Barcelona About to Land Antoine Griezmann
Where He Would Fit and What That Could Mean for Barcelona and their Players
As the calendar turns to July and the transfer season is in full swing, the three-year saga to whether or not Griezmann will leave Atlético Madrid has seemed to reach its climax as he is in the process for a move to FC Barcelona. This would obviously be one of the biggest signings in the window so far, trailing Hazard to Real Madrid, and probably the most interesting signing of the window. These two questions loom: What position will he play? What implications will his inclusion have on the rest of Barcelona's current squad?
Beginning with Griezmann, it is going to be very interesting to see how he would function for a side that is more tactically offensive and how he adapts to a new role. Atlético Madrid and Barcelona have almost diametrically opposite styles of play. Atlético plays with a conservative defensive strategy that involves clogging the middle of the pitch and using strategic pressing to lead to counterattacks, while Barcelona is never hesitant to throw numbers forward and possess the ball for long periods. Atlético's style forces the forwards to track back and take away passing lanes. Griezmann, with his creativity and skill, was able to carve out attacking chances for either himself or a teammate from the right side and the middle of the pitch when Atlético would win back possession. He has featured as a secondary striker as well as a main striking option. Griezmann will have to find a new position to fit among the attacking options at Barcelona.
Since Barcelona doesn't play with a true striker(s), instead of being a secondary striker, he could be deployed as a central attacking midfielder linking up with the likes of Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez. This would be a position similar to the one that Iniesta used to play. However, it would be slightly different because Iniesta was offset a little to the left, but the same concept of linking up to forwards and backs pushing high would be present. If Griezmann adopts this role, it would most likely bring about comparisons to the club legend and could possibly doom his time with Barcelona. Couple this with the fact the CAM role is something that he hasn't truly played before, and there are looming questions. While he is talented, he is not the same player as Iniesta, and when being evaluated to that standard, 99.9% of players would fail to reach it. The other option would be to play up front as a goal scoring option and try to find an effective niche somewhere on Barcelona's front line. Since he has proven himself to be a elite goalscorer and playmaker, it would be hard to avoid placing him at the front line.
Griezmann's arrival would create disruption for the rest of Barcelona's current players. If Griezmann moves into either of the two more open forward positions in Barcelona's 4-3-3 (not Messi), it would bring about huge ramifications for players such as Coutinho, Dembélé, Malcolm, and Suárez. One or two would move to the bench or transfer to another club. Coutinho has had a difficult road during year and a half with Barcelona and is already linked to leave the club this summer after being bought for over $160 million. He already fights for playing time and adding Griezmann would worsen his situation. Dembélé, another nine-figure transfer who came in before the 2017-18 season, has displayed talent and promise but loses the ball too much and has dealt with injuries. He is a player who needs to be featured and given game experience in order to develop into the superstar that his talent says he can become. Suárez, who has undeniably declined from world class status in the recent years, would have a direct positional conflict with Griezmann. Playing Griezmann as a center forward would rob Suárez of his position, and playing Griezmann as a left wing would put a left-footed goal scorer on the wrong side of the pitch. It is impossible to maximize the effectiveness of both players at the same time in a 4-3-3 formation. Malcolm, despite scoring against Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey and against Inter Milan in the Champions League, hardly saw the pitch only tallying 608 minutes (6.76 full games) of action in La Liga. He also plays on the right side of the pitch, an area that Griezmann and Messi like to roam in. Griezmann would add another body to a group of talented forwards already jockeying for positions and minutes.
If Griezmann is dropped into the midfield, who lines up in the other spots? What are the implications for Rakitic, Busquets, Vidal, Arthur, and the new signing, De Jong? The dilemma here is more about who will populate the midfield since none of these players will be as high on the pitch as Griezmann. Arturo Vidal, who was signed due to his experience and his ability as a tough, versatile defensive midfielder, would probably see his need on the pitch decrease drastically with Griezmann as an option. Busquets would most likely retain his position as a Barcelona stalwart. Rakitic, who seems to have no desire to leave, would probably be made more available by Barcelona and clubs like Manchester United have already made passes at him. As for De Jong and Arthur, how can Barcelona limit the playing time of two young, creative players who can dominate possession in the midfield? The amount of potential these two players have, both being in their early 20's when Griezmann is 28, has to be considered. Playing Griezmann in favor of one of those two would undoubtedly stunt that player's development and eventually jeopardize their future at the club.
It's not a new concept that the addition of a player will force some reshuffling or decrease the playing time for certain players, but when most clubs get a new transfer, it bolsters an agreed upon position in need. In this case, there is no clear answer to the question of what need Griezmann would fill with his arrival and where he would even play. Barcelona have already invested heavily on players in the attacking half of the pitch. Coutinho, Vidal, Rakitic, Dembélé, Malcolm, Arthur, and De Jong are all more than serviceable at their positions. Manager Ernesto Valverde already had difficulty choosing a midfield lineup and seemed apprehensive about selecting younger players just last season. Without a fire sale, how does this problem not compound with Griezmann joining? If there are several sales, especially of talented players who came in recently with substantial investment, the question of whether Barcelona should have committed to developing their existing talent must be asked. While Griezmann's arrival would have a major impact on Barcelona one way or another, it's anybody's guess when speculating where he would play. More importantly, it's hard to gauge the value he would bring.