Ballon d'Or talk will ring hollow if Antoine Griezmann can't back up words v Barcelona

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Antoine Griezmann has been the silver lining for Atletico Madrid

Antoine Griezmann adds nuance to Diego Simeone’s warriors at Atletico Madrid.

Wild horses, bestrewn in red and white, are corralled by his delightful touches.

Even among more rarefied company with World Cup 2018 winners France, the forward’s appreciation of space and eye for a decisive play stands out.

It is a special talent that can remain subtle amid glaring returns of 29 goals in all club competitions for 2017/18 (including a brace in May’s 3-0 Europa League showpiece triumph against countrymen Marseille) and four strikes (a tally that features a penalty-kick in the 4-2 final victory against Croatia) along the way to Les Bleus’ second-ever global success.

Understatement escapes Griezmann, however, when it comes to discussing his own merits. Namely, a pursuit of the Ballon d’Or.

Griezmann

This is why Saturday’s clash with La Liga champions Barcelona – suitors he came infamously close to joining in the summer – is aptly timed. Even if voting has closed for the award the 27-year-old most covets.

It, first, comes amid fevered rumour about suspected leaks over the identity of the final three.

In some quarters, Griezmann features in the final three-man shortlist that will break the decade-long duopoly of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

In others, international colleagues Kylian Mbappe and Raphael Varane will be the ones battling Croatia’s Luka Modric.

Either way, the Macon-born superstar’s electioneering has been so flagrant for the game’s greatest individual prize and causes such exasperation, that you ignore just why he’s such a strong contender.

It certainly didn’t help him make the podium for The Best.

Rip through a suspect defence though, and the top-flight leadership is Atleti’s. Add to his tally of six goals in 24 career run-outs against the Catalans and Griezmann’s ascendancy will gain ratification – no matter the Ballon d’Or’s destination.

Such a display will provide a reminder to treat his words as mere distraction.

Griezmann is eminently capable of providing a reminder on the pitch that is worth far more than any reel of documentary film, or the contents of a journalist’s dictaphone.

June’s “The Decision” about his snubbing of Barca was overwrought and hackneyed. NBA superstar LeBron James began the trend back in 2010.

When it comes to lifting the Ballon d’Or, Griezmann’s actions have been just as blatant.

In September, he was wondering to L’Equipe “what else I have to do”.

A month later, the message to France Football was: “In this best team in the world, there must be the best player in the world, right?

“In any case, that’s what I think. Afterwards, there are votes, opinions, different judgements.”

Even last week on international duty, he couldn’t leave it alone.

“I want to win it [Ballon d’Or] too,” Griezmann told reporters after a 1-0 friendly win against Uruguay – his adopted nation.

Asked if he felt obsessed, he responded: “No, that is a problem with France.

“People there do not like when you seek something for yourself individually, but I’m proud to be there and hopefully I will win it.

“Of course, there are other people who can win it and they deserve it too, so let’s see what happens.”

This retort holds weight. Bandwagons are launched to press Ronaldo’s – of the Portuguese variety – candidacy, either directly or indirectly.

Even teenaged compatriot Mbappe replied “I did everything I could” when pressed on the matter this month.

It is the frequency, however, of Griezmann’s proclamations that make him standout.

In the opposition ranks at Wanda Metropolitano this weekend will be found a reminder of how simple the route to the Ballon d’Or can be.

Messi’s five Ballon d’Or’s were all earned with his feet, rather than his mouth.

There is a lesson here for Griezmann.

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Real Betis look to convert Giovani Lo Celso's loan deal and they shouldn't be thinking twice

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Giovani Lo Celso

The hot topic ever since they humiliated Barcelona at the Camp Nou, Real Betis have progressed tremendously under coach Quique Setien.

After losing a gem of a player in Fabian Ruiz to Napoli, Betis were forced to search for a long term replacement of a similar profile as that of the Spaniard’s.

Euro 2006 champion William Carvalho was purchased for a mere €20 million from Sporting and Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Giovani Lo Celso was also roped in on loan to strengthen the midfield. In all probability, Verdiblancos will trigger the option to buy the midfielder for €30 million.

Although the crux of Setien’s philosophy has been untouched, the former Las Palmas boss has tinkered around with his formation a bit this season. Contrary to last season’s 4-3-3, Betis now play in a 3-5-2 formation which occasionally shifts to a 3-4-2-1 with one of Sergio Canales or Lo Celso advancing forward.

The latter started as a deep lying playmaker initially but after impressing in a more advanced role, Setien decided the Argentinian is far better further up the pitch. This also coincided with a sudden rise in Carvalho’s form.

The Portuguese had a terrible start to his career at Betis in his deep role but was on top of his game against Milan at San Siro and Barcelona at Camp Nou.

Tiemoue Bakayoko fights for the ball with Giovani Lo Celso

Tiemoue Bakayoko fights for the ball with Giovani Lo Celso

This allowed Lo Celso freedom in the midfield and the 22-year-old has done justice to the expectations which had surrounded his transfer. Not the fastest or the strongest on the field, the Lo Celso is a brilliant distributor of the ball, technically gifted with a good eye for final balls into the box.

