Antoine Griezmann is finally leaving Atlético Madrid and Barcelona are considered by many to be the most likely destination.
The world-class World Cup winner declared that he was leaving the Wanda Metropolitano in a video posted to the club’s official social media channels. This immediately sent the rumour mill into overdrive. Where would he end up? It’s rare a player as talented as Griezmann enters the market.
Well, the consensus is that Barcelona would reactivate their long-standing interest in him. The Blaugrana tried to sign him a year ago only for Griezmann to reject the club in a now-infamous “La Decision” video. That was a move he may have regretted as Atleti had a hugely disappointing campaign, and despite winning their second consecutive La Liga, Barça are determined to import some world-class talent thanks to the shocking end to their Champions League campaign, which featured a second consecutive bottling of a 3-0 lead.
French outlets Le Parisien and L’Equipe are taking the lead with announcing Barça as the destination, while it appears the Catalan-based media are erring on the side of caution but remain optimistic. So it seems highly likely Griezmann is coming to the Camp Nou in 2019/20, but how does this affect the side tactically? How could they line up? We’ve come up with four ways.
1. The Wing-Forward
The main reason Barcelona are chasing Antoine Griezmann so vigorously is because Luis Suárez looked so ineffective against Liverpool in the Champions League. In fact, he’s looked ineffective against almost everyone in the Champions League, having not scored away from home in the competition since a 1-1 with Roma 1,337 days ago. Definitely not elite.
But unlike their other targets (i.e. Alexandre Lacazette, Luka Jovic), Griezmann isn’t a No.9, so if he’s to replace Suárez it will necessitate a formation shift. A return to a 4-3-3 false nine will help everyone be where they need to be.
The defence is as it has been, although one will hope that by now they have recognised Nelson Semedo must start at right-back and Samuel Umtiti could lose his place if Matthijs de Ligt is signed. In midfield, young Dutch star Frenkie de Jong joins Arthur and Sergio Busquets in forming the most “Barcelona” Barça midfield for over half a decade. They will dominate the ball and control games.
Messi plays as the false nine here, with his place on the right going to ambipedal prodigy Ousmane Dembélé. Meanwhile, Griezmann starts on the left-wing, but he doesn’t stay there. In fact, he’s only really a left-winger for defensive purposes, tracking back if he must. When Barça have the ball, Griezmann operates as a fluid forward, making outside-to-in runs that put him ahead of Messi and in position to score.
This leaves the left-flank free for Jordi Alba to raid, as he has done successfully this season, and provides a trident of creative points (Alba-left, Dembélé-right, Messi-centre) from which chances could be created for the lethal Frenchman. This isn’t even a role alien to Griezmann. It’s the one he played for Real Sociedad when he first exploded onto the scene back in 2013.
It’s a system that would be fluid, fearsome and fun as hell to watch.
2. The Valverde
Of course, fun isn’t really a word Ernesto Valverde understands. He’s kind of like Seymour Skinner from The Simpsons, except he looks like the dad from American Pie. So if he somehow retains his job as Barcelona head coach next season, the most likely formation will remain the trusted 4-4-1-1 he enjoys so much.
So the defence stays as it is, and in midfield the only change is that De Jong’s arrival allows Ivan Rakitic to be pushed up into the most attacking role of the midfield. The Croatian has long been a defensive player for the Blaugrana, but that was out of necessity really. He was a No.10 at Sevilla and would probably relish more attacking freedom.
Messi is Messi, and so the big change comes up-front, where Griezmann plays as the side’s striker. The Frenchman is an excellent finisher, mostly with his left foot. He’s also surprisingly good in the air so for once Barça may actually have a reason to cross the ball. Now, Griezmann is no traditional No.9 but he can link play supremely and is, of course, a great goalscorer.
There were so many games under Diego Simeone where Griezmann had to be both playmaker and goalscorer, a burden which proved too much, so he leaned into being a playmaker because it was easier to be involved and play passes for wasteful teammates than make runs in behind and just never receive the ball because of said teammates.
If one recalls where Suárez often played in this system when Barcelona played on the break (which was a lot), he’d drift into wide areas and generally play with the kind of fluidity Griezmann does, only the Uruguayan lacked the athleticism to really make the role pop. The Frenchman would have no such issue, however, so things would be better, at least.
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3. The All-Out Attack
Sometimes things just aren’t going your way and you have to throw everything at an opponent. To this end, Griezmann gives Barcelona a deadly option for sustained pressure on an opponent. The 4-2-3-1 sees the usual defence line-up, with Roberto selected for his superior attacking skills, of course.
Sergio Busquets and De Jong were the two best holding midfielders over the course of this season’s Champions League. They had bad games (e.g. Busquets at Old Trafford) but their overall impact was superb. So why not team them up at the base of this midfield? Charge them with forming a partnership and running the game.
The band of three behind the striker is where we find Griezmann, here on the right. Ousmane Dembélé is on the left and Leo Messi in the middle, but the truth is with a double pivot behind them and attacking full-backs on either side, this trio would be constantly moving, looking to find an opening in the opposing defence. Griezmann and Messi are “do-everything” forwards and Dembélé would be the literal gamechanger with his pace (one hopes Griezmann’s presence in the squad can help the youngster finally settle in Catalunya).
Up top is Suárez. The Uruguayan can still do the job over shorter periods of time, and with what amounts to a phenomenal front three playing behind him, even Suárez would be able to find space and time to threaten goal like he used to do. Or at least punch a hole for Messi, Dembélé and Griezmann.
4. The Rotation
One of the big issues Barcelona have struggled to get a grip on since Pep Guardiola left is rotation. How much is too much? Should you even try? Valverde tended to rotate en masse in away games and do so in such a way that poor performances became a regular thing and then he had to bring on his rested stars anyway.
But their current squad does afford them the chance to rest all of their veteran starters. Marc Cucurella has had an incredible season on loan at Eibar and is ready to be Alba’s back-up. Jean-Clair Todibo has shown immense promise in his brief cameos so far this season and could ably sub in for Piqué. De Jong plays Busquets’ role perfectly and would be able to do so here, Roberto is just a Catalan Rakitic when you really think about it and Carles Alena could afford Arthur some rest. The Brazilian isn’t a veteran but does seem fragile.
In attack, Suárez plays because he’s now a back-up so should be ready, but the big move comes when Leo Messi is rested and it’s no longer a massive deal because Antoine Griezmann, who plays the Messi “Mr. Everything” role for Atlético Madrid, could more than easily slide in and offer Barça a quality facsimile of Messi in attack. With Griezmann doing this the most valuable of Barcelona’s four veteran starters can get genuine rest and thus extend the life of his career at the Camp Nou.