Barcelona and Atlético Madrid drew 2-2 at the Camp Nou and much of the talk post-match was about Antoine Griezmann’s performance.
When asked to give his comment on how his former player Griezmann had performed against him, Atleti coach Diego Simeone simply responded with “I have no words.” He was rendered speechless.
But why, exactly, was Simeone so agog at Griezmann’s performance? Well the Frenchman didn’t star against his old team; he didn’t drive a dagger in the heart of Diego Simeone’s side. He couldn’t, really, given that he only came on in the 90th minute of the match.
The game clock read 89:52 when Quique Setién finally decided to use the world-class forward, the object of Barcelona’s affections for two consecutive transfer windows and eventual subject of a colossal €120m transfer.
Simeone can be seen on the touchline next to Griezmann as he crosses the byline looking on in disbelief before offering a brief shake of his head. This is a player who was the superstar of Simeone’s side for half a decade, now reduced to a whimpering and inconsequential sub after six months in Catalunya.
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That is what left Diego Simeone speechless, because honestly what can you say to that? Although as always it’s worth closer scrutiny; has Antoine Griezmann really been that bad?
Griezmann has scored eight times in La Liga this season. Those eight goals have come across seven games, and quite incredibly he has given Barcelona the lead in all seven of those games. The only time he didn’t score his side’s first goal was against Real Betis and that’s because he scored both the first and second goals as the Blaugrana came from a goal down to Real Betis to win 5-2.
So while he hasn’t been a glittering success, he proved to be a useful contributor as he adapted to life in Catalunya. But his fortunes dipped after the turn of the year. He has just one goal in La Liga in 2020. He looked to be in for an extended run in the side’s attack but the hiatus due to Covid-19 has allowed Luis Suárez to return to fitness and into the side.
Setién’s preference for Suárez in attack is down to the Uruguayan’s increased comfort in the role and in interacting with the team. But Suárez is a natural No.9 and has played for Barcelona since 2014; it’s absurd to demand that Griezmann have the same level of understanding.
Obviously Griezmann has underperformed. Too often he is slow to react and is rarely on the same wavelength as his teammates, but that is as much down to how he has been used as anything. Rarely have Barcelona put him in a position to succeed. E.g. using him in a defensive left-wing role, or as an orthodox No.9 in a front three, or most recently bringing an associative player like Griezmann onto the pitch for the last five minutes of a game as though he were Peter Crouch or some other kind of super-sub.
If Barcelona and Quique Setién had used Antoine Griezmann more intelligently; perhaps from the start of the match, or entering the field of play around the hour mark with a more defined role to play (at the tip of a midfield diamond, say) then the Frenchman has the talent to leave Simeone speechless through his excellent play, rather than the depths he has fallen to. And given Barcelona haven’t won any of the games where Setién has benched Griezmann, it’s not like leaving him out is working either.