The Rosario born star has stepped up in all crucial games for Betis this season. He scored and assisted in Betis’ 2-1 win at the San Siro, scored their only goal in the 1-1 draw in the return leg and capped off a brilliant month with a ten on ten performance against Barcelona which also had his name on the scoresheet.

Lo Celso has also formed a good partnership with Canales and the pair usually win all their midfield battles, most recently against one of the best midfields in Europe.

However, the Seville based club haven’t enjoyed the prettiest of starts in the league. They have won, drawn and lost four games each and the number of defeats don’t do justice to their performances.

Betis start every game on the front foot and dominate their opponents on most occasions. However, they have displayed shades of impotency in the final third and vulnerability on the counter which is direct consequence of playing a high line.

If we are to go by their last three performances or so, Beticos can pride themselves on finding a solution for the former. And the answer has arrived in the form of the 22-year-old Argentinian.

With Lo Celso playing as an attacking midfielder, the penetration into the final third has been more promising. He often plays a ball down the wing and attacks the space inside the box as he attempts to convert the return pass from Junior Firpo.

He’ll be extremely crucial in determining how this season will pan out for Real Betis and can potentially make a case to be this season’s best buy in La Liga.

Also, what were you thinking Mr. Jorge Sampaoli? You had a Bentley and you drove a fiat at the World Cup.

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Ousmane Dembele more efficient in front of goal than Barcelona team-mate Luis Suarez

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Messi and Suarez have started off well

We’re 12 games into the season and La Liga is shaping up brilliantly.

Barcelona are hanging by a thread at the top of the table with 24 points as the sharks of Sevilla, Atletico Madrid and Alaves linger in joint second with 23 points.

From 120 fixtures so far, 304 goals have been scored and the strikers have been key to their team’s success. Here, we attempt to analyse the player’s proficiency and involvement in build-up play.

A graph analysing the top forwards in La Liga

A graph analysing the top forwards in La Liga

The X-axis along the bottom is the ratio of goals scored by the player per 90 minutes to the expected goals per 90 minutes (G90/xG90).

Since xG gives information about the quality of the chances the player had, this ratio shows how clinical the player has been in front of goal. If a player has a high G90/xG90 ratio, it means he has latched onto half-chances and has a high probability of scoring from a relatively tough chance, based on his performance so far.

Conversely, a player with low G90/xG90 ratio has scuffed some of the easier chances and could have scored more goals, given the quality of the chances he’s had. A ratio of over one usually means the player has done justice to his chances.

The size of the bubble gives information about the involvement of the player in build-up play which is quantified by the number of touches by the player and the position of the player on the pitch when those touches were taken.

The Y-axis….

The data taken from understat.com is for all players in La Liga who have scored three goals or more.

PROFICIENCY 

Iago Aspas and Maxi Gomez have clearly taken their chances very well. The pair have 14 goals to their name this season and are – in a way – carrying Celta Vigo.

Ousmane Dembele has been heavily and rightly criticised for losing possession very often. However, the Frenchman has been clinical in front of goal and has scored two of his four strikes from half chances.

His goal against Real Valladolid came from a low shot from the edge of the box. It requires excellent finishing ability to bury chances like that and boss Ernesto Valverde must consider playing him more often because of his threat.

Celta Vigo forwards have been clinical

Celta Vigo forwards have been clinical

Barca team-mate Luis Suarez and Sevilla’s on-loan forward Andre Silva sit at the other end of the spectrum. Both the players should have scored more goals for their corresponding xG.

This quantifies how wasteful Suarez was in front of goal during the first few matches. The Uruguayan has spilled quite a few chances provided to him, usually by Lionel Messi. The fact Messi has the highest xA (expected assists) in the league strengthens this argument.

The Real Madrid duo of Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale have been extremely poor in front of goal and find their data points in the bottom left corner. Antoine Griezmann has not had the best of starts either.

BUILD-UP PLAY

In Suarez’s defence, the Uruguayan has been heavily involved in build-up and has been crucial for Barcelona even when he doesn’t net the ball.

Philippe Coutinho has really stepped up in Messi’s absence. The Brazilian has provided a channel through which Barcelona’s attack can flow.

Messi alongside Sevilla duo Wissam Ben Yedder and Andre Silva have had their fair share of involvement in the build-up, too, and this says a lot about the style of play of the two sides who prefer to move the ball around in the final third before striking.

Suarez has been crucial to Barcelona's build-up

Suarez has been crucial to Barcelona’s build-up

Players like Roger (Levante), Borja Iglesias (Espanyol) and Cristian Stuani (Girona) are target men who lurk deep into enemy lines and latch onto the any chance they get.

With an appreciable xG90/G90 ratio and a high G90, Stuani can be considered as one of the best target men in La Liga and the late bloomer is delivering for the second season in a row.

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