Antoine Griezmann was signed from Atlético de Madrid ahead of the 2019/20 season. His first campaign in Barcelona has been mixed, although circumstances out of his control have had an unquestionable impact. But should culés be expecting more from the Frenchman, and does Griezmann have more to offer?
Rumours of Antoine Griezmann leaving Barça have died down in recent weeks and it looks like he will stay at least for another season. Though his performances so far this season have not exactly set the Camp Nou alight, it would be too harsh to say that he has disappointed. In a campaign disrupted by a change of manager and a global pandemic, Griezmann has still not had a fair chance to prove himself at the club yet. There are areas where he still has to improve and Quique Setién must find the position that gets the best out of the former Atlético de Madrid star.
A controversial signing?
In the summer of 2019 Barcelona signed Antoine Griezmann for €120 million from Atlético de Madrid after paying his release clause. His signing was divisive amongst fans as in the previous season he had rejected Barça with a controversial short film. When Griezmann’s Atleti came to the Camp Nou in the 2018/19, the striker was whistled at by many of the blaugrana fans.
Furthermore, Atlético complained that Barcelona had agreed a deal with the player when his release clause was €200 million. They threatened legal action as they believe the amount they were receiving was “insufficient”. However, there were no repercussions for Barça as they were found to have done nothing wrong.
Griezmann’s season so far
With La Liga scheduled back on June 8th or 12th, the season is not over for the number 17. It has taken him a while to find his feet in the team as the playing styles of Atlético de Madrid and Barcelona are very different. At Madrid, Antoine was the main goal scorer and often playmaker. In 257 games for Los Rojiblancos, Griezmann scored a total of 133 goals and a further 50 assists. This is an impressive return for a team that are renowned for their defending.
At Barcelona, who look to attack more, it is not unfair to suggest that the forward should be looking to equal or improve on that record. So far, he has played 37 times for the club, managing 14 goals and 4 assists. Considering it is his first season and with competition for places and a change in coach, the statistics look good on paper.
❛ When I’m close to the penalty area, that’s when I feel more comfortable ❜
Nevertheless, sometimes statistics only give half of the story. Fans can put too much emphasis on them and not appreciate other parts of the game. One of the biggest questions over any new forward joining Barcelona is how they will link up with Messi. This has been a bit of a hit and a miss with Griezmann. At times they have looked good together, while at others there has been a lack of chemistry.
Antoine has also struggled to be involved in some of the games, either as a winger or as the central striker. This is especially true when teams set up in a deep and compact formation. But the French forward has also proven valuable in the team with important goals, strong performances and an incredible work ethic. Not to mention he is only one of two players, alongside Frenkie de Jong, not to have suffered an injury this season.
Where he fits best into the team
It is difficult to pinpoint where the best position is for Antoine Griezmann in Catalonia. He started as a winger at Real Sociedad, and has played there for Barça this course. At Atlético, he often played alongside another striker in a front two. In addition, he played and plays behind the striker for France too. His days as a winger are behind him, though.
While it can’t be said that Griezmann’s season has been bad, more is expected from him in terms of overall influence in the side | Photo by Joaquin Corchero via Imago
At Barcelona, there are already enough wingers and he does not possess the pace that is required. His best position in a 4–3–3 could thus be as the main striker in the team. He has the ability to link the play, score goals and press relentlessly. This only issue is he is then competing with Luis Suárez and possibly Lautaro Martínez, if he is signed in the summer. The board must consider this carefully as all three of these centre-forwards would be expecting game time.
❛ The more matches I play, the better I feel on the pitch ❜
What he needs to improve
Though his time at Barcelona has been short, there are areas where Antoine Griezmann should look to improve. The first is his movement off the ball. This is difficult for any newcomer to Barça, but he needs to learn to stretch the opposition more and when to make runs in behind the defence. Another improvement would be his decision making in the final third. A lot of this will be solved when he develops a better understanding with the team.
Lastly, his positioning still needs some refinement. Griezmann must continue to look for space in between the lines and be an asset out of the ball for the team at all times. He needs to position himself either to create space for others, or make space for himself, especially against teams defending deep. If all this requirements are met and joined by his undeniable quality, the next time Griezmann steps on the pitch for Barcelona is bound to be even better than the previous one.
How Zidane’s Real Madrid beat Koeman’s Barcelona
The highly anticipated day of El Clasico, the clash of eternal rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid finally arrived. The Blaugrana were just two points ahead of Los Blancos with the same number of games played. Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid are at their most vulnerable right now; recent losses to Sevilla and Chelsea had already demoralized the team. Additionally, Luis Suarez – their top scorer -, is injured.
El Clasico has incredible importance on its own. Add to that the fact that it will be pivotal in the title race, and it becomes apparent how much it means to both sides. In this tactical analysis, we take a look at how Real Madrid managed to conquer Barcelona in a 2-1 victory.
Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona lined up in a 3-5-2 as expected. This formation is one that has contributed to Barcelona’s recent positive results significantly. Though this could be viewed as a 5-3-2 or even a 3-5-2-1 at times, the basic principles remained the same. Barcelona would look to build up from the back. The backline of Ronald Araujo with Clement Lenglet and Oscar Mingueza on either side of him was the platform upon which the team would build-up.
