Claude Puel believes Southampton midfielder Oriol Romeu is "not far off" the standard of PFA player of the year N'Golo Kante ahead of the Premier League trip to Chelsea.
Romeu, 25, came through the ranks at Barcelona before moving to Chelsea in 2011, but after failing to break through at Stamford Bridge he left for Southampton in 2015 where he has become an influential and important player.
Puel has compared Romeu to Kante and feels both men perform similarly important roles for their respective teams in midfield.
"I think he's not far off Kante," Puel said at his prematch news 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.
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"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."
Chelsea have lost two of their last four games to see their lead at the top of the Premier League cut to four points. But despite their drop in form Puel said he still considers Antonio Conte's side to be the best in the division.
"They are a fantastic team that want to win the title, but for us as well it is important to take points," he said.
"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."
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.