Claude Puel: Saints star Oriol Romeu is almost as good as N'Golo Kante
Claude Puel believes Southampton midfielder Oriol Romeu is "not far off" the standard of newly-crowned PFA player of the year N'Golo Kante ahead of the Premier League trip to Chelsea.
Kante has become one of the most influential midfielders in the division, playing a huge role in Leicester's memorable title win last season and looking good for a second successive championship, this time with Antonio Conte's Chelsea.
Romeu, on the other hand, is now one of Saints' most influential players, performing in the defensive midfield anchorman role admirably following Victor Wanyama's summer departure to Tottenham.
The 25-year-old Spaniard came through the ranks at Barcelona before moving to Stamford Bridge in 2011. He was on the Chelsea books for four years but spent time on loan with Valencia and Stuttgart.
Ahead of Southampton's trip to west London, Puel has compared Romeu, who is expected to start against his former club after missing Saints' last two games through suspension, to Kante and the manager feels both men are almost equals in terms of quality.
"I think he's not far off Kante," Puel said at his pre-match press conference. " He is very important for us. He recovers the ball so well and is a technical player.
"If we see the quality of his games since the beginning of the season, N'Golo Kante brings the same qualities as Oriol for us because he's very consistent and in every game he gives good performances, with consistency and quality.
"He's an important player for this team because he can do fantastic work to recover the ball and start the play.
"Without (Kante) for Chelsea it's difficult and the same with Romeu, it's difficult for us without him.
"We will see for the future, we are confident in him and, for me, he can look to getting in the selection with Spain, for example."
On Chelsea, he added: "They are a fantastic team that want to win the title, but for us as well it is important to take points.
"I am confident with my players. They work very well in training. It's important to play our game and enjoy it.
"The best team in the Premier League is the one with the most consistency and, for the moment, that is Chelsea."
Elsewhere, Matt Targett and Charlie Austin will return to training after recovering from respective hamstring and shoulder injuries but neither is available for the trip.
Sam McQueen is doubtful after sustaining a groin injury while Virgil van Dijk (foot) and Alex McCarthy (hamstring) remain absent.