After a streak of matches without offering much, a new system by Quique Setién accommodated Griezmann into a new role. Antoine Griezmann was undoubtedly one of the best players of the match between Barcelona and Villarreal thanks to his contributions, intensity and fluid movements. The Frenchman is smiling again.
It took nine stormy games for Antoine Griezmann to score a goal again in La Liga. The entire world had had to witness one of the world’s best players unusually off. A recent world champion and top-three of the Ballon d’Or was completely sad. He no longer saw life in colour, but saw everything in a grey as cold as winter. From the outside, fans could see the face of a man trying again and again, but his position did not favour his game in any way, making all that talent vanish.
One of the most notable problems for Antoine was the difficulty of fitting in and playing alongside the likes of Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez in attack. There was no communication, and good football was not enjoyed. It was like seeing Messi and Suárez playing alone with a totally non-existent Griezmann. It was curious that one of the best performances from the former Atlético de Madrid man was against Real Betis back in August, in a 5–2 victory with Carles Pérez and Rafinha Alcântara flanking him. In that match, neither Messi nor Suárez were available. It had never been fruitful for Antoine Griezmann to be part of the so-called MSG trio, until Barcelona visited Villarreal on Sunday.
The reality is that nothing is forever, neither the good times nor the bad streaks. Fortunately, coach Quique Setién had the vision to take the risk to do an unusual experiment for Barça. After using the famous 4–3–3 for multiple games, Setién already made an adjustment in the encounter with Atlético de Madrid, in which he used a diamond-shaped 4–4–2. Facing Villarreal on the weekend, the manager opted for a similar system, a 4–3–1–2. The starting line-up was highly questioned at first, but it contained the right players to most out of such formation. And, of course, this approach helped the entire team, but Griezmann was the most benefited footballer, along with Lionel Messi.
The role of the little prince was to play in the centre, closer to where the action takes place, participating and contributing more. When Griezmann is active in the build-up, wonderful things happen. This position also allowed him to move more freely since he knows it perfectly for his time under Didier Deschamps in the France national team and, obviously, with Diego Pablo Simeone at Atleti. However, against Villarreal was the first time in Barcelona that Antoine Griezmann played in that zone of the pitch that he likes so much.
In defence, Antoine exchanged his position with Messi so that the Frenchman could help stop the counter-attacks from the Yellow Submarine, always with intensity and intelligence. When the team recovered the ball, it was the number 17 who was mobile in the final third and offered smart off-ball runs. Despite playing in the areas where Messi often operates, this was not an obstacle. Both superstars partnered up brilliantly and circulated the ball with great ease, speed and elegance.
Antoine Griezmann, whose joy seemed to have faded at Barcelona, finally smiled again against Villarreal | Photo by José Jordán / AFP via Getty Images
Despite Griezmann’s good game, a goal was needed to seal that superb display. The ex-Atlético man indirectly participated in the azulgranas‘ first goal, which was an own goal by Pau Torres. Antoine did not touch the ball, but his movement and intentions caused the mistake by Pau after a cross by Jordi Alba.
Attempt after attempt, the player went from less to more. A couple of minutes before half-time, the 29-year-old dressed up to became an artist and transform his work of genius into a perfect goal. As if Messi had passed the magic to the Frenchman, Griezmann chipped the ball from outside the box over Sergio Asenjo, in a goal that was reminiscent of that Leo had scored against Betis in March 2019.
Everything about the goal on Sunday was poetic. Messi carried the ball towards the opposing area with two defenders chasing him. When everyone thought he was preparing to shoot, the Argentinian’s magnificent instinct was exhibited as he backheeled it to Griezmann, who was offering himself in behind. With calm and astuteness, Antoine applied the necessary strength and direction to the ball to work his magic and surprise the entire rival team with a stunning goal.
“The fact that Griezmann scored a goal is also important as it gives him confidence”
This is how Griezmann finally smiled and danced again. How satisfying it is for fans to see him so happy displaying all the talent and virtues that he possesses. If el Principito will continue to share minutes with Messi in the following matches, this has to be the approach. In the end, at Villarreal, in what arguably was his best game for Barcelona, Antoine reminded the football world who Griezmann is: one of the best players in the world.
Hopefully, this exhibition will be a motivation for the player to recognise that he can still shine in Catalonia. Supporters will have wait for the upcoming games to see how he develops, but the feelings are totally positive. For now, it is safe to say that Monsieur Griezmann is truly back in Barcelona.
Can Alexander Isak be the firepower Barcelona need in their attacking arsenal
With incoming presidential elections and the resulting anticipation of a rebuild, more and more players are being linked to Barcelona. Besides big names like Erling Haaland and David Alaba, Real Sociedad centre-forward Alexander Isak is reportedly on the Catalans’ radar. A new striker is an absolute must for the club and Isak’s €70 million release clause is turning heads. His stock is rising and he has a bright future ahead of him, but should Barcelona pursue him?
