Xavi Simons: RB Leipzig’s Christopher Nkunku Replacement?

One of the most electrifying young talents in all of world football is on the move again. Xavi Simons, the Dutch talent, makes his way to the Bundesliga joining RB Leipzig on a loan deal from PSG following a standout season in the Eredivisie for PSV Eindhoven. A former child prodigy seen all over social media started his career at the renowned La Masia academy of FC Barcelona. Simons played for the youth teams of Barcelona for 9 years before moving to PSG in 2019 where he made only 11 senior appearances. With his move to PSG being less than successful, many were labeling Simons as the next wonderkid flop despite performing well on the PSG youth teams. 


In 2021, Simons left for PSV Eindhoven in hopes of revising his career. While this move was originally supposed to only be a loan move from PSG, Simons signed on a permanent deal for five years with the Dutch side. However, PSG was able to negotiate a buyback fee of only 6 million which they activated this summer, before loaning him out to RB Leipzig.


The Eredivisie has gotten a reputation as a league that produces numerous young talents, which eventually make their way to larger European clubs. This is due to the fact that teams throughout the Eredivisie reward young stars with valuable first-team minutes, much different to other leagues Simons had played in before. 


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At PSV last season, Simons was crucial in leading the attack for PSV which finished second in the league. Simons also won top goal scorer in the league with 22 goals and 12 assists in all competitions. Simons also helped PSV win the Dutch Cup and Super Cup. Simons was also able to play European football as PSV was in the UEFA Europa League. 


Standout at PSV


Tactically, Xavi Simons is a manager’s dream with the ability to occupy almost any attacking position ranging from the right or left-winger to a center forward in a false 9 setup. However, Simons has a very unique skill set and PSV have adapted their formation and tactics to suit these skills. When playing in a free-roaming position, he is the team’s main playmaker, facilitating chances for his teammates or scoring via spectacular long-distance strikes or weaving through defenders before scoring with a composed finish.


Simons is even averaging 2.73 shots per game, which is extremely high for a midfield player. Following the departure of Cody Gakpo to Liverpool following the World Cup, Simons found himself operate more as a left-sided midfielder for PSV. Due to his training at La Masia, his vision, chance creation, as well as general game IQ is phenomenal. Simons is always looking to get onto the ball and use his vision to find teammates darting runs, which he picks out through amazing forward passing ability. 


Furthermore, Simons is also extremely technical and his first touch and ability turn with his quick burst of speed paired with his agility make him unguardable at times. Simons is eager to tack defenders on in one-on-one situations and is usually successful as he is only tackled .03 times during a take-on placing him in the 99th percentile for midfielders according to FBREF. Simons is also extremely dangerous in transition due to his pace and ability to beat defenders in 1 v 1s. Numerous goals and assists for Simons occurred in transition last season. 


Simons spent the early part of his career playing in the interior of the midfield as a center mid or defense mid. Now being placed into the attacking midfielder role, he excels defensively in the midfield. Simons never shies away from tackles and is always ready to get stuck in. Simons also has a relentless motor and stamina allowing him to continuously disrupt the opposition’s midfield through his elite pressing ability as well as a vision to cut passing lanes. 


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While Simons is technical he is still developing physically and adapting to first-team football, Simons’ low center of gravity allows him to retain possession of the ball and not be physically outmatched by his opponents. 


What can RB Leipzig Fans Expect From Simons?


Marco Rose was appointed the new manager of RB Leipzig in the early months of the 2022/2023 season and did very well helping RB Leipzig to a third place finish in the Bundesliga. Marco Rose’s RB Leipzig often lined up in primarily a  4-2-3-1 formation or a 4-4-2. 


Leipzig have a wealth of attacking talent, in acquisitions this window and previous squad talent. Summer signing Lois Openda, Fabio Carvalho, and Benjamin Sesko as well as the return of Alexander Sorloth from a successful loan stunt look to bolster the attack. The summer signings look to gel with Timo Werner, Yussuf Poulsen, Dani Olmo, and Emil Forsberg to produce an abundance of goals next season and challenge German giants Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund for the Bundesliga title. 


In the 4-2-3-1, Christopher Nkunku would line up in the center attacking midfield role or the “shadow striker” position. In the shadow striker role, the individual must make penetrating runs as well as being able to facilitate for the striker in front of them and the wide players. The shadow striker must also be confident in possession as well as be able to take on defenders in one vs one situations. Simons fits this role perfectly. 


Last season Nkunku scored 23 goals and had 9 assists in all competitions. Simons and Nkunku had almost identical goal contribution stats and as Nkunku makes his way to Chelsea for next season, Simons could be the perfect replacement. However, Nkunku isn’t the only major departure from the squad as Dominik Szboslai, a right midfielder, makes his move to Liverpool. Due to Simons’ positional versatility at PSV, he could also slot into either of the wide midfield roles in Rose’s system. 


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Rose’s style of football aligns directly with the club’s vision of high-energy attacking football with a focus on the incorporation of youth talent. Rose plays a very pressing style looking to win the ball high up the pitch and with the help of direct penetrating passing work the balls into scoring areas as quickly as possible. This system is almost too perfect for Simons, a high-energy, pressing, attacking midfielder whose first thought is creating opportunities for his teammates, 


A move to Leipzig is the perfect next step in Simons’ early career. While facing tougher competition in the Bundesliga and having a chance to play in the UEFA Champions League, RB Leipzig provides the perfect opportunities for Simons to continue to grow. Rose’s system fits Simons’ playing style perfectly and should provide a place for Simons to flourish. For PSG, they hope Simons can continue to develop at a rapid pace to help strengthen the squad at the Parc de Paris next season. 


By: Jackson Maynard / @JacksonMaynar17

Featured Image: @Juanffrann / Soccrates Images