Why Koeman must look at Deschamps' France to get the best from Griezmann at Barcelona

Antoine Griezmann Albania France Euro 2020 QualifiersGetty

Antoine Griezmann’s 32nd goal for France might have been an inconsequential deflected shot from range in a 7-1 friendly victory over Ukraine, but it was a symbolic strike that carried him past Zinedine Zidane to push him into the top five goalscorers of all time for his nation.

Having also won the 2018 World Cup – and with it the Bronze Ball and the Silver Boot – the Macon-born star is set to go down in the annals of history as being one of Les Bleus’ greatest players.

He has also ensured a similar status for himself at Atletico Madrid, where he played from 2014, but since making his big summer move to Barcelona in the summer of 2019, things have not worked out.

During the club’s scruffy 2019-20 campaign, he scored 15 goals and added four assists in 48 games under two different coaches and struggled to justify his presence to such an extent that by the time football restarted after lockdown he was out of the team as much as in it. For a transfer fee of €120 million (£109m/$142m), it was a desperately poor return.

He appears to have fared no better after the summer revolution at Camp Nou. Shedding numerous members of the first-team squad, including striker Luis Suarez, Griezmann might have expected a greater opportunity to shine under new boss Ronald Koeman, yet the Dutchman has pitched him into a wide-right position that he does not favour.

Although he has started all three Primera Division matches that Barca have played, he has yet to finish one and has only gone significantly beyond an hour once. In terms of decisive contributions, he is waiting on both his first goal and his first assist.

“I am sure he is not happy with this situation,” national team boss Didier Deschamps said earlier this week. “I don’t interfere with the use of my players in other clubs, be at Barca or anyone else. “Antoine is playing on the right there at the moment. It's true that Koeman said, and told him, that he did not understand that he was used to playing in a more central position.”

Griezmann GFX1x1Playing Surface

Although Deschamps also pointed out that Griezmann “must adapt” to the role he is being asked to play, that Koeman did not comprehend why the player prefers operating in a more central role must set alarm bells ringing.

To that end, France’s Nations League matches with Portugal on Sunday and Croatia on Wednesday open up an important avenue for the 29-year-old to show he remains potent in his favoured position.

Three goals in his last four internationals are evidence that Griezmann can still be an effective weapon for France, even if there have been doubts voiced over his long-term ability to remain in the team if his struggles at Barca continue.

The emergence of 17-year-old midfielder Eduardo Camavinga may be one factor that is of benefit to the forward. The prodigious Rennes youngster can offer the type of balance to the midfield that will allow Griezmann to operate in a central role, and Deschamps, who was the man to deliver the message of the attacker’s unhappiness on the right, has pledged to use him there.

“For me, he is still more effective when he is in the heart of the game, when he is able to touch the ball a lot. In that position, he has the possibility to come and help in the midfield too,” the coach said. “He doesn't have the ability to take the ball and beat opponents on the wing like others. He needs to touch the ball a lot and he is smart in his movement.”

Antoine Griezmann Barcelona 2019-20

France’s success under Deschamps has been achieved by following the simple philosophy of playing his best players in their best positions, and that has allowed Griezmann to flourish. There may be other stars around him, such as Kylian Mbappe and Paul Pogba, but it is through the Barcelona star that the play typically flows.

Indeed, for Sunday’s Nations League match with Portugal, he is expected to play in a No.10 role behind Mbappe and Olivier Giroud, allowing the potential of all three to be maximised.

At Barcelona, on the other hand, he is forced to compete with six-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi for the keys to the side, and with that in mind he is peripheral both metaphorically and physically in Koeman’s attacking plans.

Messi should never be considered to be a 'problem', but there must surely be a way of exploiting the Frenchman's talents alongside that of the Argentine.

The Dutchman, whose resources have been left stretched by Barca’s inability to sign Memphis Depay from Lyon, another player who would thrive in a No.10 slot, will need the intelligent and subtle attacker operating near his best if they are to stop Real Madrid from winning another league title - and that will not happen on the right wing.

Instead, he must look for inspiration in the way that Deschamps uses Griezmann. It helped with France a World Cup, and perhaps it can help Barca win La Liga back. 

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Who is the best No.9 in the world?

  • 23%Karim Benzema
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