Barcelona embraced Antoine Griezmann on Sunday night when the superstar summer addition netted twice and got a selfless assist in a come-from-behind 5-2 victory against Real Betis.
The depleted champions – minus the likes of the incomparable Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez – were made to scrap for their first La Liga victory of 2019/20. Ex-Lyon playmaker Nabil Fekir expertly found the bottom corner on 15 minutes, raising fears about a repeat of last week’s opening 1-0 loss at Athletic Bilbao.
But a fine brace from Griezmann, belatedly bought from Atletico Madrid for €120 million, in less than 10 minutes either side of half-time turned the tables. He opened his Barca account on 41 minutes with a shinned volley from Sergi Roberto’s delightful pass, before curling a precise effort in from the right-hand side of the penalty box on 50 minutes.
Pre-season prodigy Carles Perez opened up his senior account with a perfect touch and low finish soon made it 3-1, prior to rampaging left-back Jordi Alba slotting in from close range on the hour mark. Griezmann one-touch pass on the slide then teed up substitute Arturo Vidal to rifle into the roof of the net on 77 minutes.
There was also time for a world-class consolation from 25 yards by Loren, off the side of his boot, to complete the scoring on 80 minutes.
Here we review Griezmann’s superb home debut:
Shots on target: 3
Key passes: 2
Unsure touches: 4
Messi and Suarez watched on from the stands as Griezmann played the central role in the front three.
Some lovely early passes detailed the World Cup 2018 winner’s quality, prior to Betis’ breakthrough on the counter-attack.
Barca needed someone to step up and Griezmann duly delivered. A hat-trick even when, frustratingly, begging at the death when he fired at overworked goalkeeper Dani Martin at the near post.
How much his refined brace and assist means when his celebrated team-mates are fully fit – and if Brazil superstar Neymar returns – will be seen in the coming games. Could Suarez’s starting spot be at risk?
Make your mark: A competitive bow upon one of football’s grandest arenas cannot be allowed to pass you by.
Griezmann, singularly, made sure to show he belongs there. From taking responsibility when heads went down, to entertaining the crowd with the LeBron James-inspired celebration for his second.
He had the joint-most attempts (five), most on-target attempts (four) and joint-second key passes (two),
This move – effectively delayed by one year – was worth the wait.
Whether he will be granted such freedom when the untouchable Messi returns, however, is yet to be seen.
On a wavelength: The demands of the number 9 role are different from club to club.
This adaption – forced by Suarez’s injury at Bilbao – from Atletico to Barca has been made more difficult for Griezmann because of his preferred deeper positioning.
Griezmann was learning on the job. Several times he’d make runs that weren’t picked out, or push up when he should have drawn back.
With time, this synchronisation will, surely, become second nature.
This couldn’t have gone much better for Griezmann.
Both goals were delightful and to the supreme standard expected. His deftness of touch to play in Vidal was also exactly what he was brought in for.
The 28-year-old will perform a much-changed role when everyone is fit. This could lead to frustrations after a taste of freedom on Sunday and after being top dog at Atleti.
But head coach Ernesto Valverde will be cheered by the increased depth available to him for 2019/20.
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