Football Features

Antoine Griezmann to Atlético Madrid: his brutal Barcelona career by the numbers

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 21:56, 31 August 2021

Antoine Griezmann is loved at Atlético Madrid, not least by Diego Simeone the manager. And that’s good because the Spanish capital is where he may be heading back to in a shock deadline-day deal.

Rumours have been building throughout the day, with various sources reporting that both Griezmann and Simeone want the move, and the only obstacle is Barcelona agreeing a deal with Atlético Madrid. Now it’s so advanced that even transfer guru Fabrizio Romano has started reporting the deal is being worked towards the final stages. It seems as though soon, Griezmann’s Barcelona adventure will be over.

When Atleti played Barcelona during Griezmann’s debut season, the Frenchman spent most of the game on the bench. He came on only for a three-minute cameo in the final minutes with the game level at 2-2, and Simeone’s face when he saw the ridiculous way his star man was being treated at his new club reverberated around Spain. He was both shocked and baffled.

But the harsh truth is, Griezmann barely played that game because he didn’t warrant a place in the Barcelona side. In fact, almost every time Griezmann took to the field in Blaugrana, he looked poor. At first the blame could be laid at the coach. Ernesto Valverde was playing him left-wing. Not a floating left-wing as he had been at Real Sociedad, just fully as a winger.

Things didn’t improve when Quique Setién replaced Valverde, either. Griezmann’s lack of ability to gel with Leo Messi was an enduring problem for the Frenchman. Despite being a world-class talent and a truly associative player by nature, he couldn’t get on the same wavelength of Barcelona’s maestro.

There was better chemistry with Luis Suárez, but as long as the attack was revolving around Messi (and with him being the greatest player on the planet, it was always going to) Griezmann had to adjust. But, he didn’t. Not even when Suárez departed for Atleti and Griezmann was given a central role under Ronaldo Koeman, not even then did this fabulous Frenchman strut his stuff in more than single-game bursts.

His goal returns of 15 and 20 goals across all competitions in his two seasons are the lowest of his career since his final season playing for Real Sociedad in 2013/14, where he notched 20. In La Liga he scored just nine times in his debut season and only 13 last campaign.

Simply put: he didn’t produce the goals expected of him. This is a guy who once scored 32 times in a season playing for Simeone’s Atlético Madrid; but with Messi supplying the bullets he couldn’t even post 21? Barcelona made him their central striker and he couldn’t put away more than 13 goals in La Liga?

In the two years Griezmann played for Barcelona he missed 21 big chances. That’s not a big deal though right? Messi missed 24 in that same time period and Karim Benzema missed 35! Well, yeah, it is kind of a big deal. Because Griezmann only scored 14 big chances while Messi bagged 29 and Benzema 31. And over that same period Messi scored 55 goals, Benzema 46 goals and Griezmann… 22.

Even the underlying numbers can’t save Griezmann, as his xG of 19.69 is ranked 13th among La Liga players during his time at Barcelona. He’s nowhere near Joselu’s 26.25, never mind Benzema’s 39.85 or Messi’s 43.89.

But okay, he’s not a goalscorer. He failed there. It’s alright, he’s such an all-around talent he must have been a huge factor in creating chances for the likes of Messi, yes? Well, let’s see.

Oh, no.

In his two and a bit seasons at Barcelona Griezmann created 75 chances. That’s less than team-mates Frenkie de Jong (80), Jordi Alba (89) and yes, Messi (166, the most in La Liga). Benzema, the yardstick for Griezmann as a French forward with an associative skill-set, created 102 — 24 of which were big chances. Messi created 58 big chances. You know how many Griezmann managed? 17.

All of that ended up with 11 assists. 11. Again: Benzema had 20. Messi, 30. Good god even Denis Suárez, the kid who flopped at Man City, Barcelona, Sevilla, Arsenal and Villarreal managed 14 assists for Celta. Jesus Navas is like 40 and was playing right-back and he had 13! Griezmann’s xA of 10.47 is behind Benzema’s 12.59 and nowhere close to Navas’ 16.71 and Messi’s 27.39.

As Griezmann wasn’t scoring, nor was he creating, what was he doing?

The answer, surprisingly, is defending. Griezmann has always been an elite defensive talent thanks to Cholo Simeone’s coaching and that was the one thing he was able to transfer to the Blaugrana. In his two years playing for Barcelona, Griezmann made 83 tackles, the third most among forwards in the division. He won possession in the attacking third 42 times, the sixth most among forwards.

So there you have it. Antoine Griezmann, €120m star signing for Barcelona, was little more than a fancy Dirk Kuyt. A rugged defensive presence who was never more than average in the key attributes you want to see from a forward.

The fact that Griezmann’s iconic moments can be counted on one hand is a huge issue: his outstanding home debut against Betis; his last second assist for Gerard Piqué in the Copa comeback against Sevilla; his performances in the Supercopa and Copa del Rey finals against Athletic; and his brilliant brace away to Villarreal at the end of the 2021 La Liga season.

Nothing in Europe. Nothing in El Clásico. Even struggling strikers can usually light it up more than that; hell look at Luis Suárez’s final two years with Barcelona where he was a shambling mess of a forward who could barely move. Countless amazing goals and moments.

Compare that to Griezmann’s last three games as a Barcelona player to start this season. Perhaps the most damning indictment of the Frenchman imaginable is that, even though he’s a No. 10 whose best role and position was occupied by Leo Messi, and his inability to fit into the side was largely down to his poor chemistry with Leo Messi… the removal of Leo Messi from the team did nothing to make him better.

Griezmann should have started this season in superb form. Messi and Suárez had both departed; Barcelona was now his for the taking. He could be the main focal point, everything could run through him and he could finally bump his numbers up.

But instead, he looked worse than he had done with Messi around!

In his three La Liga games this season Griezmann has had four shots with none on target. He’s created zero chances and completed just three take-ons. However, in news that will delight Simeone, he does lead the team in tackles, with 13. But if Koeman wants someone to play right-wing and tackle he can just use Sergi Roberto who earns about one third as much as Griezmann and would probably offer more goals (in fact he’s already scored twice this season and he even has an assist).

The most absurd thing is, if Griezmann returns to the comfort zone of Atlético Madrid, he’ll probably do brilliantly! He fits Cholo Simeone’s system like a glove, and the lowered expectations when playing for Atleti will suit a player that seemed to wilt under the bright lights of the Camp Nou. Compare how authoritative Memphis Depay has looked in his first three games, showing more leadership than Griezmann has in all 102 times he’s donned the Blaugrana shirt.

Antoine Griezmann is a flop. A big bad Barcelona flop. Both on the field as a player and off it as a person given the racist videos that leaked this summer. His sterling work ethic and commitment to defence are the only reason he isn’t vying with Philippe Coutinho and Eden Hazard as the greatest transfer flop of all-time, because he has been a criminal disappointment on the pitch. A colossal waste of space who couldn’t even step up and perform once the reins of the side were thrust into his hand.

Now he trots back to Atlético Madrid with his tail between his legs. Broken and humbled.