With an injury to Philippe Coutinho, there is now a place available in the starting eleven, which also coincidentally happens to be Antoine Griezmann’s preferred position. If he is to succeed at Barcelona, now might be his chance.
Philippe Coutinho returned from his loan spell at Bayern Munich and was reassured of his importance to the team by Ronald Koeman. The manager promised to play him through the middle, where he is most comfortable, and the results were clear. The same cannot be said for Antoine Griezmann.
The Frenchman has been made to play out of position on the right and is to establish himself in his best role, in behind the striker. However, with the injury to Coutinho, this could be his chance to prove his worth in Catalonia. There is no doubting the 29-year-old’s quality, but he faces strong competition from others in the squad for a starting place in the team.
Will Griezmann get his chance?
Antoine Griezmann has found himself in an unfamiliar position both on and off the field recently. On the pitch, Griezmann has been played on the right-wing, and it has not suited him. Off the field, he has started from the bench in the last two matches. The World Cup winner is used to being one of the most important players in the squad and a guaranteed starter. However, his form has been poor this season, and his confidence plummeted.
“Griezmann no longer knows how to play football with the Barça jersey. He no longer finds his place. It’s been eighteen months, so it’s impacting his head, and the situation is really critical for him.”Lizarazu (ex-France international) | Goal
The key to getting the best out of the World Cup winner is by playing him centrally. In fact, he has gone on to publicly say that he prefers playing centrally and that Didier Deschamps knows where to play him.
He prefers the ball at feet and being able to link with others around him. Griezmann loves creating chances and can also score goals. The forward wants to be involved in the plays and dictate the game constantly. Therefore, he must convince his the manager that he is the man for the attacking midfielder position, where he can function as a second striker.
Antoine Griezmann is one of the best players in the world; but is not being treated like one. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)
The former Atletico Madrid star needs to recover his form if he wishes to regain a starting position. On his day, the World Cup winner unplayable and amongst the best in the world. He could be influential in helping Barcelona win trophies this season. Furthermore, having such an expensive price tag and a huge salary means it is difficult to leave him on the bench. Therefore, it is likely that Koeman will give him opportunities to convince himself, especially against Juventus, as he is yet to find the right balance within the team.
Competiton for Griezmann
Barcelona are absolutely stacked both in the forward and midfield areas. Against Real Madrid, Koeman opted to play Lionel Messi as the attacking midfielder, after five games of being used as a false nine, previously so it will be interesting to see where he plays against Juventus on Wednesday night.
Another player that can play as in that role is Pedri. The 17-year-old already looks to be a perfect match for the Blaugranas and should be considered for the game against the Old Lady.
The former Las Palmas player has already shown positive signs and was Barcelona’s only bright spark in the 1-0 defeat to Getafe. Pedri is an all-round AM and has amazing positioning and awareness. Additionally, he boasts of some impeccable footwork, vision and is creative in the final third. Most importantly, at the age of 17, he has displayed immense confidence and is slowly becoming Koeman’s favourites, so it is likely he features in some capacity.
One player that culés have been crying out for this season is Riqui Puig. It has been disappointing to see one of Barça’s best talents accumulate just five minutes as a substitute this season. This is not a way to treat or develop such a talent. In fact, when the Spaniard has played, he has consistently been one of the Catalan side’s best performers and deserves more game time based on merit.
Options, options, options. (Photo by David Ramirez via Imago)
Finally, another La Masia graduate that has been overlooked this season in Carles Aleñá. He possesses all the right attributes to play as an attacking midfielder. Aleñá is energetic, quick at moving the ball, and can play in tight areas. As part of the La Masia for several years, he also has adept positional play, and the ability to pick out a pass. The 22-year-old is too good to remain on the bench all season and should get opportunities to prove himself on the pitch.
The injury to Philippe Coutinho is unfortunate and comes at a horrible time for the club. However, this does leave the door open for others to fight for a starting role, and impress Ronald Koeman in his absence.
