Antoine Griezmann: an unsolved puzzle for FC Barcelona

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Antoine Griezmann for Barcelona

Antoine Griezmann made a glittering move to Barcelona from Atletico Madrid in the summer of 2019, but things haven’t gone as they were craved. The French International had a tough time coping in, and still, he is striving, but unfortunately, nothing is resolved. But what precisely did go wrong in such a propitious move?

The reasons are mostly tactical as it should be. Antoine Griezmann is still the player he was before, but the gameplan of Barca isn’t just having sweet chemistry with him. And soon to say, Griezmann’s problems are exclusively positional in Barcelona, where his role coincides with that of a certain Argentine.

Griezmann started most of the matches on the right side or in the centre (behind a pure striker) while he was in Atletico. His strong left foot gives him the advantage to feature on the right side and his “no. 10 characteristics’ let him do so behind a number nine.

Antoine Griezmann at Atletico
Atletico’s starting line up vs Juventus. Griezmann playing as a second striker down the right-hand side.

 

But Barcelona seemed to buy him for different reasons which may not make sense to us. Hence this is the reason why they couldn’t integrate Griezmann to their game; lack of plans. Well, this is a different debate but ultimately this what leads us to know what exactly has gone wrong with the french world cup winner.

GRIEZMANN’S DOWNFALL AT BARCELONA

Griezmann under Valverde and Setien:

Barca was having problems with their left-wing position and so with their striking force as Suarez’s form was constantly going down. Time to time, Barcelona managers used him as an LW or as an ST, but in both circumstances, it did not work out quite well. Antoine Griezmann is hugely versatile, but his best form can be seen while he features behind a striker or in the right. However, that wasn’t the case in Barcelona.

According to his instinct, he would drift inside no matter where he is stationed at. For this, Barcelona used to lose width even though they try to play Griezmann at left. Although his drifting inside could be capitalised if he was played as an inside forward. But his weaker right foot is at fault here because of which he faces complications in taking a shot.

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Image credit: totalfootballanalysis

Barcelona tries to overload their flanks with Fullbacks and wingers. Fullbacks are told to overlap, and wingers are instructed to cut inside. Griezmann’s low 1v1 success rate won’t enable him to cut in and creating chances. Moreover, his right foot won’t be enough to unleash a shot or a lob in the box. His weak foot usage is one of the lowest amongst all Barca players.

Crossing might be the only component that he could do by his left foot from the left-wing. But Barcelona can’t afford to confine their wingers with just crossing. Moreover, the fullbacks do it instead.

The left flank of Barcelona is more likely Jordi Alba territory. Messi would try to play Jordi Alba a diagonal ball and Alba would attempt a cut back inside the box. Now Griezmann has to go inside where Suarez is already waiting. He’ll not be the one to fight with defenders, nor he will be the first priority for a pass. Furthermore, his presence didn’t quite help Barcelona in the left flank.

Barcelona’s generally overload the left flanks in order to keep all the opposition defenders busy. By outnumbering Barca look to send their fullbacks or wingers in behind who’d be available for a through ball.

 

As Griezmann always tends to drift inside, Barca’s left flank would lose the numerical advantage, and as a result, Alba used to have tough times getting in behind.
And again, Griezmann used to come inside where the opponent’s low block and compact defensive line are already in shape. For this, he was rarely found by a forward passer.

Therefore, the number of shots attempted is less than it was last season. Though he received more passes in the box which is because of Barcelona’s possessional play, yet the touches inside the box weren’t capitalised.

Also, when off the ball, Antoine Griezmann used to drop back and line himself with the midfielders, following Barcelona’s 4-4-2 in defence. Whereas, he used to be the front wave presser in Atletico’s system, accompanied by a striker.

He often has to press higher up with Messi & Suarez who were at their 33s and hadn’t the legs to press constantly. Griezmann covered it for them and had a very impressive defensive stats last season.

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Credit: Footballmadesimple

But he wasn’t brought to defend but to reinforce the attack. And when Barcelona would be in the break, the main destination for all the passes would be Messi, if not, then it must be Luis Suarez. Scenes were utterly different in Atletico where Antoine Griezmann was the centre of attraction himself.

