Lionel Messi out; Luis Suarez out; Ousmane Dembele out.
The footballing gods threw down a challenge to Antoine Griezmann on Sunday night: prove you can step up and be The Man for Barcelona.
Griezmann answered the call magnificently, scoring two well-taken goals – a Suarez-style first-time volley from a right wing cross and a Messi-style left-footed curler into the far corner from the edge of the box – to propel his team to a highly entertaining 5-2 victory over Real Betis at the Camp Nou.
He did not only impress with his goals, however, also producing a highly influential all-round performance by linking play superbly, regularly dropping deep into midfield and drifting out to the flanks to maintain the team’s high tempo by finding his new colleagues with deft first-time passes.
And, as you would expect from someone who spent five years under the tutelage of Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid, Griezmann also did more than his fair share of defensive work, leading Barca’s pressing with apparently endless reserves of energy.
All told, Griezmann looked very much like a man on a mission on Sunday night, and by the end of the evening he had certainly accomplished all his tasks and more – even providing an instant front page photo for the global media with a glitter-tossing celebration after his second goal.
Now the stardust is starting to settle, however, his compelling display leaves manager Ernesto Valverde with a question which is simple enough to ask but carries layers of complexity in the answer: what happens next?
Before too long, Messi, Suarez and Dembele will be fit and ready to play, with the veteran South American duo very much expecting to immediately regain their places in the starting line-up.
Griezmann, we can be sure, will regain his place. But it won’t be the same place he occupied to such great effect on Sunday night as the central figure of a three-man forward line. That would require Suarez to move out to the left wing and Messi to hog the right touchline in the same manner as Rafinha and Carles Perez this weekend, which is very hard to envisage.
Instead, Suarez will return to the centre forward position with Messi in the inside-right spot he has occupied for much of the last five years, leaving Griezmann to occupy the vacant area on the left of the attack (unless, of course, Neymar is recruited in the interim…but let’s not go down that particular dead end for now).
This tactical set-up would vastly alter the role Griezmann would be expected to play. Rather than floating freely from a central starting point with a full license to roam in associative play before returning to the penalty area as the main target for crosses – as he did with his opener on Sunday – he would be tasked with the more limited demands of a left winger. He can, of course, still be an effective and important performer from that position, but not the shining focal point as he was against Betis.
And it’s not only Griezmann’s playing position which could be affected by the return of the senior duo, because they would be hard pushed to replicate the all-action, high-energy approach exhibited by Perez and Rafinha from their wide roles this weekend.
The question this leads to, perhaps, is whether Suarez and Griezmann will be able to play together. Messi, without doubt, will be an unquestionable starter and it’s easy to imagine him playing off Griezmann in a central role while two from Rafinha, Perez, Dembele, Sergi Roberto and, yes, Neymar busy themselves down the flanks.
But where does Suarez fit into this without significantly impacting upon both Griezmann’s individual effectiveness and the overall style of the team?
Perhaps he doesn’t. Perhaps Sunday’s show-stopping performance from Griezmann was the beginning of a new era for the Uruguayan, one in which he becomes a supersub and a rotation option.
The man to decide all this, of course, is Valverde. How bold is he prepared to be?
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Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said Antoine Griezmann “reacted perfectly” to the call of duty, scoring twice as the side beat Real Betis 5-2.
The Frenchman was unable to find the net in his Barca debut as the side went down 1-0 to Athletic Bilbao – and Valverde called for Griezmann to be more involved in the game at the Nou Camp.
The World Cup winner duly responded with a brace and an assist as Barcelona – without injured Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele – came from behind to secure all three points.
Valverde, quoted in Marca, said: “I have to recognise that it was an important day for him due to the injuries we had. He reacted perfectly,”He dropped into the midfield to help and he made an impact. We know that if attacking players track back, we have a better chance of winning.”
The home side found themselves a goal down early on when Nabil Fekir opened his account for Betis on 15 minutes but Griezmann equalised shortly before half-time and curled in a superb second early in the second half which had Suarez and Messi beaming their approval.
Goals from Carles Perez and Jordi Alba made sure of the points before Griezmann – signed for more than £100m – set up substitute Arturo
Vidal for the fifth, although the best, and last, goal of the night was a 25-yard screamer from Betis’ Loren Moron.
Speaking after the game to the club’s website, Griezmann said: “Well, this is a tricky stadium for me. There’s not many in Spain where I haven’t scored and this was one of them.
“So I’m really happy for the goals, the way the team played and for the atmosphere.
“I know that people are expecting a lot of me, my first game wasn’t great so I just wanted another game to come along.”
Provided by Press Association Sport
Barcelona new boy Antoine Griezmann joked about copying Lionel Messi’s celebration from training following his second goal against Real Betis at the Camp Nou on Sunday.
The France international scored twice in the hosts’ 5-2 win over the Seville side to get the defending champions off the mark this season. The second goal was an incredible curler from the edge of the box, reminiscent of Messi himself. Griezmann followed the goal by celebrating with his arms stretched out and a wide grin aimed at the fans.
The former Atletico Madrid man joked he copied it from Messi and Basketball star LeBron James.
“Yes, I saw Leo do it in training and I copied him,” Griezmann said, laughing, to Movistar after the game.
“The celebration? I liked what LeBron [James] did and tried to copy him.”
The Catalans were under pressure after an opening day defeat to Atheltic Bilbao at San Mames but reacted brilliantly.
“After the defeat there were a lot of comments; we had to work this week,” Griezmann admitted.
“We woke up after their goal and in the end we played well, with a lot of chances. We enjoyed ourselves and we hope it’s always like that.
“We really wanted to play again after Bilbao; we improved but there are still details to work on.
“In the end, when important people are missing, the team has to step up and today has been like that.
“I can’t do it alone; if I score or give assists it’s thanks to my teammates. We’re a team. It’s the best when, in spite of injuries, people who come in can respond.”