Diego Costa is back, and that might just mean that Atlético Madrid’s struggling attack can correct itself. Diego Simeone is not the most adventurous coach in the world (and he’s never claimed to be), but his principles are strong and the results speak for themselves.
One thing Atlético have lacked over the past two-and-a-half seasons, however, is a properly functioning number nine in the mould of, say, Costa. Antoine Griezmann has been asked to do everything: he’s played in unfamiliar positions, sacrificed himself for the team and suffered individually as a result — especially this season, when Atlético were banned entirely from registering new signings. Griezmanndependencia has been more prevalent than ever; he has had to fill in the gaps alongside a hodgepodge of attackers that fail to do him (or themselves) justice.
With Costa in the fold, this seems a good time to look back on Griezmann’s efforts this season and look forward to how the Spain striker’s arrival could help Atlético’s #7. All indications are that Simeone plans to play the Frenchman as a second striker with Vitolo on the right and Koke on the left, meaning Atletico can go from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3 in the blink of an eye.
All stats are via understat.com.
Griezmann’s xG and shots
Griezmann is Atlético’s top scorer and has the highest expected goals (xG) too. He is fourth in shots taken per 90, however, with Nico Gaitán (I’m surprised, too), Yannick Carrasco and the now-departed Luciano Vietto all out in front of the French striker albeit with much less game time. His minutes per assist numbers have improved massively in the last two seasons, but his minutes per goal have steadily increased since his breakthrough in the second half of 2014-15.
Griezmann’s xG has dropped this season — roughly corresponding to a dip in his shots per game — but his key passes per 90 have increased. (The bar to the left represents half a season, of course.)
Important terms to know before we continue
Goals per 90 minutes
Expected goals per 90
Shots per 90
Assists per 90
Expected assists per 90
Passes that lead to shot per 90
Total xG of every possession the player is involved in per 90 minutes
Total xG of every possession the player is involved in without key passes and shots per 90 minutes
Another look at Griezmann’s progression over the past four years
Not much other than goals, but that’s a lot of goals.
Another goal boost to round off a huge season.
Asked to contribute elsewhere, and sees a drop-off in goals, shots and expected goals.
Continues to craft chances, but sees a bigger drop-off anyway without new signings.
Griezmann vs. Coutinho
Griezmann’s shifting responsibilities at Atlético — and the latest batch of rumors linking him with a move away — are somewhat comparable to the situation regarding Liverpool’s former midfielder Phillippe Coutinho.
Barcelona have already signed the Brazilian and seem intent on adding Griezmann, too. While they aren’t entirely comparable — I haven’t seen enough of Coutinho to comment reliably on the nuances of his game — it seems he does a lot more from deeper than Griezmann, who is asked to plug in basically everywhere for Atlético with a lack of creativity and goals in the side.
If you take a look at their seasons so far, Griezmann is a shadow of what he was in 2015/16 and Coutinho’s involvement in assists and key passes is far greater than Griezmann’s. Last season, however (below), you can see their similarities and how they could align in a flashy attacking side like Barça.
In conclusion, Griezmann has gradually become a forward with characteristics and statistics more befitting a deep-lying playmaker. Much like Wayne Rooney, he has ended up being the victim of his own versatility and while that might be a tough pill to swallow, it can also mean a more dangerous player when all the pieces are in place. Simeone will mostly take things partido a partido, and while the expectation that Griezmann will be a heavy contributor won’t change, his likely entry into a more natural position off Costa’s shoulder could help player and club alike.