all, I’m fairly happy that Romeu was given a big contract extension by Chelsea. Do I think he’s going to be the most important piece in Chelsea’s (treble-winning) team? No, obviously not. But he’s an amazing tackler, he’s a very solid passer, and he can do an important job in certain situations (specifically, when Chelsea are looking for someone break up opponent play and keep possession when Chelsea have the ball). Moreover, it’s a huge plus that he’s still very young, and with Mourinho’s guidance, he may turn into a world class holding midfielder yet.

This piece has been contributed by Oscar Puente, a Chelsea fan since Michael Ballack joined the club in 2006. Oscar hails from New York City, and is a mathematician and economist in his regular life. You can find him on Twitter @footiefromafar.

One Comment

  1. Matt

    September 8, 2014 at 5:33 AM

    It was extreamly nice to see Romeu getting a new contract.
    I have always rated him very highly, especially when he played under Rafa i tought he was a better player and a better fit for us than Mikel was.
    I would love seeing him as a backup for the team next season,(Asuming Mikel leaves) As you mentioned a few times hes only 22 years of age and wil still improve alot. I really hope we give him a season in the team without injuries and see how it goes, i would much prefer him to come back than us going out spending a ridiculous amont of money on someone like William Carvalho who i believe he would become better than if he can stay injury free.

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