Philippe Clement’s answer when quizzed on the possibility of moving Abdallah Sima to a central No.9 spot from the left last week spoke volumes.

‚ÄúI cannot say something honestly about that because I haven't had the chance to put him as the central striker in training. We haven't had enough wingers at the moment to take him out of that position.‚ÄĚ

Clement has not been blessed with resources since arriving at Ibrox, whether that be measured in training time or numbers. In the past week, frustration has been understandably palpable in media conferences given injuries to Tom Lawrence and Danilo, with limited options taking a further hit.

One guarantee Clement inherited at Ibrox was Sima. The forward continues to thrive on a season-long loan from Brighton across the board.

The 22-year-old is the league’s joint-top goalscorer with nine strikes to date and has 13 goals in all competitions. Only Jack Butland, Connor Goldson, James Tavernier and John Lundstram have usurped Sima’s 1221 minutes in the Scottish Premiership for Rangers. What’s more, Sima is averaging the third-highest number of pressures for his side while recording the highest goals/90 tally domestically in the squad (0.66).

A consistently available player who’s scored more than anyone else in the squad - why not move Sima from his left-sided slot to No.9? 

Or, does a recent return to scoring form show why the attacker is already a forward for this side, all but in name?

After scoring twice on Clement’s debut 4-0 win over Hibs, Sima went eight starts in all competitions without a goal up until last Sunday.

‚ÄúI spoke with Abdallah in the last couple of days about being hungry, to be in the box and to score himself,‚ÄĚ Clement commented after Sima‚Äôs double earned all three points in a 2-0 win over St Mirren that day.

‚ÄúHe‚Äôs a really nice lad but he‚Äôs sometimes not egoistic enough for me to be decisive himself. He always wants to give the last pass to others before he shoots himself.‚ÄĚ

Sima is not shy of hard work. The hard yards ran every match resonate with the intensity fans want to see at Ibrox. The Senegalese forward even started at left wing-back away in Prague when his side lacked a left-back and changed shape subsequently.

As will be elaborated upon, Rangers require Sima’s width, running power and option as a wide target man to provide solutions over pressure or, at times, a defensive block. However, as his manager identified, the pendulum perhaps swung too far in the other direction before a double against St Mirren. With his team lacking any form of width on the right until Ross McCausland’s emergence, the onus was on the attacker to fulfil that function on the left.

McCausland playing on the right and Todd Cantwell moving to a conventional No.10 slot has not only improved this team directly but indirectly. It has allowed Sima to play the role of a wide forward again, not a winger, with natural width in the midfield arriving from the opposite side of the pitch.

Look at the Ibrox side’s pass network from Saturday’s fixture, for example. Notice the narrow positioning of Sima when compared to Matondo’s wide berth on the right.

The upturn in Sima's attacking numbers during these past three league games has been clear when compared to the five league outings under Clement beforehand. Encouragement from his manager and the establishment of a right-winger to provide natural midfield width have catalysed a greater goalthreat. 

Per 90, Sima’s xG has jumped from 0.25 to 0.67, his shots from 3.71 to 4.6, touches in the opposition box from 9.07 to 10.44 and xG/Shot (a metric which values the average shot quality) a huge 0.07 to 0.15. His aerial wins have shot up from 3.5 to 7.06 and interestingly, Sima’s also turning over the ball only 3.68 times compared to 6.59 before. This likely speaks to a decrease in his one-on-one attempts.

The flip side of that lift in attacking numbers has been a drop in creative tendencies. Sima’s xG assisted, direct chances created for teammates, in the past three league matches average out at 0.03 per 90, a drop from 0.25 before. In terms of dribbling, he’s not completed a carry with the ball compared to a 1.85 average before.

Matches against St Mirren, Hearts and Dundee are shown in red below. Previous matches against Hibs, Hearts, Dundee, Livingston and Aberdeen are in blue.

While too small a sample size to draw definitive conclusions, this data can help inform the point Clement made after the 2-0 win over St Mirren. Sima’s acting more as a converter than a creator, right when his team have required that shift.

