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Analysis

The curious case of Antoine Griezmann at Barcelona

What’s going wrong for Antoine Griezmann at Barcelona? Was it a mismatched signing in the first place, or does it go deeper than that?

Suhas Achanta

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Header Image by AFP7 via Imago

The controversial 2–2 draw from Barcelona with Atlético de Madrid has provided the footballing community with several talking points. The one thing that has everybody’s attention is the case of Antoine Griezmann.


Barcelona against Atlético de Madrid always provides 90 minutes of high voltage football from both sides. The intensity is usually at its peaks, with players making reckless challenges and engaging in arguments. Yesterday’s clash was no different from the ordinary, as it ended in a 2–2 draw. However, there was one major component of the game that killed the spirit. The questionable decisions by the referee alongside the VAR officiating remains one of the most discussed aspects of the game.

While the stalemate hurt the Catalans more due to their aims of retaining the league title, the manager Quique Setién was subjected to severe criticism. Although he got the game plan right, the substitutions were remarkably late. The fans have been going hard on him for not reacting quickly to change the nature of the game. Notably, the usage of Antoine Griezmann hasn’t gone well with numerous fans, including his father.

“I understand it’s tough for Griezmann to come on when so little time left. I will speak with him tomorrow, I won’t apologise because we have to make decisions”

Quique Setién

Setién justified his actions by saying that he didn’t want to destabilise the team. Unfortunately, not many cooled down with his explanation. The fact that the Frenchman was brought on in the 91st minute seems to be hard to fathom. Everyone knows that he is a game-changer and poses the qualities to cause damage to the opposition when he gets going.

“In order to apologise you first need the the keys of the lorry and that is not the case, because he is simply a passenger”

Alain Griezmann
Antoine’s father on Instagram, in reference to Quique Setién

The fact that Luis Suárez remained on the pitch for the entire game despite his under-par performance continues to remain a question mark to the fans. It’s still a doubt as to whether Quique Setién has the power to make such changes. With rumours of him losing the dressing room emerging, one can’t blame the coach. There is a massive possibility of Setién not being able to take Suárez off because of the Uruguayan’s influence and player power.

Despite all the question marks that loom over Quique’s decisions throughout the game, the Griezmann treatment isn’t acceptable. The Catalans paid €120 million to the colchoneros to acquire his services, and it makes no sense of him getting such minuscule game-time. Something is wrong.

A questionable signing

Ever since Antoine Griezmann‘s move to the Camp Nou was announced last summer, there has been a massive backlash over the need for signing him. The fans were left baffled by the board’s decision to spend heavily on a Griezmann when they clearly needed to invest in other departments. The azulgranas are devoid of wingers, and also don’t have a decent range of defensive options. Instead of spending money on these areas, the acquisition of Antoine took the fans by surprise.

Antoine Griezmann Atlético de Madrid Barcelona case

After being the star at Atlético, Antoine Griezmann has had to live in the shadow at Barcelona | Photo by Gabriel Bouys / AFP via Getty Images

The nature of the deal, the transfer fee and the controversy over Griezmann’s move from Atlético de Madrid forced him to prove his worth to his new club. Under former manager Ernesto Valverde, he managed to go on a good run of form. When Lionel Messi was out through injury, the Frenchman scored several clutch goals to help his side cross the line.

He won over the fans with his tireless commitment, not only to the attack but also defensively. Griezmann was tracking back, making tackles, and helping the defence on numerous occasions. He is played out of position, though, as Suárez continues to be questionably undroppable. From a striker for Atleti to being deployed at the left flank, Antoine has had a tough period.

Why isn’t Quique Setién being able to use Griezmann properly?

To answer this question, the only direction in which this discussion should go is regarding how much authority Quique Setién has. It has been widely reported that, at Barcelona, the players have an unhealthy amount of power. Over the past few months, we can see that some on-field decisions look too bizarre for the manager to be making them. There is massive speculation as to whether the senior players are forcing Setién to make the calls that are convenient for their agendas.

