Julia Simic at West Ham United Women 2019/2020 – scout report
West Ham United Women have a number of key players in their team, and all have played their part in the Hammers finishing in a comfortable eighth position in the WSL this season. German midfielder Julia Simic, who has only earned two caps for her national side, has been a big part of her side’s success this season. She has only featured in five games in 2019/2020 due to injury, but as we will see in this scout report, she still made an impact and showed qualities that were important to her team.
This tactical analysis will look at how Simic is integral to her team through her ability to find and play in the space, and also to play as the quintessential number 10, or central attacking midfielder. The analysis will also look at how she often plays the role of a pivot in her team’s attacking tactics, allowing them to create opportunities and be an attacking force in the league.
Playing in and creating space
The first point we will look at is how Julia Simic plays in space to allow her team to keep the ball. Before we get into the examples of this, we must first take a look at Simic’s heat map.
Whilst it is not the clearest heat map, due to her lack of games played, if you look really closely you can see the faint blue areas on it, and that shows us just how much ground she covers; virtually the whole pitch. Therefore, we can see that her ability and desire to run into space to create a passing option happens all over the pitch, and she can be wherever she needs to be.
Taking this into account, let’s now have a look at some examples of Simic creating space on the pitch.
In both of these examples, you can see how Simic has seen where the ball’s position is and is now moving ahead of it to create a passing option. This is why she covers so much ground on the pitch.
In the first example, we see how she can operate in the wide areas as well as centrally, and how she runs to occupy the space further forward of her teammate in possession. This means that the ball can be played around the side of the Reading Women defence.
To explain this, if you look at the first image, West Ham are attacking centrally, but Reading’s defensive structure has stopped them from playing through the middle. Therefore, Simic’s movement towards the wing means the ball can now move to the outside of the defence; this is crucial in West Ham keeping possession of the ball. You can see how Reading have left that space open, which is why Simic is able to get there.
The second example is a little different, because it comes from a counter-attack, and from a central move. Instead of moving towards the wing and ahead of the ball, Simic has taken up a position alongside her teammate in possession, enabling that player to move the ball into space. You can see how the player in possession is being quickly surrounded by Tottenham Hotspur Women’s players, which is again why Simic’s role is so important.
Therefore, in these first two examples, the main point is that Simic is the player West Ham United Women can rely on to be in space. She offers them the passing option that enables possession to be kept in difficult situations. As we shall see in further examples, her spatial awareness is one of her key abilities on the pitch.
Here, Simic is in possession of the ball, but is being closed down by the Tottenham defenders. She has to turn her back to goal, but fortunately her teammate, in the black square, is running forwards to give her a way of moving the ball into space, as shown by the black arrow. This is Simic’s only option, as West Ham’s forward line has been blocked off by Tottenham. The Spurs players have all moved towards Simic, as you can see, and this means the gap is open on the outside for West Ham to attack there, which is why this pass from Simic to her teammate is a good one. The pass is shown by the red arrow.
The key point to take from this example is not her ability to move into space, but to see the space and the pass that would take the ball into it. Therefore, we can now add this to the analysis as another way that Simic creates space for her team.
Here, against Liverpool Women this time, West Ham United Women are in an attacking situation, with the ball on the wing, and are looking to play it into the box to shoot from. However, West Ham’s forward line have now mixed in with the Liverpool defence, which means that any pass into that area would be risking losing possession. Simic has stayed back a little, and taken up a position on the edge of the box, which gives her plenty of space to attack from. It also means she is now the best passing option, and that is what we can take from this example. Again, she has found space and created a passing option for her team.
Her ability to play behind the forward line, like in these last two examples, is what we will now look at in this scout report.
Playing behind the forward line
In this section, we will build on what we have already established with her ability to create space for the team, and now we will analyse how she plays behind the forward line, and what that adds to her team’s in-match tactics.
In this example, you can see how West Ham United Women have possession of the ball, and are attacking. However, Julia Simic, circled, is holding back and playing behind them. This is significant because it means West Ham can ensure that, should Liverpool Women stop their advance forwards, or prevent them being able to move the ball through to goal, there is always a passing option backwards to Simic available. It also means that West Ham are effectively attacking with two lines; the forward line, as you can see, and the second line, made up of Simic and Alisha Lehmann, wearing number 7. That also adds extra strength to this attack.
