After a long transfer saga, Antoine Griezmann is a Barcelona player. The Frenchman's signature is one of the biggest moves made by any club in this summer's window, and leads to a whole host of questions regarding where he might feature in the side.
A versatile operator, the 28-year-old has played as a striker, a winger on both sides, and as an attacking midfielder during his time with Atletico Madrid, Real Sociedad and internationally for France. He offers Barca boss Ernesto Valverde variety, and his new team's fortunes may revolve around how exactly he fits in.
Here, we at Tribal Football consider the possibilities Griezmann brings to Barcelona, and how his arrival could alter the team's attacking dynamics.
THE OBVIOUS CHOICE
Last season, Barcelona continued to line up primarily in a 4-3-3, as they have done for the best part of the last two decades. Within this setup, Valverde preferred an attacking trident featuring Lionel Messi on the right, Luis Suarez in the centre, and Philippe Coutinho on the left. However, the latter didn't impress the fans during his first full season at the Camp Nou.
Coutinho's five goals and two assists in 34 La Liga outings just wasn't good enough for a Barca forward. And while some might argue he spent a good amount of time in the midfield three, allowing Ousmane Dembele – another player who has not quite matched expectations since joining – to join the front three, the Brazilian's numbers were not good during the specific game time he had on the left-hand side. In 18 league appearances in this role, he scored three goals and set up one.
Evidently, the left wing is Barcelona's problem position, and so it would be fairly obvious to simply slot Griezmann into this position. He has taken on this berth before, and could do so again. Jordi Alba is one of the most adventurous full-backs in football today, and his forward forays ensure attacking width down the left flank. This would allow Griezmann to come inside and take up a position closer to goal and to the centre of the pitch, rather than being stuck out near the touchline.
However, this role isn't ideal for him. Rather than drifting in onto his favoured left foot, he would be coming in onto his right. He wouldn't be able to access the whole of the final third with his dribbling and passing, and would naturally want to go around the outside and hit the by-line before cutting back on his left – performing a task Alba is already capable of doing – rather than drifting in and connecting play.
Griezmann could take Messi's place. No, not like that.
He could take on the right-sided role in Barcelona's front three, and Valverde could move Messi into a more central area. This would mean Suarez drops out, and the club captain and legend takes on his old false nine role, in which he thrived under the auspices of Pep Guardiola.
With this alteration, Griezmann would be enabled to cut in from the right onto his left foot, combine with Messi and open up the pitch. He could spray passes to Alba on the left, or play through balls for Dembele running beyond the opposition back line. Alternately he could play one-twos with Messi and look to get behind himself or come closer to the centre to get a shot off.
This role would suit Griezmann more than the left wing spot, and it would give Messi the freedom to roam wherever he wished and become the fulcrum for all attacks. However, it's unlikely, as Valverde hasn't shown much inclination for reviving the false nine role during his two years in charge.
The most realistic situation is that Griezmann takes Suarez's place in the centre of the front three, with Messi on the right and Coutinho or Dembele on the left. This makes sense for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, while still an outstanding player, Suarez is in decline. Over the last four seasons, his goals and assists per 90 minutes on the pitch have decreased year-on-year. Here is his league output per 90 in these campaigns:
- 2015/16: 1.1 goals, 0.5 assists
- 2016/17: 0.9 goals, 0.4 assists
- 2017/18: 0.8 goals, 0.4 assists
- 2018/19: 0.7 goals, 0.2 assists
The drop-off is gradual but noticeable. Suarez possesses exceptional movement in the final third, can open up space for others and is a predatory finisher, but he isn't quite as productive as he once was. He also turns 33 midway through the upcoming season and has become more injury prone in recent years – according to Transfermarkt he missed two games through injury in 2017/18, but last term he suffered nine injury-enforced absences. So, in short, a sharp upturn in form is not on the horizon.
Griezmann taking Suarez's spot in the front three also makes sense on a tactical level. While at Atletico he acted as the focal point for his team's attacking play, and he has taken on a similarly influential central role for France.
Furthermore, the stats suggest he could improve Barcelona's attack in this role.
Last season, Griezmann played more key passes and set up more goals per 90 minutes than Suarez despite playing for an Atletico team that averaged 12.1 per cent less possession than Barcelona. His goals per 90 of 0.4 was perfectly respectable compared to Suarez's 0.7, especially when considering he didn't have the same talent supplying and supporting him. And, on top of that, he completed 50 per cent of his dribbles compared to Suarez's 37.9 per cent, underlining his greater threat when driving at opposition defenders.
HOW GRIEZMANN CHANGES THE DYNAMIC
One way in which Griezmann's presence leading the line could change Barcelona's style of play is in making them a more aggressive pressing outfit. Under Diego Simeone at Atletico, the Frenchman had to remain engaged in the defensive phase and be active in harrying the opposition.
Under Valverde, the pressing aspect of Barca's game has been perhaps the biggest modification. In Luis Enrique's final season in charge, their PPDA (passes allowed per defensive action) was 6.31. However, in Valverde's first season that number increased to 8.37, and last term it increased slightly again to 8.43. What this essentially means is that Barcelona allow their opposition more of the ball nowadays.
Part of this is down to a different managerial philosophy, although part of it is also down to necessity. Barcelona's front line is ageing, with Suarez and Messi both the wrong side of 30. They simply aren't able or willing to press as they used to, and the team has consequently had to drop deeper. But this might change with Griezmann providing fresher legs and work ethic up top.
Even if his arrival causes a moderate increase in the intensity of the team's pressing, this could have a knock-on effect on their attacking game.
The front line's ageing works both ways, not only are they less able to press, but they aren't able to cover ground so quickly. As a result, the deeper they defend, the harder it is to cover the greater distance to goal once the ball is won back. The days of rapid counter-attacking under Enrique are well and truly over. However, if Griezmann's influence were to lead to more aggressive pressing, Barcelona could regain possession higher up the pitch, meaning the likes of Messi can get into dangerous positions more quickly in transition.
Griezmann will also alter the way Barcelona attack when they have control of possession. Whereas Suarez is all about intelligent movement in the final third, attacking the channels and creating openings for others, Griezmann is more inclined to drop deep, receive with his back to goal, lay the ball off to teammates, and link moves.
This could help the team to break the lines and penetrate opposition defensive blocks, as their new addition finds pockets of space between defenders and lines to get on the ball and progress attacks from there.
Griezmann's signing gives Valverde and Barcelona a tactical problem to solve. But it's a good problem. He gives them a number of different potential options, though the best one may see him take over from Suarez and revive the team's pressing and attacking play from a central position.