Danilo’s long-term injury is a huge blow for Clement even if the Brazilian’s goals had dried up as of late. However, there’s an argument that instead of moving Sima into Danilo's No.9 slot, the current role he's playing on the left is perfectly suited to his skillset.

Playing wide on the left allows Sima to run vertically, isolate his pace and move onto attacks. Instead of playing with his back to goal, occupying defenders and creating openings for others. The current Ibrox squad lacks a left-sided balance and as a result, most of the creativity in this team derives from the right.

You don’t want Sima coordinating build-up moves but giving this team something they’ve sorely lacked in recent years - a running threat in behind to compliment movement towards the ball from others in the front line.

Take the attacker’s strike against Hearts last week as an example.

Rangers targeted their build-up on the right, ensuring Sima would have space to run onto James Tavernier’s eventual throughball starting from wide on the left. Notice the contrasting numbers on each side of the pitch.

Sima is lightning-fast but also intelligent with the speed he possesses. Rarely caught offside, he’s an attacker who not only has pace, but can use his pace effectively.

Look at his movement in the below frames. Initially starting in the blindside of right wing-back Nathaniel Atkinson affords Sima a headstart - there’s indecision as to whether he’ll run ahead or behind his marker.

 That allows Sima separation to run ahead of his man and attack the gap of space between centre-back and full-back, making the most of his speed.

Sima times his movement well and runs vertically onto the ball, but look at where the ‚ÄėNo.9‚Äô is during the sequence. Danilo has dropped deep to not only offer the potential of a pass through pressure but pull Hearts‚Äô centre-back, Stephen Kingsley, out of position. This is key in taking Kingsley‚Äôs attention away from the run of Sima.

With the No.9 moving towards the ball, Sima can use his qualities to run beyond.

Look at the positioning of Danilo compared to Sima as the ball is played through by Tavernier - it’s starting in a 'second No.9' spot which has perfectly allowed Sima to show his strengths in this scenario.

This isn’t an isolated incident. Look at the position of the central striker as Sima hits the net in two recent matches against St Mirren. Both times it’s the wide run of Cyriel Dessers which has held up play, moved the defence and enabled Sima to attack space as the team's second No.9.

It’s also important to consider the overall picture. With Clement having been afforded precious little time to embed attacking ideas on the training pitch, Sima’s option as a wide target man in various scenarios is important. 

Without many rotations in the first line of the pitch and a lack of options to play through midfield, Rangers are reliant on going over the top of teams, through the centre in transition or around the block. While more control will be required in time, this corroborates with Clement’s desire for verticality and quicker play from back to front.

Take these two examples against Dundee which ended up in box entries. Without the tools, rotations or numbers to go through the Dundee block after the ball has moved to left-back, Sima's movement and size allows Borna Barisic to clip a pass over the top. Again notice the movement of the central striker, Dessers, towards the ball as Sima moves behind.

One of Michael Beale’s last games against Livingston saw Sima score from a similar scenario.

Ironically, if one upcoming game might best suit Sima through the middle it could well be Thursday’s visit to Real Betis. However, recent history would suggest Clement will opt for continuity ahead of the League Cup Final on Sunday.

Then there’s Rabbi Matondo, far more natural on the left than the right. Could he form a front four with Sima, McCausland and Cantwell?

Sima’s shot map, with nine goals from just 6.57xG, shows a clinical finisher. But he's averaging 4.6 shots at present. His starting position on the left is still enabling central activity in the box and arguably better situations to attack crosses and throughballs, running off the back of defenders instead in direct combat with centre-backs.

In the week-to-week, with Rangers requiring goals outside of their No.9, Sima’s reformed role on the left is benefitting from a quiet word with his manager and more natural solutions on the right.

At present, Sima isn’t taking on defenders by the touchline, or restricted to a role outside the box. Instead, the attacker can operate as a second striker, moving onto attacks from wide areas to occupy the box. Exploiting space rather than creating it and offering alternative build-up solutions.

The very role which saw him explode onto the scene at Slavia Prague has seen Sima step up when Rangers have required him most.

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