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How Barcelona can line up with Xavi Simons and his potential roles

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Photo by KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images

Talking about the best talents in the world, it would be imprudent to not count on Xavi Simons. On loan at RB Leipzig from Paris Saint-Germain, the 21 year-old’s impressive time at the RedBull Arena has earned him a lot of plaudits and put the whole of Europe on notice.

A product of the famous La Masia academy of Barcelona, Simons left the club in 2019 for PSG when he was part of the youth setup.

However, after his successful successive spells away at PSV Eindhoven and Leipzig, Simons is being touted with a sensational return to his boyhood club.

The talent was always there, but with the quality now apparent in leaps and bounds, he could be a real asset for the Catalan club as they look to build a solid, competitive squad on a tight budget.

With Barcelona’s finances still rocky, it is understandable to wonder how the return can be facilitated. Fortunately for them, Xavi wants to leave the Parisians on loan and with a clause in his contract that places full power in the hands of the gem, he gets to decide his next destination.

Approaching the summer transfer window, this is a wonderful market opportunity that has presented itself for Barcelona. More than that, Simons has football attributes equivalent to that of a swiss-knife.

Versatility is Simons’ middle name. A player developing into one with immense quality, he can play across the front line of attack or line up in midfield with exuberant consistency in every role.

As Barcelona seek to acquire the talents of Simons this summer, let’s take a look at how he can fit in at the club should he return.

The ‘false nine’

The false nine tactic has been the brainchild of one Josep ‘Pep’ Guardiola. Having revived an ancient Hungarian tactic, the role gained immense popularity, relevance and practicability thanks to Lionel Messi’s brilliance under Guardiola.

Simons is a fantastic player with majestic control and supreme movement. The way he glides on the pitch with and without the ball is certainly something to admire.

Add into the mix his eye for goal, he could slot in perfectly at Barcelona as a creative false nine in a 4-3-3 with the freedom to move and drop into the spaces of a traditional No. 10 creating overloads centrally in tandem with the midfielders.

Xavi Simons could be an option as a false-nine.

Tasked with maintaining dominance in the final third, Simons has all the abilities to link midfield and attack effortlessly, especially with his excellent close control and agility that allows him to turn, swivel and dictate the pace of the attack.

It must be noted, as he drops deep, runs into the box by the interiors would be a necessity and with Gavi, Pedri and Ilkay Gundogan masters of this craft, it would certainly make Barcelona’s avenues of attack a notch unpredictable.

With two players tasked with holding width and generating serious danger out wide, a front three of Lamine Yamal, Simons and a top left winger could be the blueprint for the Blaugrana.

With the rumours linking Nico Williams as the winger of choice intensifying, this potentially complete front three with diverse profiles is capable of wreaking havoc against any side.

An example to follow could be Manchester City’s brilliant use of Kevin De Bruyne as a false nine during the 2020/21 season where they reached the Champions League Final without a recognized striker to lead the attack.

With the team’s offensive patterns relying on him, Simons as a deep-lying forward with varying profiles complimenting his skillset could be an absolute game-changer for Barcelona.

Left-winger

It’s no secret that Xavi loves the four-man midfield box setup that he has used extensively during his time at Barcelona with considerable success.

A key feature of the tactic responsible for the triumph of the system requires a more controlled profile on the left instead of the traditional left winger.

Xavi has used Gavi, Joao Felix, Ferran Torres and now Raphinha in that role which suits the objective of the style to retain possession higher up the pitch and enforce territorial dominance.

While the manager’s continuity is not entirely guaranteed, if he stays, or whoever replaces him, could opt to carry forward with this tactic in order to get the best out of the players.

Simons could thrive as the false left-winger.

An with a potential return for Simons on the cards, that inverted left-winger role looks like a match made in heaven. Cutting in, positioning in the half-space, playing on the turn, and linking up with the striker, the role is tailor-made for the burgeoning talent.

Not to forget, Simons played in the same position and role during his loan spell at RB Leipzig. In a similar 4-2-2-2 system, he plays as an inverted winger with a marauding left-back maintaining width and even making runs in behind. It’s fair to say, he thrived.

The Dutchman’s fantastic ability to breeze past defenders, switch up the tempo in an instant, and impressive change of pace means he will fit like a glove in that box midfield.

With an efficient Robert Lewandowski up ahead, a refuelled Alejandro Balde taking care of the flank and Pedri and Ilkay Gundogan pulling the strings and supplying the crisp service with the right weight and timing, the potential of this team can’t be quantified.

What also makes Simons stand out is his maturity and the care with which he handles the ball – the most prized possession at Barcelona.

For this hybrid and highly specialized role, the know-how of when to push forward with aggression and when to simply allow for ball circulation and retention is paramount.

As a product of La Masia, Simons has been trained in the Blaugrana model and exudes incredible poise and confidence for an attacking player in his exploits on the ball with a masterful touch and control paired with the vision to serve some defence-splitting passes.

To top it up with his running power and the ambition of signing a top pivot, Barcelona’s central engine might just have all the horsepower and intricate profiling required to build an all-action midfield box.

Bonus: Interior

With all said and done, Simons was above all trained a bit further back on the field, more specifically an interior midfielder during his formative years at Barcelona.

Never throughout his young career was he considered an out-and-out forward. All his skills and qualities do render him an exceptional No. 8 capable of playing in a three-man midfield should his coach decide to go down that route.

A return to his roots in central midfield.

If there were doubts about his defensive capabilities, Simons falls in the 70th percentile for advanced midfielders in the game with respect to their interceptions and balls recovered, which is far from unconvincing.

If there is something he will have to improve on, should he be deployed as a creative outlet in this midfield, his pass completion rate isn’t the most assuring for a Barcelona player pulling the strings from the centre of the park.

However, still only 21, Simons could certainly be reconnected with his teachings at La Masia and trained to contribute more effectively in that role.

On the flip side, his numbers are far and away the best in the world in comparison with midfielders with respect to his offensive contributions.

As mentioned above, the Dutch sensation is a swiss-knife. Right, left, centre, put him in anywhere and he has the skills to thrive. Should he arrive at Barcelona, fans could be in for a massive treat.

Article by Aryaman Sharma

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