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Are Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann finally starting to click?



Photo by Joma Garcia via Imago

A year and a half after his arrival to the Camp Nou, Antoine Griezmann is still very much a hot topic back in Catalonia. The 29-year-old forward’s quality can not really be disputed, courtesy of years of elite showings at Atlético Madrid, but his Barcelona stint is still under a big question mark.

Griezmann blows hot and cold, to put it in simple terms and mildly at that. However, a 120 million euro signing doesn’t really have the leisure to blow hot and cold. Sure, everyone can have a day off and even the likes of Lionel Messi struggle from time to time.

But a player of his quality, status and experience should never even put himself in a situation to be over-analysed and criticised as much as he has been for the past year and a half. But speaking of Leo as well, the Argentine has played a massive role in Griezmann’s (mis)fortune and will likely continue to do so.

The two are fairly similar players in the sense that they often want to occupy the same areas of the pitch and have a knack of forcing the game to flow through them. In other words, both players are used to being the centrepiece of their teams’ tactics and naturally, such player profiles are more than likely to clash on the pitch.

But despite Griezmann also having a big reputation back under Diego Simeone, there was never any doubt as to who would end up victorious in their ‘battle‘. Of course, here, ‘battle‘ may be too harsh of a definition of the current situation but the gist still remains.

If the two were ever going to make it work, it would be Griezmann who ends up adapting to Messi, not the other way around. Initially, that seemed like a mission impossible. As a result of their stagnating – or even deteriorating – relationship on the pitch, the Frenchman’s influence was non-existent week in, week out.

Again, for a player of his calibre and now, unfortunately, price tag, that was largely unacceptable. And it still is. However, there are signs Ronald Koeman may finally be onto something here. In fact, Griezmann has so far registered six assists for the team in 2020/21, half of which were directly to Leo himself.

It may not be a huge sample and it may not even paint the full picture but it’s still an encouraging sign. Take yesterday’s game for example. Griezou was the one to assist Messi for the equaliser in the 69th minute and it came after a beautifully constructed play.

Griezmann often makes runs behind the opposition’s line but for one reason or the other, he is also often heavily ignored by his teammates. Whether that’s just because of a lack of line-breaking passers in the team or something else, we cannot state for sure, but last night’s goal was a perfect depiction of what can happen when those runs are met with a great ball.

And then, once in that position and exploiting the space perfectly, Griezmann is selfless in his delivery, sending a fairly easy pass towards Messi in the box for an even easier finish. It’s a tap-in, sure, but the whole action is admirable, to say the least.

Messi Griezmann
Photo by ANDER GILLENEA/AFP via Getty Images

Even more importantly, it’s the fact that Griezmann and Messi combined to make it happen, both showing great movement, recognising the chance and then capitalising on it. However, that is not to say that suddenly all issues between them are resolved. Far from it, unfortunately.

Despite being the team’s centre-forward on the night, Griezmann was drifting to the left and, together with Junior Firpo, couldn’t offer much to Barcelona’s attacks. Looking at their respective movement, it does seem that there wasn’t as much overlap between Leo and Antoine as usual.

The former would stick to the central areas and drift to the right while the latter would mostly be deeper to the left. The problem is, one of them is always going to suffer because of it. And even though Messi is 33, he is still very much a bigger presence in the team and if someone’s going to be ‘thrown under the bus‘ between the two, it’ll never really be a contest.

Still, as mentioned earlier, there are some signs of improvement in all of that. If Griezmann can still register a notable output despite often being (mostly) uninvolved, maybe there is a spot for him in the team yet. After all, we still have no idea whether Messi will continue at the club beyond the upcoming summer.

His contract is due to expire and while ensuring this relationship blossoms, it’s also possible we won’t see them play together for much longer. And then, the spotlight will be on Griezmann to perform.

Can he shoulder that burden and become the star of the team? We can only hope so because the alternative is far from ideal.

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