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Is Antoine Griezmann the right man for Barcelona?

Saif Habboub
CONTRIBUTOR
Feature
11 Jun 2019, 09:29 IST

RCD Espanyol v Club Atletico de Madrid - La Liga
RCD Espanyol v Club Atletico de Madrid - La Liga

Antoine Griezmann will always be known as the player who did a Fortnite celebration in a World Cup Final and a player who made an elaborate documentary last year just to announce his decision to stay with Atletico Madrid. One year on he has changed his mind and has announced his desire to leave Los Colchoneros for greener pastures.

Besides all the theatrics, Griezmann is an extraordinary player who has been one of the worlds best for a few years now. The team most linked with the Frenchman is current La Liga title holders, Barcelona.

Barcelona is in desperate need of a Luis Suarez replacement as the Uruguayan’s decline has been evident over the past two seasons. Furthermore, Suarez will turn 33 come January. It’s important to note that Suarez has just had his joint record worst goal-scoring season since moving to Barcelona - his tally totaled to 25 goals in 49 games. Compared to other strikers in Europe, that’s still a very strong return but Barcelona would be smart to find a replacement now as Suarez’ influence dwindles.

Here's where Antoine Griezmann comes in. A player many teams would be lucky to acquire. Unfortunately for Barcelona and the Camp Nou faithful, Griezmann just might not be the right player for them. Throughout his career, Griezmann has thrived in a two-striker formation under Diego Simeone, and in a #10 role for the French national team under Didier Deschamps. Looking at things purely on the team sheet, one could classify Griezmann as a striker, but that just isn’t the case. Griezmann would be best described as a 9 and a half or a “second striker”.


France v Argentina: Round of 16 - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
France v Argentina: Round of 16 - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

One of the best parts of his game is his ability to drop in deeper to pick up the ball and feed his strike partner and other forwards. He has the freedom to do this under Simeone because this out-and-out striker responsibility falls on someone else’s shoulders. We’ve seen this role being played by Alvaro Morata or Diego Costa this season. At Barcelona if Griezmann were to play in this striker role he could very well end up with a respectable goal tally and still be a very good player. At the end of the day when playing on the same team as Lionel Messi you are undoubtedly going to be fed on a platter. The problem is that Barcelona don’t NEED Griezmann. There are many other players in world football that would be a better fit to be the heir to Suarez’ throne.

The fact is, Ernesto Valverde would have to implement a new formation to accommodate Griezmann. In the past, we have seen Griezmann play in this sole striker role with France. But Didier Deschamps has, time and time again, switched Griezmann back to an attacking midfielder and has opted for Olivier Giroud as his striker due to his stature and strength that contributes to his incredible hold up play which in turn brings the best out of Mbappe and Griezmann. This is the system that won France the World Cup last summer.

As for Valverde, we could see him play a 4-4-2 formation which we saw in his first season at the club, or we could see 4-2-3-1 formation where Griezmann plays in the hole behind the striker (similar to Deschamps system for France). These two formation changes would inherently be problematic for Barcelona. A 4-4-2 would see Suarez and Griezmann occupy the two striker roles which would put Messi on the far right of a flat midfield four, this would sacrifice defensive stability which Barcelona can’t afford to do.

A 4-2-3-1 would be the opposite, as it would be too much of a defensive approach which doesn’t align with Barcelona’s philosophy of free-flowing attacking football. We’ve already seen Valverde receive tons of criticism for his preference to play it safe this season. This change would also be counter-intuitive because with a 4-2-3-1 formation, Suarez would still be a sole striker without a viable option to replace him off the bench.

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FC Barcelona v SD Huesca - La Liga
FC Barcelona v SD Huesca - La Liga

The final possible solution is for Barcelona to switch back to their Guardiola days and play a false nine with Griezmann filling out that role. However, this system would be a risk as Messi’s role on the right would have to be changed. The reason Barcelona’s attack flourished under Guardiola was because players like David Villa and Pedro were the perfect players to play on the wing, as they could penetrate the wings with Messi feeding them. Messi playing in a role similar to Pedro and Villa would mean Barcelona would lose his influence in midfield - which is the part of his game that he has mastered in the past few years that has made him an even more influential player.

Griezmann’s addition wouldn’t solve a striking problem, it would instead create more problems. This isn’t surprising when looking at Barcelona’s transfer dealings in recent years. We’ve seen the Blaugrana break the bank for players such as Ousmane Dembele and Phillippe Coutinho without a clear plan in mind. Coutinho has undoubtedly been a 120-million-euro flop and after 18 months at the club, Barcelona could be looking to ship him out this summer.

Ousmane Dembele on the other hand was supposed to be Neymar’s replacement but his spot in the side has been in limbo as he’s only made 20 starts in the league this season. This is mostly due to injuries and Valverde’s stubbornness to stick to Dembele as his starting left-winger. Barcelona just seem to buy great players simply because they’re great players instead of examining the true needs of the squad.

Antoine Griezmann would be further truth of that statement, Barcelona would be smart to look elsewhere. 

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