Heading into a new season, the French star will be hoping for anything but a repeat of last season. With a new coach and a new system, what will be Antoine Griezmann’s role under Koeman?
A new season, a new coach and a new jersey number. At this point, a new start in exactly what Antoine Griezmann has his hopes pinned to. Coming into a demanding team like FC Barcelona with the weight of a 120M transfer fee is a cumbersome task. Whilst one cannot say that the Frenchman was a total letdown, it wouldn’t be right to say he had a successful run either.
Just in the first year at the club, Griezmann has already seen 2 different philosophies. He did not flourish particularly well under either of the coaches last season. Arriving at a new club often demands adapting to play where the club needs reinforcements. Unfortunately, this often seeps the best out of even elite players. Under the counsel of both Ernesto Valverde and Quique Setien, Griezmann found himself playing too wide. While the team struggled to create openings upfront, the Frenchman often contributed more as a defensive force. Many a time, his defensive showing proved more notable than his performance as a forward.
Looking ahead to the next season, he will be looking for more than just redemption. More than anything, it is his confidence that needs rejuvenation. And while many remain sceptical, a change in ideology might be exactly what the French star needs.
Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images
Ronald Koeman seems to be one who knows the value of deploying players in their natural positions. Maximising the performance of each individual is the first step in lifting the team as a whole. The dutchman has continuously reiterated that he wants to provide the likes of Frenkie de Jong and Phillipe Coutinho with the right positions where they can flourish. It is this very homely niche that Griezmann requires too.
This season promises to be a completely new ballgame for the former Atletico Madrid star. The first major change will indeed be the change in the system. Unlike the traditional 4-4-3 that Barcelona is often associated with, Koeman intends to shift the system to a 4-2-3-1. It is indeed a gargantuan change for the Blaugranas. The new system delegates a massive portion of the creative responsibility on the forwards, while the double pivot faces a larger responsibility in the defensive side. It also provides much more space in between the lines, something ideally suited for Griezmann.
At the same time, the change in personnel is a critical factor for the number 7’s season. With Luis Suarez’s departure to Atletico Madrid imminent, Barcelona needs a new target man. The number 9 role may not necessarily be his natural position, however, it is a much better position for him than on the wing. The Uruguayan’s departure opens up new opportunities in the centre of the attack, which he will be looking to capitalise on.
Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
Concurrently, the return of Phillipe Coutinho poses some fundamental worries. Neither of Coutinho, Griezmann or Messi prefers to operate as an out and out goalscorer. With all 3 stars playing in similar areas on the field, there are doubts regarding the success of the trio together.
The preseason was our first glimpse into Koeman’s system. Though it may be too early to judge, the early signs indeed looked promising for the French striker. It is still unclear as to who will occupy the spearhead role. Griezmann, however, was provided will total freedom, playing as a floater in the halfspace. There was a visible increase in fluid interchanges in position with Leo Messi. Besides, a stark difference was seen in his defensive contributions which were considerably less. The double-pivot undoubtedly provides him with more freedom in attack. Moreover, he looked to be more proactive than ever, with seemingly more shots on goal than usual.
Undoubtedly, this is exactly what Barcelona need from Antoine. A signing that was made to elevate the front line might just see a resurgence. The stakes will be high, and more goals will be expected from the Frenchman. However, a renewed role and a new system may just hold the key to unleashing the beast inside. It is a do or die season, can he cope with the expectations?
Ronald Koeman and a case of poor game-management
Ronald Koeman has had a rollercoaster of a start to life as Barcelona manager. He had an excellent opening week, claiming a thumping 4-0 home win against Villarreal as well as a 3-0 away victory at Celta Vigo, but since then, things have started derailed.
From no goal against and seven for in his first two to six apiece over his last four matches, the Catalan side seems to be crumbling under the immense pressure being placed on their shoulders. The cherry on this miserable cake was his poor game-management against Real Madrid as Barcelona chased the game for the last 30 minutes, eventually succumbing to a 3-1 loss.
