After Southampton’s relegation from the Premier League was confirmed at the weekend, attention has already turned to the future of highly-rated midfielder Romeo Lavia and where it may lie.
Signed from Manchester City last summer, Lavia (2,266) has played more minutes for Southampton this season than seasoned professionals like Manchester United’s Casemiro (2,079) and Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson (2,059) — a point worth being made considering Lavia only turned 19 in January.
In his first full season, the Belgian was a constant in the team’s plans despite three separate head coaches trying and failing to preserve Southampton’s Premier League status. At the core of the club's hopes for survival was the partnership formed by Lavia and captain James Ward-Prowse in midfield, either in a two or as a midfield three, with Ward-Prowse playing more minutes than any other midfielder so far this season (3,500).
To his credit, Lavia has occupied the No.6 role for Southampton after making it his own in the wake of Oriol Romeu departing for Girona last summer. Neither Ibrahima Diallo nor Ainsley Maitland-Niles could claim the job ahead of the former Anderlecht academy product, who has played more than double the minutes Diallo has while Maitland-Niles has fared better as a full-back.
And that hasn’t gone unnoticed within recruitment departments around the Premier League as Arsenal have been reported to be interested in Lavia’s talents, though title rivals Manchester City did maintain a buy-back clause as part of the £10m ($12.5m) deal with Southampton from a year ago.
Given his age and the prospect of playing for a club at the opposite end of the table, how much potential lies within Lavia? Using PFF grades and data metrics, let’s look at how he performed in facets key to the midfield position.
PFF passing grade: 72.8 (position rank: 43/163)
Lavia is amongst the most accurate midfielders in the Premier League with an accuracy-adjusted completion rate of 84% tied-fifth at the position. He has graded better than Kalvin Phillips, the midfielder who Manchester City signed last summer from Leeds United which made parting ways with Lavia perhaps a little more viable.
Phillips’ grade of 63.3 ranks 102nd, some way behind the level of quality Lavia has produced albeit the England international has only played 140 minutes this season.
Given the opportunity of regular first-team appearances, Lavia has been slightly above the average in pass progression metrics among midfielders to have played a minimum of 1,500 minutes. His 5.8 line-breaking pass attempts per-90 is a shade above the average of 5.6, while the same can be said for his completion rate of 4.3 being higher than 4.1 when examining the 59 qualifiers.
In both cases, Lavia has shown better progressive passing production than Ward-Prowse at 4.9 with a line-breaking pass completion rate of 3.9. But Ward-Prowse has been a higher threat as reflected in his passing grade of 81.5.
PFF challenge grade: 72.5 (position rank: 19/164)
As a No.6, Lavia has been called on to be a safety net in front of Southampton’s backline. On three occasions this season, he has earned challenge grades over the 80.0-mark (twice against Leeds and once against Leicester).
Disrupting the ball carrier has been Lavia’s best suit as a challenger, winning more than the average midfielder per-90 at 2.2 to 1.8. This has led Lavia to earn a grade of 77.9, the 13th-best among the 52 midfielders to have been involved in more than 100 tackle events.
PFF ball carrying grade: 83.8 (position rank: 4/158)
As mentioned, Lavia was the first-choice No.6 under the trio of Ralph Hasenhüttl, Nathan Jones and Rubén Sellés and displayed night-and-day difference to his predecessor Oriol Romeu in one specific way: mobility.
Lavia’s ability to resist the press or carry the ball progressively has seen him grade amongst the best in the league with a ball carrying grade of 83.8. That is better than Romeu’s grade of 68.2 for last season, which ranked 55th out of 163 midfielders.
Tackle resistance has been an area where Lavia has shined as only Aston Villa’s John McGinn’s grade of 90.6 in this facet can better the teen’s 83.7.
This combination of press-baiting and successful evasion mixed with an eye to progress the ball through the line with his passing makes Lavia a player valued within the £50m ($62m) price range.