Can Antonie Griezmann Shake His Atletico Madrid Struggles in Time for Madrid Derby?
23:37 GMT 11.12.2021 (Updated: 06:59 GMT 12.12.2021)
Atletico Madrid forward Antonie Griezmann has struggled to reacquaint himself at the club where he became a star. The French international and World Cup champion is aware of his poor start but remains optimistic that he has turned a corner ahead of their showdown with Real Madrid.
Atletico Madrid currently sit in fourth place in La Liga and ten points off of leaders Real Madrid. However, with a showdown with Real on Sunday and a game in hand, Atletico can quickly turn a 10-point deficit into four. If they are to do that, they'll need star player Antonie Griezmann to live up to his potential.
Griezmann's form in La Liga and the Champions League has been night and day. In La Liga, his three goals in 12 appearances are his worst goals-to-game ratio since 2010-11, when he scored seven goals in 37 appearances as a 19-year-old for the newly-promoted Real Sociedad.
In the Champions League, Griezmann's four goals in five appearances equals the total number of goals he scored for Barcelona in the competition across 16 appearances. The Frenchman is aware of his struggles to get back to his old self in Madrid.
He told ESPN: "To be honest it was quite hard for me at first. It was a rhythm I wasn't used to, a new system for me. I had to take that and mix it with my own style of play. Finally I'm getting better, and I'm feeling better on the pitch. To get to the next round of the Champions League was very important for me".
Griezmann's struggle to adjust to Atletico Madrid is hardly a surprise. When Griezmann first left the club in the summer of 2019, the squad was built around an industrious defence and Griezmann's all-around excellence as a playmaker and goalscorer.
In 2018-19, Griezmann scored or assisted on 23 of Atletico Madrid's 55 La Liga goals. The following season - without Griezmann - Atletico dropped to 51 goals and had no one player who could carry their offence.
Atletico learned the hard way that life without an elite forward is no way to compete for titles, and subsequently bolstered their attack with the signing of Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez, a move that saw Atletico score 67 goals and win their first La Liga title since 2013-14.
In a span of two seasons, Atletico reimagined their team, and while many of the same players from Griezmann's first tour of duty remain, the tactics do not. The other reality is that Griezmann is not the same player he once was.
Griezmann's career has featured three distinct phases since he joined Atletico Madrid in 2014-15: The first phase was as an out-and-out goalscorer.
When Griezmann first arrived in Madrid, his playmaking lagged behind his goalscoring. While he was still able to play all across the front three and as a second striker, he wasn't tasked with receiving the ball deep and progressing it towards goal.
The next phase in Griezmann's progression at Atletico was his shift from goalscorer towards goal creator. In his first two seasons, he scored 22 goals in the league, and in the following three he scored 16, 19, and then 15. While his goals scored metric declined, his total goal involvements remained relatively static, as an increase in assists offset the decline in goals.
The third phase of Griezmann's career came at Barcelona. With Lionel Messi entrenched as Barcelona's primary offensive engine, Griezmann's first season with the club was a struggle as he tried to figure out his new role.
He posted the lowest goal contributions of his career but discovered a new way to play. Griezmann dropped deeper and became more instrumental in buildup play, rather than making the final pass or shot.
Ahead of the Madrid derby, Griezmann must determine what his next phase will be. Will he look to be a goalscorer? Or will he be the offensive engine at Atletico once more? His Champions League play says he's a goalscorer, and his league play says he's an engine.
With Luis Suarez suffering a muscular injury, Griezmann may be forced to be the goalscorer he was when he first came to Atletico. His figuring out how he fits into Atletico's attack could determine if they make a charge to defend the league title, or if they watch as their city rivals claim another trophy.