Antoine Griezmann finally proves his worth
At last, Atlético Madrid are getting what they paid for.
It’s been a bit of a tough season for Antoine Griezmann at Atlético Madrid. He hasn’t been all he was cracked up to be after a €30m move from Real Sociedad, starting just 10 of Atléti’s 16 La Liga games and one of their six Champions League encounters. But on Sunday, Griezmann finally looked like the star his new team thought they were getting this summer.
The absence of Mario Mandžukić opened up a new opportunity for Griezmann against Athletic Bilbao. Diego Simeone has tried formations with Koke on the left while Griezmann plays through the middle, or Koke in the center of midfield while Griezmann plays on the wing, but they’ve both been at their best in the same spot, as a left winger that cuts inside. Against Athletic, Griezmann got a shot as the most advanced forward, with a pair of wingers flanking him and Raul Garcia behind him. He did plenty of dropping deep to find the ball and running at defenders, which opened up space for his teammates, and defenders had a hard time tracking his runs from deep when he didn’t have the ball.
Griezmann turned in a dominant second half by scoring a hat trick, and the three goals couldn’t have been much different from each other. The first was a header, the second a shot from the edge of the penalty area and the third a tap-in after he set up the chance with a brilliant individual run and layoff for Raul Garcia. He was offside on the goal, but it’s not terribly relevant. He should have had two goals and a world class assist, which isn’t really any worse than a hat trick.
This hat trick was especially impressive given how much Griezmann appeared to struggle in his unfamiliar position early in the game. “In the first half he could not find a way to help out the team,” said Simeone after the match, “but the second half was just the opposite. He was fabulous.”
There aren’t many players who combine Griezmann’s physical tools and willingness to play a very direct attacking style with his tricks and technical ability. He’s about as complete a winger as there is, and he’s such a complete player that Simeone — normally a pretty tactically rigid manager — is willing to throw him into an unfamiliar position and let him figure it out.
Can Simeone figure out how to get the most out of all of Griezmann, Mandžukić and Koke in the same team? He clearly thinks that he has to. “He is a player we need, that we went looking for,” said Simeone. “We are very happy for him, as we trust a lot in his characteristics. and we need him.”
It’s not necessarily going to be easy for Simeone to fit Griezmann, Koke and Mandžukić into the same team, but they’re all talented enough that he’s going to have to try. If Griezmann continues to play like he did in the second half away to Athletic — and his 16 league goals for for La Real last season suggests that he can — it’s going to be hard to drop him to accommodate others. Simeone probably sees this as a good problem to have.