Leading this competition is Antoine Griezmann, who is looking to capitalise on his favoured position becoming available. He needs to take his chance quickly, though if he is to secure it for himself. There are young talents that are desperate to play and show the manager why they should be starting. Whoever does start, the competition for places should be a strong incentive for the players to give their all.
Detailed Analysis: Atletico Madrid 1-0 Barcelona
In collaboration with Anurag Agate.
Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona faced Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano. In a game marred by defensive blunders and devastating injuries, Barcelona lost the game 1-0 to fellow title-challengers.
A 1-0 loss to Atletico Madrid in La Liga left Barcelona reeling midtable. This was also the first time Diego Simeone’s side beat Barcelona in the La Liga. Coupled with crucial injuries to Gerard Pique and Sergi Roberto, Barcelona now face a dire path ahead of their UCL game against Dynamo Kyiv.
Barcelona structure and formation
Ronald Koeman went in with his tried and tested 4-2-3-1 formation. Marc Andre Ter Stegen started in goal again. Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet formed the centre back pairing, flanked by Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto. In the absence of Sergio Busquets, Miralem Pjanic stepped up to form the double pivot with the ever-present Frenkie de Jong.
Pedri and Ousmane Dembele played on the flanks, with Lionel Messi in the hole and Antoine Griezmann upfront. However, as before, Messi and Griezmann had lots of interchanging positions. Pedri played more in the half-space in possession while Dembele stayed out wide. This often made the team structure a lop-sided 4-4-2. In defensive transitions, it was always a 4-4-2 with Griezmann dropping deeper to defend. Messi restricted his pressing to zones high up the pitch.
Frenkie de Jong had the freedom to push up high in the first half. However, the absence of Ansu Fati meant that the usual overload on the left side did not work in this game. Pedri had a poor game in general. Him moving far too infield to let Alba run down the left did not quite work – the passing was far too restricted by Atleti’s excellent defending. A second-half injury to Pique meant that de Jong had to play 35 minutes roughly as a centre back, which he did very well.
Atletico structure and formation
Atletico were missing some key personnel as well, most notably perhaps, Luis Suarez up top. They also missed a regular left-back Renan Lodi, and Hector Herrera and Lucas Torreira in midfield. They lined up in a highly asymmetric 4-4-2/5-3-2 structure and style.
Stefan Savic and Jose Gimenez formed the centre back partnership. Mario Hermoso played in a hybrid centre-back/extremely defensive full-back role. Kieran Trippier was the more offensive fullback, practically functioning as a wing-back. Yannick Carrasco and Marcos Llorente joined the reliable duo of Koke and Saul Niguez in central midfield as wide midfielders. Carrasco played almost in a hybrid wide midfield/wingback role. Joao Felix and Angel Correa formed the front two.
The hybrid system was particularly evident in the different phases of the game. In attack, Hermoso would push out wide like a full back but stay in more defensive, withdrawn zones. Carrasco had the freedom to stay wide looking for overlapping runs to meet Felix’s clever passes. On the other side, Llorente would shift infield, allowing Trippier to bomb forward.
Felix himself overlapped down the left side several times, trying to create numeric overloads against Roberto and Pique, dragging Pjanic wide in the process. Carrasco’s and Felix’s overlaps on the left, coupled with Saul Niguez moving ball-near side and Correa dropping in to give options – this combination created quite a few problems in the first half. Here is an example – it led to Saul’s shot early on which was saved by ter Stegen.
The game was more or less evenly balanced – neither team were outright dominant than the other in any aspect. Here is the game data at a glance:
Barcelona enjoyed marginally more possession, marginally more shots and shots on target, and a better press than Atletico. Of course, the hosts had the all-deciding goal in their favour. Neither team generated high-quality shots overall, as the shot map and xG flowchart shows :
Barcelona’s possession superiority was pretty stale. Barcelona failed to dominate critical territorial zones, measured by field tilt – which is the percentage share of final third passes of each team. Even though Barcelona had higher field tilt, it was only marginal. What strikes out is that just the goal came when Barcelona were enjoying their best bit of territorial dominance.
