Barcelona: How will Antoine Griezmann fit?

The Frenchman has been heavily linked with the super club.


(Photo Credit: Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes)

Reports from Spain suggest that it’s more of a question of when, rather than if, regarding Barcelona signing Antoine Griezmann from Atletico Madrid. 

The clubs had been feuding as it appeared the Catalan club openly courted their star player – Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu has stated that the club has been in touch with Griezmann’s representatives, while Luis Suarez hasn’t been subtle in his hints of a new player next season. 

After the Neymar transfer has sent the market into the stratosphere, a €100m fee (his reported release clause) would be a bargain for a player who has made the Balon d’Or podium, consistently proving his ability in La Liga and European football in his time at Atletico. 

The only doubts about him were his propensity to go missing in finals, as he was poor for Atletico and France when they lost both the Champions League and Euros finals, respectively. However, he was the man of the match on Wednesday as Atletico won the Europa League – he finished adeptly to score twice.

But how will it work? Barcelona spent a combined €235m on Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele, not to mention Lionel Messi. Luis Suarez, at 31 and on huge wages, is unlikely to go anywhere, especially given his popularity within the squad. The departure of Andres Iniesta means that there will be a couple of opportunities.

Here are some ideas:

Griezmann in a front two… and Messi in midfield?

The most logical place for Griezmann himself would be to deploy him in the same role he plays at Atletico Madrid, just behind a number nine. Diego Costa’s arrival helped Griezmann immensely midway through this season as his harrying and physicality kept opposition defenders busy, thus creating space and opportunities for Griezmann to pick up the ball and drive, or make runs into gaps.

Luis Suarez can play this role. He can be a battering ram and has a similar snarling nastiness that appears to be a prerequisite of such a position. It’s a partnership that in all logic could work well.

But that would displace the best player in the world, who has just had one of the best seasons of his career occupying those kinds of spaces. Changing what Messi does seems an unnecessary risk.

However, it might just work. There’s a space open in midfield, with Iniesta departing, and as Messi has dropped further back as his career has developed the natural conclusion of his career would be as a playmaking midfielder. Nobody else in football possesses his passing ability. Him dribbling forward from midfield, or playing through balls with a forward as mobile as Griezmann could be a recipe for success. 

In this scenario, Rakitic would play in a double pivot alongside Busquets to offer balance and defensive cover, while Coutinho would offer incision from midfield. Dembele would be the player to miss out, but his pace and energy could be assets from the bench.

It’s a nice idea but there are two problems. It might be too open – Messi isn’t known as the most tireless runner or chaser, and out of possession this might cause problems in midfield. Coutinho, too, struggled with the pressing demanded from Klopp at Liverpool. Such a system would demand a lot from both of them. 

The other issue is that with Messi 31 this summer, he still has a lot to offer as a forward. This could be too soon. He’s scored more league goals than anybody else in Europe this season playing from deeper. Moving him further back still might stunt the attacking potency he offers, which is still Barcelona’s biggest strength.

Overload?

French publication l’Equipe suggested that Coutinho and Griezmann could fit into Barcelona’s midfield, either side of Sergio Busquets, with a front three of Messi, Suarez and Dembele. 

It’s a scary prospect, but possibly more for Barcelona than any opponents, as they would find themselves lopsided and imbalanced. Busquets has been at his best for most of the season, but can look vulnerable if exposed without cover – and he was poor as Barcelona lost their first game of the season, 5-4 to Levante.

But this is one of the few ways in which one might imagine every high-profile player fitting into the team. Otherwise, one might imagine Dembele could play as a traditional winger in a midfield four, as he did effectively in the second leg against Chelsea in the Champions League, but this leaves questions marks over how Messi, Coutinho and Griezmann would fit in. 

The logic is that, surely, somebody misses out – or else they play a system that’s entirely untenable. It would also run contrary to the balance and reinforcement that has characterised Ernesto Valverde’s double-winning tenure and push out Ivan Rakitic who has quietly been a vital component of this season’s successes. 

An ability to rotate

That is not necessarily a problem. Real Madrid have reached three consecutive Champions League finals with players like Gareth Bale, Isco, Alvaro Morata, Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio fighting among themselves for limited spaces. This has allowed their best players to rest and be fresh for the Champions League.

With Barcelona’s squad lacking depth, they could not emulate such an approach and, while they have won the league, have seen their best players reach the latter stages of the Champions League looking jaded.

The addition of Griezmann would give Barcelona a new ability to rest key players. The Frenchman could play off Suarez in Messi’s current role and allow the Argentine to rest. He could allow Suarez to rest by playing a lone striker. They’d have several players who would carry out interchangeable roles – Coutinho being one, as he showed by stepping up to score a hat-trick in Messi’s absence against Levante last week.

Versatility

Not only would the signing allow Barcelona to rest players, but it would give them a versatility and ability to change games they have long been lacking. Certain games might call for Griezmann and Suarez as a front two, but they could add a third forward if the game calls for it. 

Players such as Dembele or Coutinho or even Griezmann himself could be introduced to add extra attacking impetus, or in the inverse, withdrawn for the likes of Paulinho or Rakitic. 

€100m footballers being used as impact players or squad options is symptomatic of the ills of the modern game, but it appears to be where we’re headed.

 

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