“Maybe it wasn’t logical to bring him on that late, but it was worse to not do so. A player like him can always do something. We didn’t bring him on before because the team was doing well, Riqui was doing well, we always try to have Suárez and Messi on the pitch. It is difficult to find a place for Griezmann without destabilising the team”

Quique Setién
on Antoine Griezmann being a late substitute against Atlético de Madrid

With the situation slowly slipping out of his hands, Setién has no other go but to comply with the demands that are being made. As seen in the past, even under Even Valverde, the coach is highlighted as a scapegoat during bad results. There seems to be a lack of ownership from the footballers, and the signs of dressing room confrontation seem to be evident. Quique Setién could be having his hands tied in such a situation, and would have had no choice but to bench Griezmann.

Conclusion

Player power, dressing room unrest, out of position on the field: Griezmann’s move to Barcelona isn’t the dream he hoped to be. Despite the massive complications that have hampered his Barça career, there is still hope for him to succeed. If he is allowed to play at the position he likes, he will be able to score goals for fun. The fact that he managed to score a massive amount of goals for a defensive side like Atlético de Madrid highlights his capabilities.

The problem for Griezmann is not just on the pitch, but issues out of his hands as well. He should either be freed by the current coach or should wait till there is someone bold enough to make the right calls. There is no way that Luis Suárez, Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann can fit in the same system where the Frenchman’s talents aren’t restricted. So for now, he should look to continue working hard. The fans have already understood that he isn’t getting the treatment he deserves. It’s only a matter of time before he either gets to play in the right position or make demands for doing so.

At this point, there is no use of arguing as to whether the board spent heavily on the right player. Instead, there’s a need to see how Griezmann can succeed at the club and not struggle in Barça’s system. With yet another Philippe Coutinho situation emerging, immediate action must be taken.


See more

Quique Setién under pressure: Justified or toxic?

• Another Lionel Messi milestone: 700 career goals

• Goals analysis: Barcelona 2–2 Atlético de Madrid

• Barcelona 2–2 Atlético de Madrid: Match Summary

I started writing so that I could bridge the gap and pass time on days when there were no matches. But little did I know that writing about the beautiful game would amp up my love for it. I've always wanted to learn more, and share whatever insights I have on the game, to anyone, anywhere. The world stops for 90 minutes when your team plays, and that for me is very much true.

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Analysis

Koeman’s system in the Barcelona 4-0 Villareal

Anurag Agate

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Photo by David Ramirez via Imago

With a 4-0 victory at the Camp Nou, Koeman’s side has started the season on a positive note. Find out more about the tactical aspect of the match in this tactical analysis of Barcelona’s match against Villareal.


La Liga is finally back, and it’s back in full swing. We saw many high-scoring matches, with even Atleti scoring 6 goals against Granada. A very entertaining start to La Liga was capped off by Barcelona’s 4-0 Victory over Villareal. Koeman’s first La Liga game in-charge of Barcelona was a resounding success. The mindset of the players involved was clearly different from the mindset under Setien. With many players looking rejuvenated, Barcelona put in a performance which was desperately needed considering the fact that the wounds from Lisbon haven’t yet healed. Find out just how Barcelona managed to dominate a strong Villareal side in this tactical analysis.

Initial systems

Barcelona started out in a 4-2-3-1 as expected. The only surprise was that Messi’s starting position was more central than usual and Griezmann occupied the right-wing. Messi does eventually drift towards the centre anyway but the starting position is usually wider.

Villareal were in a 4-4-2 which later transitioned into a 4-4-2 diamond in the second half after the substitutions. Right from the start, Villareal looked to press from the front, with Chukwueze and Moi Gomez cutting out passing lanes to the full-backs and the two Villareal strikers pressing Barcelona’s center-backs. Here, an advantage of the 4-2-3-1 Koeman deployed was immediately visible. De Jong would drop back to receive the ball and then play it forward to Busquets, who was the other pivot. Had Barcelona played a 4-3-3, the pivot would have dropped back to receive the ball and build-up from the back in this case. But the midfield would be stretched vertically which we saw many times last season.

