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Barcelona thought they signed Antoine Griezmann who could make the difference

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31 Aug 2021
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Antoine Griezmann

Barca paid Atletico Madrid an initial €120 million for Griezmann in 2019, and all they have to show for it is last season’s Copa del Rey trophy.

Antoine gets credit for his work rate and defensive contributions

It was the weight of his price tag. It was because his teammates didn’t trust him and it was because he was not playing in his best position. It was because Lionel Messi took his space. The list of excuses from and for Antoine Griezmann’s inconsistent and disappointing form since his arrival at Barcelona ran long, but now there is nowhere for the France forward to hide this season. Barca paid Atletico Madrid an initial €120 million for Griezmann in 2019, and all they have to show for it is last season’s Copa del Rey trophy. The Catalans let striker Luis Suarez go the other way a year later, and he fired Diego Simeone’s Rojiblancos to the league title. Griezmann rightfully gets credit for his work rate and defensive contributions, but Barcelona thought they were signing a player who could make the difference at the other end of the pitch.

Koeman needs to rely on Griezmann this season

The electric left-sided forward from his Real Sociedad days was shaped into a centre forward at Atletico, who could score in big games, but he has lost his spark at the age of 30. Barcelona fans whistled Griezmann during the 2-1 win over Getafe on Sunday, frustrated that he could not get involved in the game in a relatively free role, starting on the right-hand side of a three-person attack. “As a manager, I can’t understand whistling our own player,” said coach Ronald Koeman, conscious he needs to rely on Griezmann this season. “You could whistle him if he had a bad attitude or didn’t work hard, but Antoine had other difficulties in the game. He wasn’t as fortunate as we could hope, but it’s just one game. I can ask him for four goals, but we have not created chances for him, either.”

Depay has hit the ground running at Camp Nou

In new strike partner Memphis Depay, however, Griezmann has a clear example of how to create your own opportunities. The Dutch forward, the man of the match in Barcelona’s opening game against Real Sociedad before scoring against Athletic Club and Getafe, has hit the ground running at Camp Nou. Memphis is the player who looks worthy of a three-figure transfer fee, even though he arrived for free from Lyon this summer. Memphis is the player who looks like he has been at Barca for over two years. Against Getafe, Frenkie de Jong rolled a ball to Memphis out left before the ex-Manchester United man began dribbling into the area.

The team cannot rely on Memphis to produce a moment of magic every game

Despite defenders blocking his path, he cut inside then quickly fired an effort at goal, catching out goalkeeper David Soria. It was not a chance, but Memphis turned it into a goal. And just as well, with Barca creating no further opportunities in the final hour of the game and scraping a win. Against Athletic at the San Mames last weekend, it was a similar story. Barcelona were playing poorly, Griezmann was missing in action, and only a thunderbolt from Memphis helped Barcelona take a point from the game. Barcelona cannot rely on Memphis to produce a moment of magic every game; it is unsustainable, and opponents will target him in numbers to shut him down.

A flowing Barca attack died at Griezmann’s feet against Athletic and Getafe

Martin Braithwaite’s work rate is incontestable, but the Denmark forward bought as an emergency signing around 18 months ago is also not a player to rely upon to make up any of the missing Messi deficit. Griezmann was expected to take the reins but thus far has abdicated his duty, still cowed by the pressure. His best moments of the season came within the first 10 minutes of the opening game, looking energised and determined to deliver. That was the necessary attitude, but it did not last long, and he faded by the end of the game before slumping back to his invisible worst against Athletic and Getafe. A moment in the first half on Sunday summed up Griezmann’s difficulties. A flowing Barcelona attack died at his feet, but he ran back to help his side stop Getafe from advancing.

There are no complaints about the French forward’s professionalism within Barcelona

His defensive contribution was welcome, but it only solved a problem of his own making. It was similar to how it took his teammates a while to warm to him after the documentary he made in 2018 about his decision to snub Barcelona and stay at Atletico another season. There are no complaints about Griezmann’s professionalism within Barcelona, but that does not stem supporters’ frustration. Although it is not quite as simple as this, the fact remains if the Catalans had managed to sell Griezmann earlier in the window, they might have been able to keep Messi. Instead, the Principito – ‘Little Prince’ – is being asked to succeed the king when he does not seem fit for the throne.

Back in August 2019, when Griezmann made his home debut, Messi, injured, was watching on from the stands. The new arrival struck twice, in front of 80,000 fans, throwing confetti into the air a la LeBron James’s chalk toss in a pre-planned celebration. Not much else has gone to plan since, 101 games later, beyond the odd flash of inspiration; his volley against Osasuna, his dink against Villarreal, the muscle memory of a past self. Time is running out for Griezmann, whose highest accolade in club football is the Europa League. Only the difficulty of offloading high earners in the post-pandemic market has kept him in Catalunya. If he wants to change that and Koeman is to win one of the big trophies demanded of him by president Joan Laporta, Griezmann can no longer live in Messi’s shadow, though it is getting harder and harder to believe he will deliver.

  • Antoine Griezmann
  • FC Barcelona
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