Buildup to shots and goals
Next we take a look at some of the shots and the goal. Early on, Barcelona had the chance to score. Dembele burned his marker with pace and sent a cross into the box. It was met by a clever flick by Greizmann. The shot sailed high unfortunately.
Atleti had their chances on the other side as well. Soon after Saul saw his shot saved, the other flank created yet another moment of danger. A brilliant interchange of passing involving Correa and Trippier met Llorente’s clever run into the box. The shot crashed against the bar.
Towards the end of the first half, Barcelona could have scored again. There was a brilliant bit of buildup, a clever run by Griezmann to drag a defender, and then Messi ghosted blindside of the center mids to meet Alba’s nutmeg pass. The angle was too tight and Messi failed to score.
Soon after, Barcelona conceded the goal. Pique stepped up to intercept a long ball. Ideally, that should have been fine, except Pique miscontrolled the pass. That left almost everyone out of position. A simple ball over the top released Carrasco into oceans of space. But the maddening part perhaps was that ter Stegen left his box wildly to tackle the Belgian. He missed; Carrasco did not – he scored into an empty net from distance.
In the second half, Barcelona had chances to equalize. However, Lenglet headed straight at Jan Oblak twice. Greizmann headed straight at Oblak once. Barcelona failed to engineer any better chances than those. The key passes map shows the crosses into the box:
Atletico’s strength lies in engaging from wide areas. In this game, their biggest threats came again from the wide zones. Hermoso, Koke, Saul and Felix regularly released Carrasco and Trippier down the flanks. Trippier would often look for cutbacks or layoff into Llorente upfield.
Barcelona on the other hand tried to create from all possible zones. Frenkie de Jong managed to pull off a wonderful long pass into the box that Greizmann miscontrolled. Dembele single-handedly created chances from the right. The combinations of Alba and Messi created – in subdued amounts – danger from the other side.
For Barcelona, Messi, de Jong, Dembele and Alba were the bulk progressive passers. For Atleti, Koke, Trippier, Hermoso and Savic progressed the ball the most.
Both teams also tried to use width a lot. Surprisingly, Barcelona had more switches of play than Atleti, who have built their game to attack wider areas. For Barcelona, perhaps the reason for frequent switching was that they could not progress a lot directly.
The game data table posted above shows us that neither team pressed a lot. PPDA, which is a proxy for pressing intensity, was around 20 for both teams (low values of PPDA indicate high pressing). Here are the maps showing the defensive activities of both team:
Atleti forbade any progress down the centre. Upfield, they tried to press Pedri and Alba from creating too much danger. Deep in their half, they tried to force Dembele as wide as possible and tried to isolate him. Barcelona pressed all over the pitch in the middle-third. In deeper zones, they had to deal with the wide threats of Carrasco and Felix, and Llorente’s infield runs. The following plot also shows how Atleti forced passes wide and forced mistakes :
Two recurring issues troubled Barcelona yet again. The lack of chemistry and the lack of experience of the youth meant that certain runs went untracked. Atleti’s rapid front line dragged Barcelona into wrong zones, allowing trailing players to ghost into blindside runs. Saul and Llorente’s efforts at goal are perfect examples of this. In the first case, Pjanic was pulled in, leaving Saul free. In the second case, Pedri’s inexperience led to him losing his mark against Llorente completely.
Speed is always an issue that Barcelona has had trouble against. Llorente’s quick underlaps created quite a bit of trouble for Lenglet. Here is yet another example of a run – the pass from Llorente was thankfully cleared.
The goal was a combination of poor positioning and lack of speed, combined with some poor touch and terrible decision-making. Pique was out of position when he made the failed interception. No one in the team was speedy enough to catch up to Carrasco down the left. Ter Stegen should have communicated better with Lenglet and stayed in the box because Lenglet was haring down to secure the centre.
Issues have now been compounded with injuries to Pique and Roberto. If they face lengthy spells away from the pitch, Barcelona are stretched thin in the defence department. De Jong looks set to continue as a centre back for the next game at the very least and Sergino Dest will have to start. Barcelona faces extremely testing times ahead.