Antoine Griezmann became the latest addition to Barcelona’s remarkable attacking options when the Spanish champions activated his £107m release clause to sign him from rivals Atlético Madrid. The French forward had made 256 appearances in five years after leaving Real Sociedad for Atléti, where he became one of their most influential players and scored 133 goals, including two in the 2018 Europa League final victory over Marseille. He has also excelled for France, finishing joint-second top goalscorer as Didier Deschamps’ men won the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Atlético Madrid to Barcelona, €120m
The 28-year-old Griezmann combines the goalscoring instincts of a number 9 with the creative qualities of a 10. He drops into deeper areas to receive possession to feet (below) before turning and advancing play by creating chances for teammates, or by progressing the ball with the next pass and then pursuing a goalscoring position.
At Atlético, where he has since been replaced by the €126m João Félix, Griezmann was accustomed to playing in a front two and with several regular strike partners. In the process of France becoming world champions, however, he combined with Olivier Giroud and Kylian Mbappé in an impressive front three.
Much of his effectiveness owes to him drifting away from his position and therefore forcing opposition defences to choose between following him and passing him on. If the latter, they then have to decide when to pass him on and how far to follow him, often opening further spaces that can be exploited.
When Griezmann drifts around the attacking third, he relentlessly scans and looks for where spaces are opening so that he knows where to play when he receives possession, or where to run. It is in the penalty area that his predatory instincts emerge, of course. The majority of his goals come from close range and owe to his anticipation of where the ball will either be delivered or how he can contribute to counter-attacking situations (below), largely through him drifting behind the ball in build-up phases until it reaches the final third.
Playing under Diego Simeone while in Madrid means that Griezmann has adjusted to receiving only half-chances in the big games, where Atléti have traditionally looked to concede possession and play on the break. His ability to convert these chances also make him a significant threat.
Griezmann’s high-profile arrival means that Barca’s attacking options – regardless of ongoing speculation regarding the potential return of Neymar from Paris Saint-Germain – are perhaps the finest in the world. They are as likely to retain their traditional 4-3-3 structure as they are to continue starting Lionel Messi, which means that Griezmann, his compatriot Ousmane Dembele, Luis Suarez, Malcom and Philippe Coutinho will compete for the two remaining roles in that front three.
Even if Coutinho stays, Suarez’s finishing ability and the investment in Griezmann make them the favourites to start within a wider rotation featuring Dembele and Malcom; Messi and Suarez both turn 33 this season, giving them greater need to rest. Griezmann’s likeliest role there is essentially the one he has with France, on the left of the attacking three.
His desire to drift inside will create spaces for Jordi Alba to overlap from left-back, or for the central attacker, through defenders being drawn to him. Suarez’s awareness, combined with his own attacking instincts, could ensure he thrives at the Camp Nou.
If Messi is instead used as the central attacker in a false nine position, Griezmann’s role would likely demand more runs in behind. He can do this, but it is not something he has consistently shown, particularly with the presence of Mbappe alongside him for France. Messi as the false nine would also benefit Dembele, whose pace wide on the right could then prove key to Barca attacks.