Besides, in 4-4-2, he used to feature as an LM off the ball. It required a lot more distance to cover to be in a scoring position. In Atletico, that wasn’t the case too.

tactical board.com

So far it comes off, the left flank shouldn’t be the position to deploy Griezmann, just like Koeman said just after he took over. Though the french international was mostly used in that position under the last two managers, complete mismanagement, to say the least.

We have concrete proof behind this thesis, which is his best match for the Barcelona shirt.

His game for Barca should be the one vs Real Betis, where he scored two goals and gave an assist. In that match, Antoine Griezmann was the prominent figure who received a significant amount of passes from his teammates in crucial moments. This is the role Griezmann wants to play in.

Barcelona vs Real Betis 2019 08 25 Pass Map

Griezmann is comfortable as a floater. Specifically, he tends to float behind a striker, in a slightly right position. But the exact instinct is seen within Lionel Messi, and these two don’t seem to fit well in the same system.

As a result, Barcelona managers had to use him as a lone striker or as a winger, where he got isolated entirely from the team play.
Despite Barcelona having 14% more average possession than Atletico, Antoine Griezmann made fewer passes and even had fewer touches in 2019-20.

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Credit: Footballmadesimple

Again, Antoine Griezmann made a lower number of key passes and progressive passes things 19-20 than he did in the previous season. Which decisively suggest that he is not a floater anymore, nor a creative forward.

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Credit: Footballmadesimple

Thus, Griezmann’s brightest features weren’t put into the field by Barcelona for several reasons. But since Koeman took over, things were expected to change finally. In his preferred 4-2-3-1, Griezmann was about to get a definite position for himself. Though he did so, the struggle didn’t end. It is early to say, but Griezmann’s display was far from convincing in the first two la Liga matches.

Griezmann under Koeman:

Antoine Griezmann, this time, had a better strategy from the manager. Koeman used him at the right side most of the time as well as in the centre sometimes, whenever Messi hugged the right-wing. Position switching was a crucial part of Messi & Griezmann’s presence in the team. One would take a particular position; the other would move conveniently.

This time he was expected to have a more significant impact on the field, but once again, things went either way. In Koeman’s system, the Dutch manager has two reference player in offensive transitions. One is Messi; the other one is Coutinho. Antoine Griezmann is again absent here.

As a result, Griezmann wasn’t seen dropping significantly deep to receive passes and shape an attack. Thus Once again, he is far from being a passing preference for his teammates, the thing he needs badly to succeed.

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Here’s the pass map of the game vs Celta. Griezmann barely received any passes and was always overshadowed by opposition defenders at the right-wing. Though he played for only 42 minutes, the number of passes he received is abnormally low.

It’s because Koeman overloaded the left flank purposefully and from there Barca generated the most of the attacks. 55% of the attacks came through the left flank in the game vs Villareal whereas 35% from the centre and only 10% from the right-wing. Coutinho’s presence in left and central areas along with Messi empowered these areas as they are the reference players in offensive transitions.

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On the other hand, Antoine Griezmann at the right-wing was always closed in by defenders, and he had a little space to breathe.

The left flank got more emphasis than the right-sided one. At that time Griezmann is used to stay wide at the right-wing as well as a long ball to Roberto is available to switch the play from one side to another. But the fullback was rarely found.

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Thus, the inadequacy of attacking support from the fullback may also harm Griezmann’s impact. He was mostly seen in the right flank, outnumbered and outweighed by the opposition defenders. Since he’s not the best in 1v1 and so in tussles with the defenders, he was glued and isolated from the rest of the team.

In this way, Griezmann has not yet been able to fire his boots for Barcelona. Two managers have come and gone, and even with the third, Griezmann’s story hasn’t differed a bit. The problem may be much bigger than it seems. So both Barca and Griezmann need to find a remedy. Otherwise, the story of Antoine Griezmann’s dramatic and helpless downfall in the Blaugrana shirt will be written.

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