What a difference a few years can make. Abdallah Sima arrived at Czech third-division outfit FC Taborsko in 2018 and just three years later, was making a big-money move to Premier League talent spotters Brighton from Slavia Prague.

“His potential is unreal,” his Slavia boss Jindřich Trpisovsky said in 2021. “It will skyrocket. I’m not even afraid it will go bad.”

Sima starred in the Europa League for Slavia in 2020/21, producing form for the Czech champions that earned a move to the Premier League and catching the eye of many across Europe. Now aged 22, after a season spent battling at the bottom of Ligue 1 with Angers, he’ll spend the 2023/24 campaign at Ibrox.

“We’re all familiar with Abdallah from the games in the Europa League [against Slavia Prague] back in the 2020/21 season,” Michael Beale said upon the attacker’s arrival.

“He took Europe by storm a little bit with his performances against us, scoring against Leicester and doing ever so well against Arsenal. He’s extremely versatile - he can play as a No, 9, 10, wide on both sides - and he’s just turned 22.

“Brighton were very shrewd in signing him because he’s a player with high potential but needs stability and we’ll give that to him here at Rangers and the best chance to fulfil his potential. He’s very quick, can dribble and is a big boy as well.”

Yes, Rangers want project players with resale value but clearly, there’s a feeling that the attacker can make an immediate impact on the first team. Having made his first Ibrox appearance on Tuesday against Newcastle, what type of player is Sima and how will he fit in?

Player profile and key strengths

Sima is a right-sided, right-footed attacker, much more in the mould of forward than midfielder. Although at 22 he still has time to mature into a centre-forward, the Senegalese international’s best position at present is operating from the right, even if he’s also capable of playing across attacking positions. Tellingly when asked by RangersTV whether he’d rather score or assist, the former came as a quick reply.

He’s not a winger who plays his best football out wide. Instead, as shall be elaborated throughout this piece, it’s starting slightly off-centre that enables Sima to demonstrate his best attributes by attacking the box, occupying defences and stretching opponents.

Sima is, like every other summer arrival, capable of occupying different roles in a team. A versatile, hybrid forward suited to Rangers’ fluid positioning in the attack. As explained previously in detail, Beale wants to operate with two goalscorers in every line-up and Sima’s profile provides a degree of variation.

A look at Sima’s heatmap from the 2020/21 season with Slavia (top) and last season’s loan in France (bottom) demonstrates the areas he’s picked up in recent seasons. Predominantly, he’s more active in wide areas before reaching the penalty box, given he’s not necessarily a back-to-goal player against set defences.

What are some of the attacker’s key strengths?

  • Sima’s standout qualities are his movement, athleticism, pace and goalscoring ability. He’s capable of long runs up the pitch using his pace and power, or quick intelligent movements cutting inside from the right to fashion goalscoring opportunities. With excellent movement in the penalty area to match.
  • Although six goals last season doesn’t stand out, 16 in just over 26 minutes the year before does. What’s more, although Sima played across the front three he was often fielded as a right midfielder with plenty of defensive responsibility for Angers last season.
  • Sima is a hard worker off the ball and his time spent at right midfield shows he possesses tactical discipline out of possession, even if it requires some work when leading the press.
  • Sima has a strong, tall and athletic profile, meaning he’s capable of occupying and stretching defences during transition runs.
  • Sima isn’t at his best with his back to goal, or under pressure on the ball in tight spaces. He’s far better at stretching the play in transition than making quick decisions on the ball.
  • Although not an overly technical dribbler who’s going to receive by the touchline and dance beyond individuals, Sima can prove a strong ball carrier. He feels more at home on his natural right-hand side, able to attack down the flank or, as will become apparent, drift infield and enact the role of a second striker.

What does the data say?

Sima’s numbers, playing in a ball-dominant Slavia Prague side in 2020/21, throw up some interesting talking points.

What is this showing me?

Remember, the closer to the boundary line the better. It should be noted that Sima played the majority of his domestic minutes for Slavia from the right, but these numbers are compared to other strikers.

  • Sima performs well across a range of attacking metrics, ranking highly on xG, xG/Shot and touches in the opposition box.
  • For Slavia, Sima was also a creator racking an impressive xG Assisted number (direct chances created for teammates).
  • Although he didn’t take loads of shots, which again is likely position-dependent, Sima’s xG/Shot (xG average of shot) ranked well.
  • His pressure numbers don’t stand out and that likely has something to do with Slavia’s dominance domestically. And, as will be elaborated, it’s an area Rangers may look to improve in his game over the course of the season.

READ MORE: How Michael Beale's changed Rangers' front three and why new arrivals fit

If we compare Sima to other attacking midfielders or wingers, where he spent the majority of his minutes, the boundary rankings are pushed. Look how impressive those same numbers are now compared to other attacking midfielders and wingers.

Let’s break down some of the attributes raised.