In midfield, Sergio Busquets would be the deepest player, with Frenkie De Jong and Pedri Gonzalez as the two interiors. These two youngsters would operate in the half-spaces as their roles entail, but they would drop back and join the attack as well. Jordi Alba and Sergino Dest, the two wing-backs, would look to stretch the opposition and would be positioned high up the field.
In attack, Lionel Messi was joined by Ousmane Dembele. The Frenchman would operate through the centre as Messi would usually drop back and have the freedom to move across the pitch.
Zinedine Zidane has often been labelled as someone who manages big egos well but doesn’t have tactical expertise. Purely a misconception, this match was an example of how well the retired midfielder sets up his team. What was most admirable was how Zidane finds the perfect role for his players’ profiles.
Real Madrid were deployed in a 4-1-4-1. Casemiro would play between the lines, with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos just ahead oh him. This formation could also be viewed as a 4-5-1, which would be a 4-3-3 when attacking. In defence, Eder Militao and Nacho were the centre-halves with Lucas Vasquez and Ferland Mendy as the full-backs. To support the midfield as well as the attack, Vinicius Junior and Fede Valverde would act as wide midfielders.
Karim Benzema, the number nine, would drift into the channels or drop a bit deeper as required. He was the key to Madrid’s fluid attack. There would be a constant staggering between Benzema, Vinicius, and Valverde. When Benzema dropped deep to fight for the second ball, Vinicius and Fede would move forward and provide passing options. At times, Vasquez would overlap, which was Valverde’s cue to drop back. The players would also switch roles.
Madrid’s defensive organization
After getting a lead, Real Madrid were still proactive but to a lesser extent than earlier. They would even have five players defending at times, transitioning into a 5-4-1. Their timing and organization was impressive nonetheless. As we see in the image above, Ousmane Dembele is about to receive the pass. Immediately, Casemiro presses him, while other players start moving forward to close the distance to possible passing options. This meant Barcelona had little time on the ball deep in Madrid’s half.
The pressing shown by Los Blancos was very fine-tuned. The players were unsurprisingly not hesitant to play a physical game as well. As the earlier image shows us, Ousmane Dembele would receive the ball ahead of the defense and attempt to involve other players. Pedri and de Jong were the most obvious passing options. However, for them, the passing would more often than not be out wide. This was forced due to Madrid’s structure which prevented them from playing through the middle.
Arguably one of Barcelona’s strongest moves is when Messi plays Jordi Alba through between the full-back and centre-halves. Though it was effective at some points in the match, this was clearly something Zidane expected. When either full-back would have crossing options, the full-backs would look to block the cross.
Simultaneously, the centre-halves would track Barcelona’s attackers Messi and Dembele. These two being the only two forwards, Mingueza’s goal was one of the few times the team actually had more players looking to attack. Casemiro would be in the box looking to clear the ball or cover for any defensive holes.
What went wrong for Barcelona?
Ronald Koeman’s team selection was well-thought-out. Shifting de Jong to midfield was a smart choice. However, as the scoreline clearly shows, some issues persisted.
One of the main ones being the lack of attackers in the final third. This was a formation with two attackers on paper, but one of them was Messi. Expecting the argentine to make runs off the ball and act as a target man is highly unrealistic. He does best when he’s on the ball. This would leave Dembele alone upfront. The Frenchman isn’t a classic number 9 who takes shots on the swivel and can establish himself in the box. Against a defence that was sitting very deep, he was unable to run onto the ball between the full-backs and centre-halves the way he likes to.
The image above shows a common scenario observed in the first half. Receiving the ball in the final third, Dembele turns to face the defenders. As they don’t lunge in, rather trying to contain him. he is unable to beat them in a 1v1. There is plenty of space with no Barcelona players highlighted in the image. This lack of attackers was one of the reasons Koeman switched to the 4-3-3. Shown below, the 4-3-3- allowed Pedri and Dembele to be more involved.
Below, we have a visualization showing the PPDA stats for both teams. A lower PPDA means a higher pressing intensity. As we can see, Barcelona were clearly pressing much more than Real Madrid throughout the match. Despite this, they failed to create enough chances. To demonstrate this, we can observe the xG graph.
As the xG graph shows, there were some situations when the Catalans had a chance to change the score-line in their favour. Among other reasons, Dembele’s inability to play as a striker and inefficiency in finishing was clearly affecting the team. The visualization below the xG graph shows the shot map. It further reaffirms the observation that Barcelona need to improve in front of the goal and in terms of the quality of chances created.
With a higher number of shots, Barcelona still had a lower xG than their rivals. Another indication of low-quality chances is the size of the circles in the box for both teams. The smaller the circle, the less likely it is to end up in the back of the net. The stark contrast is one of the many indicators that there are major issues to be resolved in attack for Koeman’s side.
This loss will hurt Barcelona, even more so as it strengthens the notion that his team doesn’t show up in big matches. If Koeman’s side wants to be Champions, now is the time to give their all. One cannot ignore the fact that the Blaugrana have a lot of work to do to be deserving of the La Liga title. Whether or not they will be able to do this remains to be seen.