WORDS WITH: ORIOL ROMEU
A home win against Wolves and Carling Cup defeat to Liverpool will probably not go down as one of the most remarkable in the club's recent history, but for Oriol Romeu, it could signal a significant turning point.
The 20-year-old Spaniard had already started each of our previous League Cup games but Saturday's inclusion at Stamford Bridge seemed to represent serious progression for the former Barcelona trainee, who has impressed with his combative style and ability to maintain possession under pressure during his sporadic first team appearances.
Romeu signed in the summer while on World Cup duty with his national Under 20 side in Colombia, as a relative unknown on these shores but just a few months later is already beginning to make waves in SW6, playing with a maturity that belies his young age.
That he is even in a Chelsea shirt at this stage of his career seems fortuitous to Blues supporters. Were it not for a knee injury sustained at Barça midway through last season, the Catalonian may well have seen more first-team action at the Camp Nou. He played in their first game of the campaign, but then had to make do with a place in the 'B' side as he understudied Sergio Busquets and new signing Javier Mascherano.
Mascherano's arrival last year suggested his path to stardom under Pep Guardiola would be blocked, and so when a chance to join Andre Villas-Boas's new-look Blues side came up in the summer, he jumped at the chance. Not that first-team football was promised in England, either.
'It was unfortunate that I had the knee injury last season, you never know what the situation could have been at Barcelona but I do not think about it and the meniscus injury is not a problem for me now,' he explains.
'I'm happy with how the last couple of weeks are going at Chelsea, I've got to play more and more and hopefully in the forthcoming time that will continue. The more minutes I play on the pitch the more confident I am, and it was a nice feeling to start a match in the Premier League.'
If the weekend's win over Wolves is any indicator, Romeu may now expect to figure more prominently. After all he did complete more passes (65 out of 70 attempted) than any other team-mate at the weekend, made more interceptions and until last night's defeat to Liverpool was unbeaten in eight Chelsea outings.
He is taking nothing for granted though, and retains the hunger of a youngster still intent on proving himself at the highest level.
'One of the things that appealed to me the most was the style of play of English football, so it was a good opportunity for me to come here,' he says, speaking in Spanish but fully understanding the questions put to him in English, a subject he took while studying at Barça's famed La Masia Academy.
'I came here because I had the option to spend more time training at the top level as well as playing; it was one of the main reasons,' Romeu says.
'La Masia has a great reputation because so many players have graduated successfully from there, and while I was there I was treated really well, but this is an exciting new experience in England.
'When you are younger there are lots of areas in which you need to improve. In defence, I can win the ball more, I can keep the ball more and always improve my physical strength and condition which is very important in England.
'I am not quite so sure when I first heard of Chelsea but I have always been a follower of English football and even more so in the last few years. Also, I like London, it is one of the best cities. There is a lot to do here and for the people that live here it has one of the best opportunities to live a very good life.'
Arriving from the European champions, it must also have been a special feeling to make his Champions League debut against Genk last month, and another gauge of Romeu's first-team status and increasing responsibility in front of the defence.
'It's something that is quite difficult to measure,' he considers. 'You have to go bit by bit and prove to the manager and coaches, as well as the other players, that you can take the task on and play regularly in the team.
'I feel very comfortable playing in that position ahead of the defence, it doesn't feel as though it is out of my comfort zone as I have done it for a long time, even though I am young. I do not feel like I am under pressure, the manager allows me to play in my own style which I enjoy very much.
'Now it is a difficult time for the team and this is a learning curve for me and I can learn from seeing how other people react to the difficult period and how things can progress forwards to put the team on the right track. It will not be like this forever.
'For all the younger players in the squad now there is a great opportunity to learn from the players with more experience, who have played in big matches and for big teams for many years now.'
So Romeu acknowledges he is still a work in progress, but if he continues to play regularly in the Premier League then further development is inevitable.
Few who have seen him in action this season will argue there is every chance the boy from Barcelona can reach the very top.