La Liga will return on June 12. That means many aspects of the footballing world will change, but, taking a broader picture from society, it might not be a bright idea.
Football has been put on hold for far too long. Surely that’s what every La Liga fan thought after watching the games in Germany last weekend. Well, today they got the good news: Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has given the greenlight to a return from the top flight on June 8, and thus La Liga may be returning on June 12.
After the Bundesliga’s triumphant return, La Liga supporters were eager to watch their teams battling it out for relegation, Europe or the title. Because one of the things that made this domestic campaign more exciting than before was the outstanding level of the individuals. While youngsters like Ansu Fati for Barcelona and Ferran Torres for Valencia were enjoying encouraging terms, with the former breaking records and the latter impressing continentally, veterans also displayed their class. Luka Modrić, Joaquín Sánchez or Santi Cazorla showed the way for the youngsters in their side, and the latter’s return to form was a joy to behold this season.
This excited La Liga fans, who had a superb season with many competitive teams playing some mesmeric football. Real Madrid had a great run of form before losing top spot against Betis on the last week before lockdown, and the merengues felt like they did not deserve to lose the league, as Thibaut Courtois stated. “It wouldn’t be fair to me if Barcelona were proclaimed champions”, the Belgian goalkeeper argued. Former Barça player and Courtois’ past teammate at Chelsea, Cesc Fàbregas, responded: “Everyone defends their own interests. But if La Liga stopped, as it has done in France, Barcelona would be worthy winners”.
La Liga president Javier Tebas was always optimistic about La Liga’s return | Photo by Juan Carlos Hidalgo via Imago
But that won’t be the case, since the 11 remaining matchdays in La Liga will be completed. Many sides will be looking to continue where they had left the competition. The Barcelona stars were beginning to understand Setién’s principles before lockdown happened. Striker Raúl de Tomás changed Espanyol completely, and they looked more likely to stay up with their January signing. Atlético de Madrid beat Liverpool and were in a hard-fought race for Champions League football with Valencia, Real Sociedad, Getafe and Sevilla.
Resuming La Liga is excellent for the rest of the contest. Viewers will finally see out a stressful season and everything will go back to normal, except one thing: the fans. The fans are one of the essential parts of the game. Without fans, nothing is genuinely the same in football and especially La Liga. Derbies, last-minute goals, last-ditch tackles. These are the moments that get the crowd going. It will be a bit sad that these moments will have to be played behind closed doors, but if it means La Liga comes back, fans are going to agree to it.
❛ The only irreplaceable thing in football is fans. Football is the people ❜
Moreover, financially speaking, the return of the beautiful game is great. Without football, teams have struggled. Most players have taken wage cuts, but for some clubs, it wasn’t enough. Over at Rayo Vallecano, coach Paco Jémez was unhappy with the directives for disrespecting its employees. Meanwhile, the return of football was not welcomed by some footballers. Players like Watford’s captain Troy Deeney have stated that they are scared to come back positive and infect their families, as the English forward has a young kid. It’s an understandable fear, and some were even against the idea of going back to training so prematurely.
The return of La Liga is a considerable deal sportively and financially speaking, but it’s too big of a sanitary risk. Yes, the Bundesliga has experienced some success with the return, but players are not immune to the virus. They will apparently go through two tests a week. But what if they test positive? What happens to the team? What happens to the season? Is there an emergency plan? Also, some people have broken lockdown rules. Like Fyodor Smolov for Celta de Vigo or Luka Jović for Real Madrid. What will be the deal with them?
And what about the teams that have suffered a lot from the virus? Staff members and footballers at Valencia were comprehensively taken ill after they played against Atalanta. How is the La Liga going to justify any potential absentees and what solutions do they have to all these questions? It seems like the return of La Liga could do more harm than good, and too many uncertainties revolve around it.
Football should be played the usual way, without restrictions and social distancing, even if it means the season needs to be cancelled. Two weeks ago, the Ligue 1 was suspended, and teams are now preparing for the next campaign, where football will be regular.
All in all, the return of La Liga is a superb financial and sporting move, but the people at the top should prioritise their players’ health more before caring about the industry’s wealth.
Consistently persistent: The Antoine Griezmann story at Barcelona
Going into yesterday’s game against Sevilla, things were finally starting to look up for the team. After all, before that, they had beaten that same squad 2-0 at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium in La Liga and were raring for revenge in the Copa del Rey as well. Ronald Koeman’s new system was looking like a success, and players like Sergiño Dest and Ousmane Dembélé were coming to their own. At first glance, life for everyone at the Camp Nou was finally going in the right direction. Everyone expect Antoine Griezmann, that is.
The news that he’d be starting the all-important clash against Sevilla on the bench must’ve been tough to hear. After all, that was his third game in a row where he would sit on the sidelines instead of being included in the gala XI. For a player of his calibre, reputation and status, that is almost unfathomable.
