Liverpool have been handed a significant transfer blow with reports that Chelsea have opened talks with key midfield target Romeo Lavia.

The Belgium youth international signed for Southampton from Manchester City last summer, as part of a targeted recruitment drive from the Saints to recruit younger players.

And while that strategy has yielded mixed results, with the club currently bottom of the Premier League, Lavia has been one of the few successes.

After suffering from injuries earlier in the season, the 18-year-old, described as ‘tremendous’ by Manchester United legend Paul Scholes, has established himself as the key cog in the Saints midfield.

Team-mate Theo Walcott has praised his maturity in adapting to what is his first season of senior football.

He told talkSPORT in January: “It’s like he’s played over 200 games in the Premier League, that’s how much I rate him.

“You probably know that watching us, ‘he should make that run or make that pass’, it’s not as straightforward as that. But when I watch him, I’m like, ‘you look way above your age right now’.”

Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United have all been linked with moves for the midfielder – but another club appears to have entered the running.

Liverpool target ‘opens Chelsea talks’

The Athletic claimed that Lavia was subject to a £50 million bid from the Blues on deadline day in January, with the Saints turning that offer down.

He will play a key role in the club’s chances of staying in the division, but they may have no choice but to sell this summer if they do get relegated.

Tavolieri claims that Chelsea are ‘intensely pressing’ to sign Lavia, following the club-record fee acquisition of Enzo Fernandez from Benfica.

And their latest move could ensure they steal a march over Liverpool in pursuit of the Belgian, who may be the subject of fierce competition for his services this summer.