Can Griezmann show World Cup form for Atletico in timely Barcelona reunion?

By Sports Desk January 07, 2023

The 2022 World Cup was unique for many reasons.

It was the first World Cup to be played in the Middle East, and the first one to take place in the middle of the season, as far as Europe's top clubs are concerned.

One thing that did not change, of course, was players being able to use the tournament as a platform to show what they can do on the biggest stage, and perhaps get big moves on the back of it.

While Josko Gvardiol, Enzo Fernandez, Alexis Mac Allister and Jude Bellingham are among the players to possibly fall into that category, Antoine Griezmann is different.

Griezmann is not the youngster making his name, but he did shine in Qatar as, in the space of seven games, he arguably redefined his own position.

That is not to say Griezmann had not been impressive this season prior to the World Cup. Before the tournament he had directly contributed to 10 goals for Atletico Madrid, scoring five and creating as many.

Griezmann's form has come during a season in which he had to settle for a substitute role up until September 18, due to Atleti attempting to navigate a financial clause in their loan agreement with Barcelona, which would have kicked in had the 31-year-old played a certain amount of minutes.

Had that clause been activated, Atleti would have had to pay €40million to re-sign Griezmann. As it was, they paid under half of that to bring him back to the club permanently in October.

It's Barca up next for Atleti in the highlight fixture of this weekend's LaLiga matches. Going into that match, Griezmann is a player reimagined.

 

The creator in chief

Griezmann has returned from the World Cup with a vigour and verve to his play perhaps not seen since his prime years at Atleti back in 2017 to 2019.

His goal contributions stand at 13 (five more than any of his team-mates) after three assists across two appearances since Atleti's campaign restarted – one game in LaLiga and one in the Copa del Rey.

Griezmann leads the club's scoring charts along with Alvaro Morata while his tally of seven assists is four clear of next-best Joao Felix, who seems destined to leave the club this month. None of his team-mates come close to matching Griezmann's 42 chances created, and 35 of those have come from open play.

But it's Griezmann's positioning that is the truly interesting aspect of his fine form.

Didier Deschamps has often utilised Griezmann as a second striker in international football. That was the position he played in at Euro 2016, and during France's successful run at the 2018 World Cup.

Yet in Qatar, Griezmann was deployed as the most advanced of a midfield trio, and there he showed his ability to not only find space in the final third, but run games altogether.

 

Only Kylian Mbappe (49) was involved in more shot-ending attacking sequences for France at the tournament than Griezmann (30).

However, of Griezmann's 361 open-play touches, just 14 came in the opposition box, with the vast majority clustered in the middle of the park.

Not that it prevented Griezmann from wielding his influence. He provided three assists, leading the competition alongside Harry Kane, Bruno Fernandes, Ivan Perisic and Lionel Messi. Unlike all of those players, however, Griezmann's expected assists (xA) of 3.6 was actually slightly underperformed. Essentially, he was creating higher quality chances for those assists than his counterparts.

 

That quality was evidenced with a sublime cross into Olivier Giroud for France's second goal in the 2-1 quarter-final victory over England, having earlier teed up Aurelien Tchouameni's strike to move ahead of Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry in terms of the most assists for Les Bleus. Griezmann's 28 assists rank as the most by any France player for his country in the last 50 years.

Griezmann's 22 chances created were the most at the tournament, albeit only nine of those came from open play. When it came to creativity, Griezmann was at the top of his game.

From poacher to playmaker

It was certainly a case of picking up where he left off for Griezmann when Atleti took on Elche in LaLiga on December 29. Diego Simeone's side won 2-0, and Griezmann was superb.

He set up both goals and created four chances. No player attempted more passes in the opposition half (37), or played in more crosses (five).

Despite Atleti having lined up in a 3-4-3, with Griezmann nominally positioned on the right flank, his average position was just ahead of the halfway line.

It was a similar story against Real Oviedo on Wednesday in the Copa del Rey. While he was supposedly playing in a front two alongside Alvaro Morata, Griezmann's touches were centred around the halfway line, with only two coming in the opposition box.

Dovetailing with Morata in a forward line, or indeed playing as an inside forward in a 3-4-3, is in principle ideal for Griezmann to drop into a similar role as to the one he thrived in during the World Cup.

Barca best be wary

It would seem the two-man attack would provide the perfect platform for Griezmann to show what Barca never managed to unlock on a consistent basis during his two years at the club.

Not that his time at Barca was a complete failure. Griezmann scored 35 goals and assisted a further 16 across 102 appearances. But he looks like he has his mojo back now. In fact, no LaLiga player has assisted more goals in all competitions.

Morata should provide the pace and work rate to stretch Barca's backline, handing Griezmann the space to drop between the lines and pull the strings.

Griezmann is averaging 73.4 touches per 90 minutes for Atleti this term, but only 4.8 in the opposition's box. His role has been gradually developing over the course of the campaign and the World Cup proved just how effective he can be.

Barca twice gave away the lead against Intercity Sant Joan d'Alacant in their Copa del Rey tie, and as Inter and Bayern Munich displayed in the Champions League, the Blaugrana's defence can be got at, even if in LaLiga Xavi's side have conceded just six times.

If Griezmann, who at least might be easier to spot, what with his bright pink hair, can replicate the influence he had in Qatar, Barca will be hard-pressed to stop him.

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