Why Antoine Griezmann could be the man to restore Barcelona's might
Since 2015, Barcelona have seen many star players depart, causing the club to significantly decline from what it used to be. Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Javier Mascherano, Dani Alves and Neymar have all left Barca in recent seasons and they've been trying to piece themselves back together ever since.
Their success has always been synonymous with their playstyle. The Catalan side take great pride in their brand of short passing and tiki-taka football, though the aforementioned departures has seen them drift away from their flamboyant style to a more pragmatic, uninspiring display on a regular basis.
Neymar's departure is perhaps the one which hurts them most, having struggled to find a long-term replacement for the Brazilian forward. Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho were both seen as creative-minded acquisitions who would prove their worth, though neither has been able to justify such massive transfer fees.
Ernesto Valverde's conservative tactics is also part of the reason for Barca's attacking drop-off, with a playstyle that limits free-flowing football and focuses more on structure instead. As a result, their reliance on Lionel Messi has increased - with the Argentine's ability to score and create chances galore being the saving grace too often in recent seasons.
Despite his goalscoring ability, Luis Suarez's finishing has been unimpressive while age certainly seems to be a factor in the Uruguayan's general decline. Dembele has suffered from both persistent injuries and inconsistency, unable to stamp his authority in the side despite fleeting moments of brilliance.
This past summer, Barca signed Antoine Griezmann, who gradually is finding his feet at the Nou Camp. With him in the side, alongside Messi/Dembele, they could return to a free-flowing frontline which is both dynamic and creates goalscoring chances on its own without relying on midfield support.
So, why did Barca sign him? Which role suits him best?
As someone who likes playing in the centre, he'd best suit the false nine role - much like Liverpool's Roberto Firmino. Griezmann could prove a pivotal piece in linking midfield with attack, given his ability to involve teammates in attacking moves through passing and off-the-ball movement. Known for his technical ability and vision, the thinking is that his presence makes Barca less dependent on Messi going forward.
The start of the new campaign coincided with a number of injuries to Barca's starting frontline. That's both a blessing and a curse, though also provides the World Cup winner with free reign over Barca's attack as his new star teammates watch on from the stands.
Operating in the false nine role, we saw the very best of Griezmann against Real Betis two weeks ago. The way he dictated play by involving Frenkie de Jong and Carles Perez into the game was something you often see from Messi himself, while he netted a brace and created an assist for substitute Arturo Vidal.
After a succession of disappointments in Europe over the past two seasons, Barca cannot afford to let lightning strike them a third consecutive year. Their Champions League setbacks has largely been due to their inability to score away from home, with Valverde's defensive approach merely inviting pressure.
A selection and positional dilemma for Valverde to ponder
This was again evident during their most recent game against Osasuna, which saw them dropping points. One of the reasons for such a lacklustre display was the improper use of Griezmann, who regularly drifted to the wings - like he did during his debut, a 1-0 away defeat by Athletic Bilbao on the opening weekend.
It's not uncommon for sides to play cautiously in away fixtures and Griezmann could be someone who fits Valverde's playstyle while maximising his own creative output. His tenacious pressing and ability to pick out passes for teammates presents counter-attacking opportunities, something they have lacked regularly in recent seasons.
However to utilise him at his full potential, Antoine has to play through the centre. To include both himself and Suarez in the team, playing Messi and Suarez up-top with Griezmann in a number ten role is an option that can be explored. The 4-2-3-1 formation, with Messi and Dembele on either flank and Suarez the lone striker, would see him operate in an AM role.
The onus is on Valverde to decide what works best and given their recent financial outlay, it's imperative he gets the best from their new big-money acquisition. Regardless of which formation is implemented most frequently, Griezmann is one player that cannot afford to fail if Barca are to get back atop European football once again.