Inside Griezmann's Atletico Madrid nightmare - no goals, no assists, no shots on target
You can’t go home again, or so they say, and Antoine Griezmann is finding it out first hand.
Atletico Madrid swooped to bring the French forward back to the Wanda Metropolitano on transfer deadline day from Barcelona, but both club and player have changed since parting ways in the summer of 2019.
Welcoming departees back is part of Atletico coach Diego Simeone’s MO, having done the same with Felipe Luis, Diego Costa and Fernando Torres, none of which panned out particularly successfully, although the latter scored a handful of important goals. Yannick Carrasco's return is the one success story.
This time it comes at a significant cost, too. Atletico are not only fielding Griezmann’s €30 million (£26m/$35m) a season wage but are obliged to pay Barcelona €40 million (£34m/$47m) to make his loan permanent, providing certain conditions are met.
Griezmann’s homecoming has thus far fallen flat. In his first four Atletico matches he has no goals, no assists, and no shots on target. The same was true of the three games he played for Barcelona in August before his transfer.
However, at Atletico, the team has also been unable to score while he is on the pitch. Only after he was substituted on his debut did Atletico strike against Espanyol, in a 2-1 win. That was followed by two goalless draws, and then a 2-1 win over Getafe. Again, the goals only went in after Griezmann was withdrawn.
Simeone is not yet sure which system to use that fits Griezmann, perhaps because he arrived so late in the summer. The champions used various formations on their way to the title last season, but the French striker’s great complaint at Barcelona was that he was never used in his favoured role, as second striker.
In his previous stint at Atletico, from 2014-19, the team was built around Griezmann. That is no longer the case, with Luis Suarez the key figure. The Uruguayan, Griezmann’s former Barcelona team-mate, netted both goals late on against Getafe to keep Atletico near the top of the table after a disappointing performance south of the Spanish capital.
“He [Griezmann] is in the process of adapting to the new Atletico, it’s not the same as the one he was at before, but we’re lucky to have him with us,” said Simeone, asking for fans to be patient.
The Argentine coach is tinkering with his plans to make Griezmann great again. Against Getafe, Simeone turned to a 4-4-2 system, more similar to the set-up he used in the Frenchman’s finest years at the club. And yet, despite publicly backing Griezmann, Simeone must also have some doubt over whether the forward is still good enough to merit such treatment.
It will be intriguing to see if he maintains the formation against Alaves on Saturday, even though it malfunctioned at the Coliseum Alfonso Perez.
Griezmann has lost his spark and his confidence in Catalonia and supporters have had a mixed reaction to his return. Many of them urged him to cut his hair, posting photos of electric razors under Atletico’s announcement of his transfer.
He obliged, perhaps in an effort to consign his Barcelona failures to the past with his locks and begin afresh, to look like a footballer again instead of a dishevelled man in a midlife crisis, but it hasn’t worked so far. Atletico’s great hope is that Griezmann rediscovers his hunger and purpose.
The main argument against the Rojiblancos this season is questioning if they have the grit and determination to retain the title. The last time Atletico won back to back leagues was in 1950 and 1951. The bulk of the squad have La Liga winners’ medals in their trophy cabinets, but Griezmann does not. The striker has never won a top-flight title.
Despite spending his entire career in Spain, the only significant domestic trophy he has won is the 2021 Copa del Rey with Barcelona. Winning the league this season is more important for Griezmann than anyone else at the club.
The fear he is finished at the top level exists, but at 30 years old, Atletico are hoping to pry at least two or three elite seasons from the striker.
“I’m sure, I have no doubt that Griezmann will perform how we hope,” insisted Simeone. There is nobody better to motivate him than this coach, and next week his former side Barcelona are coming to town.
Griezmann never fitted in comfortably at Camp Nou and he can prove a point next weekend, both to his former employers, any doubting supporters who think this is just another nostalgia trip and, perhaps, even to himself.