When Antoine Griezmann joined FC Barcelona in July 2019 from their league rivals Atlético Madrid for a whopping fee of €120 million, the expectations he was charged with, for obvious reasons, were lofty.
Cules hoped that the World Cup winner would bring back the luster to Barcelona’s decaying attack, fill the massive hole that Neymar’s departure created, and take some burden off Barcelona's chief creator and goalscorer, Lionel Messi. And truly, such anticipations weren’t unfounded. The Frenchman had undoubtedly proved his mettle during his time at Real Sociedad, Atlético Madrid, and with his national team.
Fast-forward to the present time and circumstance, it is common knowledge that Antoine Griezmann has not lived up to the sky-high expectations, and has been well below par. The Antoine Griezmann at Camp Nou hasn’t been a shadow of the player that he was at Diego Simone’s Atlético Madrid, or is at Didier Deschamps’ France.
What are the reasons behind Antoine Griezmann's underperformance at Barcelona?
There have been many rumors or even conspiracy theories which believe that Antoine Griezmann is struggling because he is made to feel unwanted at Barcelona. These theories even go on to claim that he isn’t made to feel at home at Camp Nou because Messi and other senior players would have preferred Neymar's return over his signing.
There is little that we can do to ascertain the truth value and validity of these claims and theories. However, it is pretty clear that Antoine Griezmann is out of place at Barcelona — not at the club, but on the pitch. He hasn't yet found his feet at the Catalan club.
Antoine Griezmann thrives when he’s given the license to link-up play with the wide forwards and roam about freely in the hole behind the opposition backline. Ideally, he loves the role of the second striker where he can play off and connect with the leading striker. His flourishing partnerships with Diego Costa at Atlético and Olivier Giroud at France are testament to that.
He has not been able to play his traditional position at Barcelona as the Catalan side doesn’t deploy a dominating center-forward — especially after the departure of Luis Suarez.
More significantly, Antoine Griezmann’s natural habitat overlaps with Messi’s, and displacing Messi from his position to accommodate others is a sin that no Barcelona manager would want to commit. Hence, the only remaining option for Antoine Griezmann and the manager is to adapt and improvise in order to assimilate the French forward in the team’s system.
This process of assimilation, however, hasn’t manifested till date, and even though Griezmann has appeared 57 times, scored 17 times, assisted 5 times, he is yet to belong in the club, on the field. More often than not he feels like a fish out of water.
What does a successful Antoine Griezmann at Barcelona look like?
If one thinks about the games where Griezmann, for Barcelona, has been the enchanting, dazzling player that he used to be, two games come to mind: the 5-2 home win against Real Betis last August, where he scored two crucial goals, and the 1-4 away win at Villarreal, where he scored that delicious, Messi-esque chip from the edge of the box.
In the Betis match, the likes of Suarez and Messi were injured, hence Antoine Griezmann wasn’t just carrying the burden of responsibility, but also had the authorization of playing the relatively freer role.
It is perhaps the Villarreal game that the Cules might be more fond of because, on that day, due to some seemingly enigmatic reason, Antoine Griezmann found a beautiful connection with the attacking line that was led by Messi. Thus, this game hinted towards a hopeful possibility which the Barcelona fans would have desperately wanted to turn into a reality, sooner rather than later.
Now, Barcelona is seven games into the new La Liga season, but the situation still isn’t exactly merry for the 29-year-old Frenchman. Yet, what we witnessed in the latest 5-2 home win against Real Betis was promising and concerning at the same time.
In a game where Messi was rested for the first half, Antoine Griezmann found himself in the thick and thin of the offensive gameplay. He combined well with the two wingers, that is, Ansu Fati and Ousmane Dembele. By attracting defenders towards him and simultaneously holding the ball, and then releasing the ball to the two speedy forwards on either of the flanks, he unlocked a plethora of space for them to run into.
Adding to all of this, like a striker ought to be, he was in the right place at the right time, but to his dismay and perhaps as a result of his meager confidence, he missed three clear-cut chances — three chances which one doesn’t expect the player of his caliber to miss. His misery in front of the goal peaked when he missed the penalty in the 33rd minute.
In the first half, a lost Antoine Griezmann was found, but he failed to take advantage of it. However, it can be argued that missing chances, which can often be a consequence of poor form, is a better problem to have than being obliterated throughout the game.
The second half brought respite for Antoine Griezmann as he finally scored Barça’s second goal in the 49th minute. While the goal in itself was a simple tap-in, it originated from a bit of Messi brilliance where the Barça captain didn’t even have to touch the ball to create the easiest of the chances — him dummying the ball was sufficient.
Despite the goal and the through ball to Messi that led to the penalty in the 61st minute, Antoine Griezmann’s involvement in the game relatively decreased after the arrival of Messi — even though it wasn’t as little as it had been in some other matches — as he handed over his terrain to his captain.
This game left the Cules with a few questions to ponder over. Can Antoine Griezmann only blossom in a Barcelona side without Lionel Messi? Or, with a few goals under his belt and proper management, can he finally blend in to the team? Only time can answer these questions, but fans will be hoping for the latter.Published 09 Nov 2020, 23:10 IST