First, there was the game against Elche. Barcelona managed to win that one comfortably, putting away three goals to snatch all three points on the night. Griezmann, however, would participate only for 14 minutes before the final whistle with no real contribution to his name. That change came on the back of the necessity to rest the Frenchman. Next was the first of the two victories over Sevilla, and that one was even worse.
Griezmann found himself on the bench for the whole duration of the game, not even getting the chance to play in what was a glorious day for the Catalans. With everyone happy for the result, the performance and camaraderie, we completely forgot about Griezmann, our €120 million signing. And that was the main issue. How can you forget about him when he’s supposed to be a key player in this squad?
Then came the third game as Barcelona welcomed Sevilla to the Camp Nou for the return leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final. And Griezmann? Well, sadly he was on the sidelines again as Koeman seemingly couldn’t find a way to squeeze him into his new and refined system. But this time around, with Barcelona needing one more goal to force extra-time, the Dutchman was somewhat forced to call upon his World Cup-winning bench-warmer just before the 70th-minute mark.
The ‘Griezou-signal’ was lit, and the former Atlético Madrid superstar sprung into action, making his presence felt almost immediately. Of course, the highlight of his evening was sending Diego Carlos back to Andalusia with that excellent dummy and assisting the goal, but for the most part, the work he did won’t show up in stats.
This is the crux of the problem too. Griezmann does so much for the team, and yet, all of it is so difficult to put into something palpable. Yes, he’s also scoring goals, but when he’s not, he’s often getting attacked for not doing enough. This, needless to say, is harsh and sometimes even unfair.
But it’s also not exactly that simple either. A striker will always be judged by his performance in front of goal. Roberto Firmino of Liverpool is maybe the greatest example. There are not many others of his elk in the footballing world, but despite all the incredible things he makes possible for the Reds, the Brazilian was still harshly criticised once his output had gone down. The same may be happening to Griezmann.
He’s an unbelievable utility guy — a player whose movement both creates and exploits space while also offering an outlet in tight spaces and in transitions. The problem is that despite all of that, the unmeasurable will never outweigh the measurable in the eyes of the fans.
Of course, that’s unfair, but it’s also expected. Not everyone is an expert, and we often take things at face value, which is not ideal but rather the path of least resistance. So it’s always easier to write him off because the stats tell you to do so. Even the eye-test might not initially present you with a palpable contribution worthy of a €120M signing. But it is there, hidden underneath.
And the best part? It’s finally starting to show in the stats too. Let’s take his 57 minutes played against Sevilla as an example. Had it not been for that excellent assist, many wouldn’t have bothered to even look at him twice, but it was very much an incredible display.
According to SofaScore, Griezmann recorded 36 touches on the night, deploying three key passes, one of which was the crucial assist to Gerard Piqué, completed both of his dribbles, maintained excellent accuracy with 23/25 passes and won five out of his six ground duels.
Not to mention, he continued to display his incredible work-rate off the ball, filling in for the limping Pique as a false-centre back. We have come full circle, yes, but the World Cup winner made an incredible inside the box against a pass that was well on its way to an unmarked Youssef En-Nesyri.
So in that single be-all, end-all performance against a tough opponent, the Frenchman has managed to participate in all phases of Barcelona’s play. Now that is what you call a palpable contribution if there ever was one.
But even if you wanted to make an argument that this is not happening consistently enough, stats beg to differ. Griezmann may be struggling but even so, his output is getting better and better with each passing game. Again, consulting SofaScore for all of our stats, it’s fascinating to see him grow over time.
In his first season at the Camp Nou in 2019, Griezmann was only able to register 12 goal contributions (eight goals, four assists) in 23 games. The next year, that figured rose to 14 goal contributions (12 goals, two assists) in 44 games in 2020. And now in 2021? He’s only 17 games in but already at 16 goal contributions (seven goals, nine assists), eclipsing both of his previous two tallies. Quite impressive, to say the least.
Griezmann for Barcelona so far:— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) March 4, 2021
2019: 12 goal contributions (8 goals, 4 assists) in 23 games.
2020: 14 goal contributions (12 goals, 2 assists) in 44 games.
2021: 16 goal contributions (7 goals, 9 assists) in 17 games.
— @SofaScoreINT pic.twitter.com/oE8ETbuZXT
But that is not all. With a total of 27 goals, he is already the third-best French goalscorer in the history of the club, equal with Dembélé and 22 behind the legendary Thierry Henry. His nine assists across all competitions for the Blaugrana, however, mean that he’s recorded more than any other La Liga player in 2021 so far.
So however you turn and however you choose to look at it, Griezmann is still performing admirably. Maybe more is expected from him but that’s only because we know that he is world-class.
However, it still remains to be seen whether Koeman truly believes there’s a place for him in his new system. If so, who would he be replacing anyway? It’s a tough question that’s very difficult to answer and despite his obvious improvement, nothing in life or football is guaranteed.
Griezmann, just like everyone else, will have to fight for his spot in the team. Whether he emerges victorious or not won’t depend entirely on him, though. As for us, we can only wait and hope for what’s best for the club, whatever that may be in the long-term.