Let me be frank, when I first set out to write this article, I believed Griezmann’s performances hadn’t been as spectacular as they had been in other years, and I wanted to find out why. I thought he had been having a less than stellar year, which by the standard of most players would still be amazing, but by his high standards, was simply disappointing.
This belief originated from football’s age old problem of defining success, and how that success is then portrayed to us through the media. I don’t watch Atletico Madrid often, unless they are playing a big match. Therefore, I usually only catch their highlights and sometimes even just a casual score notification on my sports app. Atleti weren’t fighting for the La Liga title like they had been in previous years. In turn, the media simply didn’t fixate on them like they tend to do in Spain, and consequently, I wasn’t inundated with propaganda of who is playing ‘good’ football. I didn’t see much of Griezmann in the press, and I had simply forgotten about him. Stupidly, I took Griezmann’s absence in the press as a sign of faltering play.
How was it possible for a player of his calibre to simply become irrelevant, as I so ignorantly thought? Well, upon finishing my research, I learned what some of you Atleti fans already know, and it’s only fair that the rest of the footballing community should know as well. Griezmann is now one of the most complete players in our sport. No longer is he a goal hunting winger who needs the right pass to get in on goal, he has developed into the wheel-turning machine that Simeone always knew he could be. He is Atletico’s playmaker, and quite frankly, he is the keystone to their success.
My study of Griezmann consisted of analyzing three matches from the each of the past three seasons against three important teams in Spain, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Sevilla. Rather than focusing on specifics, like goal scoring opportunities, I wanted to watch each match in full to give myself a better understanding of the tactical development which has happened since 2014.
The first element which stood out is his defensive duties. This includes the role which he plays when his team is either in a defensive reorganization phase, or an organized defense. As you will see in the following video, in the latter years, Griezmann takes a very active defensive role. As soon as the team loses possession, he immediately works to win the ball back. On the other hand, in the 2014-2015 season, we see this role is much more passive, and Griezmann stays in a traditional striker position awaiting a possible counter attack.
This brings me to the next defensive point, positioning. This past season, we can a see a pattern in Griezmann’s defensive positioning where he almost joins the midfield line. He defends right in front of the two center midfielders. In the final sequence of the video, you can see the difference in the defensive positioning between 2015 and 2017.
Role in Counter Attack:
Obviously, I am not Simeone, and nor do I even claim to know a fraction of what he knows. Nonetheless, I believe Griezmann’s defensive positioning is linked to his new role in Atleti’s counter attack. As you may already know, counter attacks can be defined as the moments which occur immediately after winning possession of the ball. In these moments, a team can choose to do one of two things: instantly attack the opposition’s goal to take advantage of their possible unorganized shape, or organize their own offense and begin an organized attack. Simeone’s teams are characterized by their speedy and efficient counter attacks. However, in recent years they haven’t had to rely so heavily on this tactic. In turn, this has led to veterans of the team having to change their roles within the system of play.
In the past, Griezmann made up part of the first wave of players to commence a counter attack. He, along with the other striker or winger, made the initial penetrating runs into space to give options to the ball carrier upon winning possession. This required him to position himself further up the field in defense to provide a quick option when the team won possession. This season, we have seen Griezmann defend much further back, as I’ve discussed in the defensive segment of this analysis. When the team wins possession of the ball, the Frenchman now has a new responsibility, decide whether the conditions are correct to initiate a counter attack, and if this is the case, orchestrate an effective counter.
In the video, you will see in the 2016-2017 season the team constantly looks for Griezmann in the centre of the pitch after gaining possession. He is the first and most important piece to Simeone’s counter attack. He plays in the centre of the field in order to have the rest of his teammates around him to create the perfect counter attack. In the following image, you can see where he typically starts the counter attacks.
Role in Organized Attack:
Finally, when a team isn’t able to produce a counter attack, they go into a different phase of attack called the organized attack. This is where we can see the most dramatic change to Griezmann’s role in the team. Over the course of the three seasons, he has been slowly becoming a more participative member of the attack.
As the video will show, in the 2014-2015 season Griezmann played the role of a traditional striker or winger. In this position, his responsibilities included providing the team with width and depth by positioning himself as deep as the back line would allow him, or as wide as the touchlines. By doing so, he provided space to the interior players, like Koke, to create an attack. In addition to giving the team the necessary structure, he delivered penetrating runs behind the backline in order to add a more direct element to the Atleti attack. This very attack-minded, goal scoring approach allowed for Griezmann to be very successful in terms of scoring. However, tactically speaking, during this time he could have been considered a one dimensional player. This would soon change.
In the 2015-2016 season, we saw that although he still provided the depth and width needed from a striker, he began to have a role of a creator in certain situations and with certain personnel. For example, with Torres or Mandzukic playing as lone strikers, Griezmann started testing the waters as an attacking midfield player underneath them. At times, he came back to support the midfielders and connect the play between defenders and attackers.
This development continued into this most recent season, and has converted him into one of the most versatile attackers in all of Europe. He has the capability to play as striker and execute penetrating runs behind the backline. Furthermore, he now has the tactical intelligence to perceive conditions presented to him throughout the match, and offer solutions in order to improve the team’s play. He normally does so by stepping into voids and providing support. Additionally, he manages the team’s pace of play. That is to say, he decides when it’s necessary for the team to play quicker and more direct, and when the team should slow down and maintain possession.
Griezmann has gone beyond the stats sheet and highlight reels. His magic can no longer be explained with numbers. We now have to go deeper to understand the quality of Antoine Griezmann. We have to watch his movements that provide support when the team lacks organization, his penetrating runs when the team stutters and stagnates, his perfect defensive positioning to effectively shift the team from defense to attack. These subtleties are what the majority of the media fail to deliver. They are the nuances that make-up legends, and that’s exactly where Griezmann is headed.