When Barcelona signed Antoine Griezmann it was hard to envision what his position would be. Would he play on the wing? Will he replace Luis Suarez? How does he fit into a team that already has Lionel Messi? They’re all fair questions but, heading into El Clasico on Wednesday, Barcelona have found the answer with some help from his past.
Antoine Griezmann’s New Position at Barcelona
Building Antoine Griezmann
It always takes more time than people expect for a great player to adjust to playing with other great players. For the first time in his career, Antoine Griezmann is not the premier attacking talent in his team. That would be a real shell shock for most players, but for Griezmann, it’s just another stop on the road.
When he burst onto the scene at Real Sociedad, he was an energetic left-winger. He would get up and down that left flank, assisting in play at one end and defending for his life at the other. That defending was why Atletico Madrid brought in Griezmann in the first place. Only after they moved him up front did he show how good he could be.
What is important to remember about Griezmann is that he never lost his defensive awareness. It was so present that you can even find YouTube videos highlighting his defensive skills. He gets into excellent defensive positions on corners and does a great job protecting his full-backs when he’s on the wing.
These traits are probably the first thing Ernesto Valverde and his coaching staff identified about Griezmann. While that may say more about Valverde, those are very valuable traits for anyone trying to be teammates with Messi.
Antoine Griezmann, Barcelona Edition
It’s why, for good and for bad, Antoine Griezmann has been playing on the left all season. WhoScored.com has him down for 16 games on the left out of 21 games for Barcelona. However, he has not been playing the same position in all 16 games.
At the beginning of the season, Griezmann was playing high up the field in Barcelona’s preferred 4-3-3 formation. It’s a formation they have struggled with when using with this group of players at their current age. These over-30 superstars just don’t have the legs to play that formation anymore.
So, Valverde has decided to use Griezmann as his tool to protect them. Many thought that would mean something like taking some of the scoring load off of the shoulders of Messi and Suarez. But, of course, Valverde decided to do the complete opposite.
He has morphed Griezmann into a hybrid forward and midfielder. They have recently been playing a 4-4-2 with Griezmann on the left of the middle four. It has provided more cover for their ageing midfielders while still giving Griezmann the freedom to go forward and join the attack. He even ended up on the right-wing in moments during the Real Sociedad game on Saturday.
The transition is starting to pay dividends for Griezmann. The Frenchman has scored in three of his last six games, but there are still plenty of questions about Barcelona’s new system headed into El Clasico.
Antoine Griezmann Has Changed Barcelona
Valverde and Barcelona have made far more changes beneath the surface than can be seen by the naked eye. Let’s start with a simple one; the left-back. For years, Barcelona had been funnelling a large portion of their attack through Jordi Alba.
So far, in ten starts this season, Alba has zero assists. His deputy, Junior Firpo, in the same number of minutes, also has zero assists. In games, both left-backs have been going forward significantly less and, in fact, Griezmann has been the one ending up in many of the positions Alba would take up in seasons past.
That’s just one change; the change in system has also brought Ivan Rakitic back into the fold. The reason seems to, oddly, be for his legs as the Croatian has reprised some of past work covering for Messi on the right-wing.
The change that will be most important to this upcoming Clasico is the change in philosophy. Let’s be clear; it’s not a drastic change, but when was the last time Barcelona had less than 50% twice in two weeks? They were out-possessed at home against Borussia Dortmund and on the road against Real Sociedad.
Both of those teams are young, energetic sides that press exceptionally well. They really struggled to get around their press, and both sides outplayed them. Barcelona escaped with four out of six points by seeding possession to create more counter-attacking opportunities and, against Real Madrid, they will need more of the same.
The way these two teams have been playing lines up a really tasty Clasico. Tied at the top of La Liga, both sides will feel they have a real chance to win this game. We will know from the kick-off if Barcelona are going to try and be the dominant possessive team, or if they want to give Madrid a taste of their own counter-attacking medicine.