Romeo Lavia’s form for Southampton
After Southampton’s 3-1 defeat at Newcastle last weekend, Romeo Lavia slumped on the pitch. The Belgian teenager had been one of the Saints’ bright sparks in midfield at St James’ Park, exploiting space and setting their counter-attacking game plan in motion, and he deserved more for his afternoon’s work.
Kieran Trippier, the Newcastle captain on the day, consoled him. Southampton look almost certainly like they will be playing Championship football next season, but Lavia will have a lot of options if he looks to move on from St Mary’s in the summer. The club’s overall approach is what brought Lavia in; they deliberately targeted young, talented players at affordable prices and looked to give them a platform to develop.
The trouble is they haven’t offset that with sufficient quality and experience when it matters, both on the pitch, and now in the dugout with 39-year-old Ruben Selles currently undertaking his first job in football management. Added to a string of poor decisions across the season and the mess they are in seemingly cannot be salvaged. They are not the first club to suffer this fate and they certainly won’t be the last.
But Lavia is proof that their approach, if not the execution of it, has huge positives. He was signed last summer from Manchester City after emerging through their ranks. The reigning Premier League champions are closing in on a third successive title; they are comfortably the best team in England, with have the ability to sign whomever they like. That can make it difficult for their academy products to progress into the first team. That isn’t to say those players aren’t excellent, it could be argued that City also have the best youth system in the country as well. Lavia remains highly rated at City and by Pep Guardiola, the man who spotted him four years ago, when he was just 15.
Even if he did make it at City, though, his development would be stunted by an inconsistency with his playing time. Going to Southampton, a team who have played to his strengths and really brought the best for him despite all their difficulties, has been hugely beneficial to his career going forward. He has a lot to thank the Saints for, but there is already a sense that he has outgrown his surroundings on the south coast; he doesn’t need a season in the second tier to take his game to the next level.
The manner in which he performed at St James’ Park showed how mature he is as a player. Newcastle have been beaten by only Liverpool, Manchester City and, after this weekend, Arsenal at home since November 2022 and their stadium has become a real fortress. Key to that form has been the intensity they play with from the very start, relentlessly overpowering opponents. That starts in midfield, particularly targeting the holding midfielder with an aggressive counter press. Most players have wilted; Lavia not only held his own, but stood out and actually quietened Newcastle and got the better of them.
Southampton deservedly took the lead just before half time in that game after improving as the game went on. That all started from Lavia, and it was he who robbed Bruno Guimaraes and played the ball forward which led to Stuart Armstrong’s opening goal. In the second half, Newcastle wrestled control and ultimately won the game, but in Lavia there was a player with the technique, physique, passing range, energy and intelligence to slot right into their team.
Selles has warned that Lavia has more to achieve and has implored him to stay at Southampton beyond the summer.
“I think Romeo has all the qualities to become a great player, Selles told the press back in March. “But I don’t think he’s there yet. And this is why he didn’t impress me.
“I have worked with talent and I think to make the next step he needs to show more domination in the games, more domination in possession, more leadership on the pitch if he wants to become the thing that everybody says about him. So he needs to give more for me, more for the team and he needs to show more for himself. And it’s nothing that is about him personally, it’s something that the competition is giving to him.
“So he’s growing through the internal competition and through the competition in the Premier League. So that’s why I say we need to be careful when we talk about kids 17, 18, and 19 years old and starting in the Premier League. So I have no doubt that he will be there. But he needs some steps and then everybody around him needs to be calmed down because when you try to make four steps forwards, usually you don’t make the first one.”
Selles is not wrong to temper expectations around Lavia. As a teenager, he has a long way to go, and there is an ulterior motive for him to keep him at Southampton should he stay on after a likely relegation.
But it cannot be denied that the the midfielder has a huge future ahead of him. He has already made his Belgium debut and clubs like Manchester United and Chelsea, who bid £50m a matter of weeks after he joined Southampton last summer are interested.
It’ll be interesting to see where he goes next, but his future is bright.