You might be wondering why this is effective, given that Simic is behind the attack, and therefore appears to be much less of a threat. However, Simic likes to be in this position because it allows her to play balls through defences into the forward-most players, as shown in the image below.
Here, you can see how Tottenham Hotspur Women have been forced into a strong defensive structure, with West Ham on the outside. Simic is in position, and this is why she is a threat when she isn’t the player at the front of the attack. In these situations, she can play balls through to the attacking players, and that makes her a useful player to have tactically in the team. You can see how Simic has seen that the space to play the ball in behind is on the left hand side inside the box (the right of the image), and this is where she is aiming to play the ball into. Hammers striker Martha Thomas is able to make a run into this area, and that is how Simic poses a threat from these areas.
If she can’t play the ball into that area, the other option that Simic has is to pass the ball to either Thomas (wearing number 9) or Kenza Dali (wearing number 21). That would ensure that West Ham would keep possession, even if they couldn’t attack directly through Simic.
Finally in this section, the fact that Simic plays behind the front line also means that she can track back when necessary to help the defence out.
Here, Liverpool Women are attacking, and Simic has tracked back to play in front of the Hammers’ defence, giving them added protection. If we refer back to her heat map at the start of this tactical analysis, we saw that she covered a lot of ground in both halves of the pitch, and this is why. In this example, you can see how there are only three West Ham defenders who would have faced five Liverpool attackers, and so Simic’s movement to help them means the numbers are not so different, as it becomes a five-v-four situation, which gives West Ham more of a chance of stopping the attack and possible shot at goal.
She may play mainly as a number 10, but can also play as a box-to-box midfielder when needed to. That means that she has added usefulness to West Ham United Women. It also allows other attacking players like Kenza Dali and Alisha Lehmann to stay further forward, because they know that Simic will be supporting the midfield and defence where necessary. In this way, Simic acts almost like a pivot – our final section in this scout report.
Playing the pivot role
In this first example, you can see how Switzerland forward Lehmann, in the black square, is looking to play inside the Chelsea Women defence.
Simic is in possession of the ball, and is looking to play the ball into Lehmann’s path. Therefore, Simic here is acting as the pivot, allowing West Ham’s other attacking players to get into the key areas of Chelsea’s half, whilst she dictates the play by putting the ball into the areas where it can be best used. Chelsea’s defence has gaps in it, large enough to allow Simic to play Lehmann through them. Opposing defences need to be aware of this threat that Simic poses and tighten up their defences, because otherwise they will continue to allow West Ham the space they need to play through them.
This is another thing that comes from Simic holding back from the main attack, and playing just outside the area; she can see the spaces, and allows West Ham to be in control in every attacking situation.
If we look at two more examples, we can see even more how her ability to see space and play passes into those areas is even more effective.
Both examples show how Simic is looking to play passes into space. In both images, she is in control of the situation, and the other West Ham United Women players are running into the areas where they know Simic will play the ball into.
In the first image, Chelsea have moved their defence higher up the pitch, and that has allowed West Ham to play in behind them with more ease. You can see how Simic has played the ball high and long, with the aim of freeing up a teammate in the large space left open behind the Chelsea defence. Therefore, we can see how having Simic as a pivot role in this West Ham team can be highly effective.
In the second example, we see something similar. Again, Simic has seen the space behind the opposing defence, this time that of Liverpool Women, and is looking to play the ball behind it for a teammate. Again, Liverpool have come high up the pitch, and left the space open, which is what Simic wants in these situations. You can see how there are no teammates rushing towards her to try and help her, because they know what she is planning to do with the ball. Instead, they are looking to give her passing options.
You might be wondering why we are calling this role a “pivot”. That’s because Simic is the player who creates everything with her passes, and the other players move into the key areas behind the defence, waiting for the ball. In all three examples in this section, we have seen this happening. Therefore, this is why we are calling Simic’s role the “pivot role”.
To conclude, it is clear that West Ham United Women have a well-drilled squad who know what their individual jobs are. However, their German midfielder Julia Simic is a particularly important cog in that Hammers machine, and perhaps an underrated one too. She has only played five games for the team this season, due to the aforementioned knee injury that required surgery, but we have seen how much of an effect she has had on the team, and what she adds to it in those five games. At the age of 31, she is one of the more experienced players in the team, and that has shown in this analysis and the matches we have seen her play in.