The starting line up
Dest – Pique – Lenglet – Jordi Alba
Busquets – F. De Jong
Pedri – Lionel Messi – Coutinho
On paper, this is one of the best starting line ups that Koeman could have played against Real Madrid. Sergiño Dest was finally playing in his rightful position, Jordi Alba was back from injury, Sergio Busquets was there to provide defensive aid to de Jong and Pedri, a 17-year-old in phenomenal form was deservedly called up to play. Normally, this should have been a good game given the perfect blend of the zeal and zest that comes with youth and the calmness and composure that comes from the experience; however, it was anything but.
Busquets has seen far better nights in his time as a Blaugrana. In the game, he was often poorly positioned, lost possession countless times and was simply incapable of playing through the pressure imposed on him by the defending champions.
Pedri meanwhile made little to no impact. This was to be expected given the fact that he is most influential when playing down the middle but Koeman decided to use him as an out and out winger instead with no explanation.
Pedri was no by means poor; but was a lot less influential than what he can be. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
Perhaps due to his injury, and the fact that he was completely out of position, Philippe Coutinho wasn’t as effective as he has or could have been. Jordi Alba had a rather good first half and easily could have had two assists, but his influence decreased as both the game and his legs wore on.
Real Madrid were forced into making their first change early on, but unlike his counterpart, Zinedine Zidane made a tactical change at a time when the player in question had adequate time to make an impact. Given the fact that Pedri, Coutinho, Busquets and Alba simply weren’t having their day, and that Koeman had five substitutions at his disposal, he should have taken them off well before the 82nd minute, when his first change was made.
Keeping in mind the strength in depth that the hosts had on the bench, Koeman should have made like for like changes in the team to both add some of the much-needed dynamism in play as well as maintain a structured shape when in possession of the ball. Instead, he opted for the following:
- Antoine Griezmann for Fati
- Ousmane Dembele for Busquets
- Fransisco Trincão for Pedri
- Martin Braithwaite for Alba
These substitutes served to worsen the team’s functionality in possession, as no one was anywhere where they could actually make an impact on proceedings. The formation essentially went from what was a fairly balanced 4-2-3-1 to a 3-1-6 and with no clear plan for how the six forward players were to position themselves.
Subbing off Alba for a striker seemed like a bizarre decision. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
Even with Junior Firpo and Miralem Pjanic at his disposal, players who would help in ball circulation while maintaining a reasonable offensive shape, Koeman decided to patch up the holes he saw in the team by adding more attacking players but this inadvertently made them bigger.
The Dutchman made the same mistakes against Getafe, bringing on Riqui Puig for Sergi Roberto in the dying minutes of the game. Not to mention he subbed on Braithwaite for Frenkie de Jong which crumbled the team structure.
What does this tell us about Koeman?
Sergio Ramos scored the penalty that put the visitors in the lead in the 64th minute. There was more than enough time, for Koeman to think of the changes that he could make which would — at the very least — last 25 minutes.
While the sample size is rather small, thus far we could say that he doesn’t seem to have a plan B whenever the team is in a losing position and that his fear of defeat impedes his judgment. Koeman had an abundance of quality on the bench but has made deplorable use of it. This stems from either out of a complete lack of trust in his players’ suitability in the team or distrust in his own tactics.
As a result, the players on the pitch, such as Griezmann – who made just a single touch in his short cameo role – were just as clueless, if not more than their manager.
Where do the improvements lie?
There is obviously an improvement in the football that the team is playing thus far in La Liga. As Jose Bordalas said, Barcelona is more direct than they were in previous seasons but this exuberance can only last so long, especially with players like Busquets who are on the wrong end of thirty. In games like this or the one against Getafe, the manager needs to have a clear and concise plan in mind on what to do whenever the team is trailing.
Bartomeu is gone, and Koeman’s fate lies in the hand of the new president. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)
While he could be forgiven for a shaky start to the campaign, he will not be given a lot of time, not as much as Ernesto Valverde got, especially given a change in administration due very soon. Xavi is a clear target for most of the presidential candidates and if Koeman wants to keep his job beyond this season, then he needs to work on his squad management. This can come by shaking up the setup from time to time and showing some more faith in what is one of the best, most complete squads Barcelona has had in years.