Isak is currently in the midst of his second season for Basque-outfit Real Sociedad. The 21-year old started his career at the Swedish club AIK before moving to Borussia Dortmund’s youth setup in 2017. Lacking first-team opportunities, he was loaned to Dutch club Willem II, where he tallied an impressive 14 goals and 7 assists in 18 appearances. Isak then moved to Sociedad in the summer of 2019 and scored 16 goals in his debut season. This season, he has 12 goals in 29 appearances.
He has been dubbed the “next Zlatan Ibrahimovic” by some, and with the Swedish national team, Isak has scored five goals in 18 appearances.
Tactical and Statistical Analysis
Isak has all the attributes of a classic “target man”, one whose main role is to win aerial duels and play off of creative teammates, but his game is much more than that. He stands tall at 190 cm, or 6 foot 3 inches, but has incredible speed and balance. Despite his height, however, he is only winning 42% of his aerial duels this season.
Isak likes to play off the shoulder of the defence, eagerly waiting for through balls from creative midfielders like Mike Merino or David Silva. Alternatively, he can also hold the ball up. With his combination of speed and dribbling ability, he is a constant threat on the counter-attack, capable of getting past defenders or dragging bodies and creating space for runners. He also has decent vision and passing acumen for a centre forward, but Sociedad’s set up doesn’t allow him to maximize these qualities.
Statistically, he is averaging 1.36 dribbles per 90 minutes this season at a clip of 64.8%. According to fbref.com, when compared to forwards in Europe’s top five leagues (Spain, England, France, Germany, and Italy), Isak stands out in terms of his successful pressures rate (93rd percentile), pressures in the attacking third (81st percentile), and carries into the penalty area (87th percentile).
In front of the goal, Isak is dangerous with both his feet and his head. He is unpredictable with his finishing, always keeping defenders and goalkeepers on edge. This campaign, his 12 goals are fairly evenly distributed: six with his right foot, three with his left, and three with his head. Most of his goals have come from through balls or passes over the defence. He carries the ball in his stride and finishes with confidence.
His goalscoring record was rough to start the season, scoring only four goals across 20 appearances, but he’s picked things up in 2021. The forward has been in rich vein of form, already scoring nine goals this calendar year. Furthermore, in La Liga, he has scored in each of his last six appearances, not to mention a hat trick last time out against Alavés. He could have a breakout season if he continues scoring at this rate, attracting offers from teams across Europe.
Where would he fit at Barça?
Naturally, Isak fits a need for the Blaugrana at centre forward. The team has no natural “number nine” –other than Martin Braithwaite — and with Messi entering his twilight years and potentially leaving in the summer, they desperately need goal-scorers. The Swedish international is well adapted to playing as a lone striker in a 4-3-3 system and is already accustomed to playing in La Liga, so Barça won’t need to worry about adaptation along those lines.
Tactically, his height and runs into the box could bring a different dimension to a fairly one-dimensional Barça attack. While he could fit in well with the team’s patient and possession-oriented approach, his game is more suited for runs into open spaces and spearheading counter attacks.
The question is, would he start for Barcelona? Messi is best suited for a false nine role, and Isak would not displace Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembélé, or Ansu Fati in the front line. On the contrary, he could be an extremely productive squad option, but his potential transfer fee would be too high to warrant such a role.
Should Barcelona pursue him?
There are plenty of intriguing reasons for Barça to pursue Isak, but he should not be their number one transfer target. He undoubtedly has a bright future ahead of him and is showing immense quality this season, but he might not be ready to carry Barcelona’s front line.
There will be a lot asked of him, and he will be expected to perform on the biggest stages in world football, and his zero goals in the Europa League this season are not reassuring. Despite his incredible form over the last few games, Barça need to see more consistent output if he is to be their number nine for the next decade.
He would also cost the club around 70 million euros, and that money could serve the team better by investing that in other areas like centre back or centre defensive mid.
While he is still young and has time to improve, Barcelona should focus on more refined and finished products.
On the one hand, Isak could bring a lot to the Blaugrana and offer much-needed variation to their attack. On the other hand, there are signs pointing to the fact that he is not yet the calibre of player Barcelona need to lead their frontline, especially for that sum of €70 million. He could be a more than sufficient squad option and someone who could develop in the long term, but once again, that transfer fee warrants caution.
Also, facilitating his move could be quite difficult given that his ex-team Borussia Dortmund have a reported €30 million “buy-back” clause attached to his name. If (and when) the German club are to lose Erling Haaland, they could easily opt for Isak as his replacement.
Isak is a solid striker and has a lot of potential, but he is not yet the player capable of leading Barcelona’s front line. That paired with his potential transfer fee means the club should focus on other transfer targets first.