Timing of runs and finishing ability

Sima thrives from the right, very much profiling as a wide striker. He prefers to move infield, although does possess the pace to take on his man down the line. Unlike Fashion Sakala, who’s more comfortable starting on the left and shifting the ball onto his right foot, Sima appears a better fit on the right. Because, against settled defences, his main attacking involvement comes in the form of movement in the penalty area. As a player, he’s very apt when arriving into attacking situations.

Here’s a classic Sima goal, in a match for Slavia against Viktoria Plzen. As the ball is moved to the left he’s highlighted wide on the right side.

Sima’s always looking to attack the highlighted yellow space between the full-back and centre-back. On this occasion, the initial cross reaches his teammate at the backpost, but Sima’s movement has allowed him to ‘arrive’ onto a free shot in the penalty area.

‘Timing’ is something that’s quite difficult to gauge in football, but very apparent when watching Sima play. It’s of course not the same thing as ‘speed’. Sima moves like a No.9 when attacking crosses and arriving in the penalty box, timing his interactions well, often in the blindside of a centre-back and ahead of a full-back.

Yes, his pace is an asset over long distances and in Europe especially, that could come to the fore under Beale. Although he’ll require some adapting to the low block in Scotland, especially when playing with his back to goal under pressure, Sima can use his physical attributes in a busy penalty area because of this well-timed movement.

Here’s another example from a meeting in Europe with Nice. Notice as the ball moves left, Sima is again wide on the right behind his full-back.

As the ball reaches the left wing and is played back into the centre for a cross, Sima begins his movement - this is the type of situation in which he thrives.

Taking advantage of his marker’s body position, looking at the ball and not side-on to observe Sima’s movement, the forward curves his run in the blindside to again attack this space and score.

This movement can be made from deeper areas as well, as we see in a meeting with Rangers over two years ago. Here, Sima starts a run from deep behind Borna Barisic and Filip Helander.

So many of Sima’s goals or shots originate from this type of movement in the right half-space. Here in transition, he moves infield early from a wide starting position and converts a cut-back.

Undoubtedly, the new arrival will provide a strong goalthreat, predominantly from the right.

Aerial strength in both boxes

Throughout his early career Sima’s been really prolific in the air. Offensively, and defensively, this offers Beale plenty of options. With a big powerful, strong leap, Sima’s well-timed actions in the box can prove deadly.

READ MORE: Meet Cyriel Dessers: Powerful striker to be Beale's hybrid answer

Plenty of his headed goals, whether from open play or spells of possession, originate from looping crosses - with the isolated nature of these moments enabling him to overpower most direct opponents.

He even outjumps the goalkeeper in this meeting with Hapoel Beer Sheva.

Sima was a strong defensive header for the ball against Newcastle, winning two dead balls as the zonal near-post option. Although, as will shortly be explained, some of his pressing needs work, Sima’s defensive work ethic can’t be faulted. At previous clubs, he’s been entrusted to play on the right of midfield, to track full-backs and make up defensive ground.

It was notable in the second half against Newcastle how Sima quickly sprung out to prevent Newcastle when they built a three-vs-two at a short corner. Perhaps not something every forward would be alive to.

It’s a small detail, but demonstrative of the areas he’s comfortable defending in. Sima will be freed up from tracking full-backs generally in Beale’s system but as a wide forward, this type of defensive work will prove very important.

Pressing and where will he play?

There were a few examples on Tuesday night that confirmed Sima will still require work to carry out Beale’s pressing instructions.

For example, in the first half, he failed to close a pressing lane into the midfield, provoking a reaction from Todd Cantwell. This type of moment wasn’t an isolated incident against an admittedly very strong opponent.

This is likely experiential too. Often Sima’s played as a wide player tracking full-backs, not as a forward leading the press. Beale places huge emphasis on off-ball structure and will know Sima’s raw attributes in this area require a little refining.

Sima is capable of occupying defenders and getting his side up the pitch with strong transitional running. He’s not at his best under pressure on the ball with his back to goal, however. It’s no coincidence that against Newcastle the forward proved more effective when running beyond and occupying the defence, as opposed to playing through passes himself or combining under pressure. He makes unselfish runs to fashion space for his teammates and is rarely static.

So where will he play?

Considering Sima’s profile, there are two predominant roles in which Beale could play him as demonstrated in Tuesday’s friendly with Newcastle.

Firstly, as we saw in the first half, Sima could be used as a central No.9 in games where Rangers won’t always dominate the ball. His strong running and occupation of defenders can allow him to stretch the game for his team.

Or, as demonstrated in the second half, Sima could be used as a secondary No.9 operating from the right, or left, side. With other technical back-to-goal players, like Lammers or Dessers, around, the Brighton forward’s best traits can be facilitated. Providing an additional goal threat, dangerous movement in the final third and the ability to also create or carry the ball forwards.

Beale wants to play with two goalscorers and values differing, hybrid profiles. Players capable of fulfilling more than one function to grant variety in game and from game-to-game.

Rangers remain an individual away from the full complement in their front three, but don’t be surprised if Sima’s under-the-radar arrival gets ever louder as the season wears on.