In midfield, Barcelona were prevented from playing through the centre by Parejo and Coquelin. The distance between Villareal’s midfield and defense lines was not much which forced Barcelona towards the wings. This strategy came back to bite Villareal in the form of Ansu Fati. The 17-year-old left-winger was unplayable against Villareal. Gaspar was unable to contain him. Jordi Alba was much better than in a long time. The work-rate Koeman demands and the many extra training sessions were really showing. After a 2019/20 season which wasn’t the best for Barcelona, yesterday’s performance was very impressive.

Koeman’s foresight

Both wingers would regularly tuck-in between the full-backs and center-halves. This allowed Barcelona’s full-backs to advance up the field much more. With the full-backs attacking and the wingers tucking in, the Villareal defensive line would be occupied. This allowed Coutinho more space than usual. Along with this, Busquets and De Jong would be available to either stop the counter, or to act as passing options. This assortment of many attacking roles allowed Barcelona to have sustained attacking possession.

Villareal had a clear game plan as well. Considering the fact that their two strikers are performing well and are well-synchronized, the wingers were instructed to cross the ball often. The full-backs would advance, but not overlap frequently. This could either not be a part of the game plan or because of the attacking threat, Barcelona posed from the start. With Dani Parejo in midfield, Emery would ideally be able to continue playing the possession-based football his teams play. Coquelin would offer a bit of dynamism in midfield along with the Spanish midfielder.

However, Koeman took an interesting decision and gave Busquets the role to man-mark Parejo. Though both were surprisingly not the best on the ball on the day, Busquets did well to restrict Parejo to lateral and back passes. In the second-half, Vilalreal’s game plan was executed better in the 4-4-2 diamond. This allowed Parejo to get on the ball more, wit him playing a major role in the build-up. Emery knows his players’ strengths very well. Parejo in the defensive mid role, with pacey wingers on either sides means fast transitions. For Barcelona s well, the transitions were key. Coutinho’s mediapunta role and the freedom Messi has both contributed to this.

Double-pivot

We already saw the many benefits this formation has offered, taking the strengths of the players Koeman has into full consideration. The ease during build-up with one pivot dropping back, being able to sustain the attack with the mediapunta getting more space, the freedom Busquets had to man-mark Parejo, which would have been difficult in a single pivot, etc. Another one of the advantages is in defense.

Barcelona were vulnerable in defense throughout last season. Jordi Alba looks like refreshed and fitter than usual, and with Dest potentially joining the Blaugrana, the full-backs are looking promising. In case that Barcelona does get caught on the counter, Koeman does have a solution to one of the problems. When Barcelona are on the backfoot, De Jong and Busquets would need to make sure their positioning is immaculate. They were instructed to plug the gaps between the center-halves and full-backs, which would have a two-fold purpose. Firstly, through-balls against more creative players would be much more difficult, with the gaps being reduced and Coutinho and Griezmann helping in defense. Secondly, the opposition would be less likely to crowd the box, since Barcelona can now afford to get at least 4 players into the box if the pivots were to position themselves as such. However, this would be very dependent on the split-second judgment and whether the players decide to press or track-back.

Conclusion

For Koeman’s first La Liga match, the performance was quite promising. Barcelona looked better tactically and in terms of hard work than Villareal as we saw in this tactical analysis. The latter being something that Barcelona desperately need, what remains to be seen is how Barcelona will fare against teams that rely on individual ability more than Villareal and the unpredictability that follows. Apart from this, will the players be able to sustain the intense work ethic Koeman demands? If Barcelona do decently in these conditions and some others, we might see a much better season from them than expected.

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