Oriol Romeu beats Virgil van Dijk as Saints' Player of the Season

It is the time of the season when supporters up and down the land will be having their annual debate about which of their team's stars deserves the accolade of Player of the Season.

Usually the preference is to plump for the goal-getting striker or midfield assist king, or in the case of a struggling side, their overworked goalkeeper or defensive rock.

Considering Charlie Austin remains Southampton's top scorer despite sitting out the past five months with a dislocated shoulder and that standout defender Virgil van Dijk has also been sidelined for much of the second half of the season, fans have to look elsewhere when it comes to dishing out the prize. While on the face of it Oriol Romeu is a less eye-catching selection than a fully firing Austin or the imperious Van Dijk -- arguably the best centre back in the Premier League -- he is a no less worthy recipient.

Certainly given his outstanding contribution to Southampton's cause over the past nine months, the tough-tackling Spaniard is not a default selection based on the lack of competition due to the reasons detailed above. Romeu has been nothing short of sensational since stepping into the not inconsiderable void left by Victor Wanyama's summer reunion with Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham.

In an age when defensive midfielders are now more valued than ever, thanks largely to the efforts of soon to be back-to-back title winner N'Golo Kante, Romeu has proved he can stand toe-to-toe with any of his contemporaries in the role, even being compared by his boss Claude Puel to Kante himself.

Wanyama was never going to be an easy player for Southampton to replace and while their scouting team's much-hyped black box system identified Jordy Clasie and Pierre Emile-Hojbjerg as potential successors to the Kenyan, the answer was staring them in the face.

While Clasie and Hojbjerg have both failed to fully get to grips with the blood and thunder of Premier League football, Romeu has gone from strength to strength, imprinting himself as one of the first names on manager Puel's teamsheet.

The way he patrolled the centre of the park in Southampton's hard-fought 0-0 draw at Liverpool on Sunday and domination of Manchester United's star-studded midfield in the EFL Cup final were a joy to behold and two high profile examples of why he has been such a shining light this season when few of his teammates have managed to hit the same heights.

It is almost certain to be an identical story when Arsenal visit the south coast on Wednesday and while Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka were able to impose themselves against an under-strength United last Sunday, the pair -- assuming Xhaka is fit -- will certainly know they have been in a battle when they board their return coach to London.

Romeu has taken the long route to the top since first being spotted as future star as a graduate of Barcelona's academy and eyebrows were raised when Southampton forked out £5 million to sign him from Chelsea after four unfulfilled years at Stamford Bridge.

Even last season he struggled to hold down a regular place in the team but patience has certainly paid off for Romeu and Southampton this term. The £5m fee now looks one of the bargains of the century, especially when you compare it to the £34m Arsenal handed over to Borussia Monchengladbach for Xhaka, who for much of the season has looked a poor imitation of Romeu.

Barring their heroic cup run it has been a forgettable campaign for Southampton, but certainly one that will live long in the memory for Romeu.