A lot has been written about Antoine Griezmann’s start at Barcelona, to the point that perhaps it’s a bit overdone. With four goals and three assists after 11 games, the Frenchman has produced a decent amount in his maiden season at the Camp Nou.
However, it is clear that many expect a lot more from him, particularly when he links up with Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez. The fact that he looked more comfortable playing for France than for Barça suggests he is simply not adapted yet to Ernesto Valverde’s system.
The key problem is that Griezmann’s natural position doesn’t really exist in Barcelona’s 4-3-3. While Griezmann did start out as a winger for Real Sociedad, he evolved into something else when he reached Atlético Madrid and became a supporting striker, working behind Mario Mandžukić or Fernando Torres in most cases.
In the 2017-18 season, Atlético signed Kevin Gameiro to be their main striker. But that experiment proved unfruitful. Gameiro did not produce as hoped, and with Torres getting on in terms of age, they tried playing Griezmann upfront as the main striker with Angél Correa or Yannick Carrasco usually supporting him. This resulted in a poor string of matches for Griezmann as he failed to work his magic as the main striker, notably coming off in the 75th minute of a 0-0 draw with Real Madrid to a chorus of whistles.
Diego Simeone’s men were reinforced by the arrival of Diego Costa to act as the main striker in the winter transfer window, allowing Griezmann to return to his usual role. Later, Atléti signed Álvaro Morata to provide another partner for Griezmann upfront.
Another cautionary tale is the French national team. The eventual champions started out their FIFA World Cup-winning campaign with Griezmann on the left of a 4-3-3 that had Kylian Mbappé in the middle and Ousmane Dembélé on the right. However, the team ended up dropping Dembélé and switching formation to a 4-2-3-1 with Olivier Giroud upfront. One of the main reasons for this was to return Griezmann to the spot he most likes - right behind a big striker.
At Barcelona, 4-3-3 means that there is no player who is supposed to play right behind the striker in the way a 4-4-1-1 or 4-2-3-1 has a role like that. Only Barça play in such a way that there kind of is - Lionel Messi, dropping in from the right to a central area. There’s no way the team will play a formation that accommodates someone in the hole like that unless it is Messi. Griezmann is an amazing player, but he’s no Messi.
That essentially brings you right back to the drawing board. You either play him on the wing or as the main striker. Neither seems like his ideal place, and though he obviously can play there, it seems from his career that he’s always wanted to return to the role of a second striker.
These things are not set in stone, however. David Villa was not necessarily a left-winger before he played for Barcelona, nor was Samuel Eto’o known as a winger prior to Pep Guardiola moving Messi to the middle and moving Eto’o to the wing. Griezmann certainly has the talent, tactical knowledge, and willingness to sacrifice himself for the team that a player needs to succeed in making this transition.
On the other hand we have seen calls from certain media and fans to take Griezmann out of the wing and put him in the middle. While this may (or may not) end up being the solution, putting him as a main striker is also an unfamiliar position. There’s only one way Griezmann will be a success at Camp Nou, regardless of position, and it’s through hard work on the training ground - which requires effort not just from him, but the whole team and the coach.