PROFILING HIS BEST ATTRIBUTES ASSESSING HIS FUTURE ANALYSING HIS STATS LEARNING ABOUT HIS STORY SO FAR
Who is Xavi Simons?
If you like to keep up to date with European football and all of its intricacies, it’s fairly likely the name Xavi Simons is a familiar one to you – and has been for some time.
The curly-haired Dutchman has been the victim of the internet hype machine ever since he was a child, when he was in Barcelona’s La Masia youth academy, and another Xavi was still featuring in the club’s senior team.
But rather than veering down the Hachim Mastour path to irrelevance, Simons has developed and evolved. Developing as a deep-lying midfielder at Barcelona, the Dutchman took the plunge to join Paris Saint-Germain in 2019 and has not taken a backwards step. Instead, he has moved further forward, moulding himself into an unconventional, but very effective attacking player.
Xavi Simons' style of play
Simons’ skillset is unconventional, but it is becoming more common in this era. It is not quite a false nine role, rather for of a floating playmaker. In the UEFA Youth League in 2021/22, his starting position was clearly in the middle as his team’s lone striker, but he was essentially given total freedom to tuck in, drift wide, or play off the shoulder as he saw fit.
He is a very damaging transition threat. Rather than getting stuck playing with his back to goal, Simons comes to the ball with supreme confidence in his ability to give and go. His technical quality forged from years of playing as a midfielder has clearly aided him in the way he can sharply work his way through congestion.
Paired with a player like Djeidi Gassama, a winger that would be more accurately described as a wide striker than an inside forward given his proclivity to attack the box with runs in behind from the flank, the combination is a dangerous one.
XAVI SIMONS VS SC FEIGNIES
Simons tucks in, Gassama bombs on pass the defensive line, and then spaces and opportunities open up in between. As one of the smartest young footballers you will see, Simons has the chance to assess whether to funnel the back into midfield or out wide, or whether Gassama’s run has relieved some of the immediate pressure, allowing him to turn – or receive on the half turn – face forwards and progress the play himself.
This is just a scenario, but the key thing to understand is the methodical nature in which Simons plays football. He is not the quickest, nor the most athletic, but he makes the most of what he has; a strong core and good lateral speed and agility to amplify the unpredictability of his ball carrying. And so while he isn’t incredibly athletic, he is hard to dispossess or body out of possession.
And this is crucial for times when he does have to occupy the defensive line and play with his back to goal. It is not his preferred position to play, but it is sometimes a necessary one to fill when playing against deep blocks as his midfield team-mates push up and look to fill the spaces he normally tries to tuck into.
But he is never in one space for too long, and his constant movement presents problems for opposition defenders who can sometimes be left guarding space while Simons and his team-mates play all around them.
Simons combinations with Edouard Michut in attacking midfield were one of the highlights of PSGs play during the 2021/22 UYL, with constant movement and tidy one-two interchanges between the pair being an essential aspect of PSGs play when trying to dissect set low block defences.
The Dutchman is a facilitator and creator first and a goal scorer second. When he has the time to raise his vision, he makes excellent use of his ability to play through the defence – always looking for the inverted runs of his team-mates out wide.
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Despite playing as a lone striker, the most obvious takeaway from Simons’ performances in the UEFA Youth League in 2021/22 was how consistently he was able to assist team-mates, and the variety of these assists. Those through-balls to the likes of Gassama were interspersed with cutbacks from wide and intricate play at the edge of the box.
This of course means that actually scoring takes the back seat slightly. It must be said, without adding more scoring to his game, he is a bit of a tough fit as a striker into a system at senior level. For the PSG senior team, he has played his minutes out on the right, however for most teams he probably profiles best as a floating ten. Teams like Arsenal and Liverpool with direct goalscoring wingers like Gabriel Martinelli and Mohamed Salah are a natural fit but are probably a level above what would make sense for Simons moving into next season.
But it is worth reiterating that Simons has not spent a lot of time playing up front and there is a lot of potential for him to develop further into the role. In fact, there has already been glimpses of his tight control in traffic allowing him to create shooting opportunities for himself off the dribble. He really just needs to work on getting more touches in these zones; neutering his natural inclination to float a little too often into positions to create rather than score.
Forecasting Xavi Simons future
With a contract set to expire this summer, the footballing world is Xavi Simons’ oyster. While he has been given some opportunities in the first team at PSG, one would have to assume they have been too fleeting to convince him to stay put, although his decision might rest on the future of Kylian Mbappé.
However, if Mbappé does depart, it is very likely a club of PSG’s spending power would not hesitate to spend big to replace him. Furthermore Simons (and his agent Mino Raiola) will be acutely aware of PSG’s less-than-stellar history of promoting academy products, especially in the case of Yacine Adli, who re-signed with the club only to be sold to Bordeaux six months later.
With such a versatile skillset, Simons needs to decide what kind of position and role he wants to play, and work towards landing at a club that intends to play a system that will facilitate it. A player of his talent should not be a gap filler. He is ready to play an important role at a good club.
Xavi Simons is a technical and intelligent player that can impact games in different ways. He’s an attacker with a versatile skillset capable of scoring and creating goals, as well as facilitating approach and counter-attack sequences.
The big question mark regarding Xavi Simons is how will he translate to senior football. He made a withdrawn forward role his own at under-19 level, but it’s difficult to see how he can do that in first-team football. He will have to adapt, again.