UEFA Champions League: As Messi Returns From Injury, Griezmann Attempts to Find His Feet at Barcelona
Griezmann has something to prove in the Champions League tie against Inter Milan after two steady but unspectacular months, elevated by moments rather than the consistency Ernesto Valverde would have hoped for.
Barcelona got Antoine Griezmann for 120 million euros (Photo Credit: Reuters)
Barcelona: Antoine Griezmann said he knew it would be tough settling in at Barcelona but it may have proven harder than he thought. Barca play at home to Inter Milan on Wednesday looking for lift-off in the Champions League after a goalless draw against Borussia Dortmund made for an underwhelming start to their latest bid for success in Europe.
Lionel Messi is expected to make his return from a thigh injury, but Griezmann also has something to prove after two steady but unspectacular months, elevated by moments rather than the consistency Ernesto Valverde would have hoped for when the Frenchman's 120-million euro release clause was activated last summer. "Against Bilbao he was not as involved as we would like," Valverde said at the start of the season.
"But it is also up to the team to allow our strikers to participate more." When Griezmann scored twice in the next game, against Real Betis, before tossing glitter above his head at Camp Nou, it felt like he had made his big introduction and not just because of the theatrics.
But five La Liga games have since brought only one more goal and assist while a handful of rather muted displays have left a sense of a player finding his feet, despite excelling in La Liga for the past nine seasons.
After last week's win over Villarreal, Griezmann was asked about his start at Barcelona. "It's different," he said. "It's a different type of football, a different position and I knew it was going to be difficult to adjust.
"But I feel like I'm improving every game and that's it. Three goals, it's not bad right? I can do better but I just arrived. I work for the team and if I can score or assist, even better."
Griezmann has reason to defend himself. He joined a team that after five games had posted its lowest points total in 25 years, with last season's collapse against Liverpool still lingering, not least for Valverde, whose future is never secure.
He also arrived as one of the world's premium strikers but found his new club pursuing Neymar for the duration of the summer, as if the Brazilian might add something he could not.
There were relationships to repair too, with Barcelona's fans and players, after Griezmann not only turned them down 12 months before but embarassed them, by announcing his decision in a documentary.
"I've spent very little time with him to be honest," Lionel Messi told Diario Sport last month. "Since I returned, I've been injured and training on my own.
"They went on tour and when they came back we saw each other a little in the dressing room but I've not been there in the training sessions. We'll have the opportunity to share a lot of things."
Once in position, Griezmann has been played in "different positions", three times down the middle as a lone striker and five times on the left of the front three.
In his eight games, there have been six different attacking combinations, the revolving pair around him involving all of Luis Suarez, Ousmane Dembele, Rafinha, Carles Perez, Ansu Fati and Messi.
"He is a player who can play in several positions," Valverde said.
"We have to see who plays but it's clear the system has to accommodate the players."
When he announced he would be leaving Atletico in May, Griezmann said he wanted a fresh challenge and he would have been under no illusions about the inevitable dimming of status alongside the likes of Messi, Suarez and Dembele.
The emergence of the 16-year-old sensation Fati and 21-year-old Perez has added two more into an already-crowded attacking roster. But consistency has been hard to come by in a team ridden with inconsistencies and in that context, Griezmann's start has been encouraging. Against Inter, he will hope for something more.
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