New challenge at Barcelona set to be the toughest yet for Griezmann

Antoine Griezmann scored 94 in 180 league games for Atletico after joining from Real Sociedad in 2014. He expects his numbers to soar in the coming days. (AFP)
Updated 13 July 2019

New challenge at Barcelona set to be the toughest yet for Griezmann

  • Frenchman consolidates his place as ‘one of the best players in the world’

MADRID: Antoine Griezmann is likely to win the titles at Barcelona so far lacking in his club career but leaving Atletico Madrid brings few other guarantees, even for one of the world’s most talented players.
Griezmann’s long-anticipated move to the only team that finished above Atletico last season was confirmed on Friday, his €120-million ($135 million) release clause activated and a five-year contract signed.
“With his arrival,” Barcelona said in a statement on their website, “the Frenchman takes another step forward in his career with the goal of consolidating his place as one of the best players in the world.”
For Atleti, meanwhile, another star is lost and their hopes of absorbing this latest, and perhaps most crushing, departure of the close season may rest on the shoulders of 19-year-old Joao Felix, their €126-million arrival from Benfica.
Their fury at the manner in which the Griezmann deal was conducted was laid bare in a statement claiming the fee paid was “insufficient” and indicating they should be entitled to €200 million — the value of his release clause before the end of last month.
It means the saga is not over yet, but Atletico are used to adjusting. In contrast, at 28, Griezmann now faces the biggest challenge of his career, which boasts last year’s World Cup triumph with France, yet still not a single league title.
In that way, Barcelona, who have won La Liga eight times in the last 11 seasons, are something of a sure bet, so much so that finishing top of the table is no longer a barometer for success.
Instead, their Champions League humiliation by Liverpool might have been persuasive in going again for a player who not only rejected them last year but embarrassed them, his decision revealed at the end of a television documentary.
“My fans, my team, my home: Atletico Madrid,” Griezmann said then.
Josep Maria Bartomeu, Barcelona’s president, might have been able to forgive but the last few months would suggest others will need convincing.
When Atletico played at the Camp Nou in April, Griezmann was whistled by some Barcelona fans. When he went to take a corner, the chant came: “Griezmann, get out of the Camp Nou.”
The players were asked too, their responses coming back curt and irritable.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Atletico Madrid’s fury is at the manner in which the Griezmann deal was conducted was lies bare in a statement claiming the fee paid was ‘insufficient.’

• For Atleti, another star is lost and their hopes of absorbing this latest departure of the close season may rest on the shoulders of 19-year-old Joao Felix.

“I have no opinion,” said Lionel Messi. Gerard Pique, who was involved in the production of Griezmann’s documentary, was asked if he would take part in another this summer. “No, I won’t,” he said. “One was enough.”
Grudges can be quickly forgotten in football, by team-mates particularly, and when performances are good, by supporters too. But it could also swing the other way if he suffers a slow start.
The risk for Barcelona is small. Coach Ernesto Valverde needs to reduce his reliance on Messi and Luis Suarez for goals, particularly in the Champions League, where Suarez remains inexplicably inefficient.
Griezmann scored 94 in 180 league games for Atletico after joining from Real Sociedad in 2014 and could expect his numbers to soar in a team where chances are more frequent and defensive duties less demanding.


Manchester United and City seek derby delight

Updated 06 December 2019

Manchester United and City seek derby delight

  • Liverpool travel to Bournemouth aiming to surge further clear at the top of the points chart

LONDON: Both sides of the Manchester divide will be hoping some derby delight can add impetus to disappointing seasons when City host United on Saturday, while Liverpool travel to Bournemouth aiming to surge further clear at the top of the Premier League.

Manchester United got a badly needed win for manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Wednesday, inflicting a first defeat on Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho as the Portuguese returned to Old Trafford.

The Red Devils were again reliant on Marcus Rashford goals as the England forward struck twice to take his tally to 12 in 13 games for club and country.

“He was strong, direct, taking people on, inside and outside with no fear,” said Solskjaer. “That’s what we want — we want to see boys enjoying themselves.”

There has been precious little for United fans to enjoy this season, but just a fifth Premier League victory in 15 games was enough to lift them up to sixth.

That is still 11 points adrift of third-placed City, despite their own struggles at times.

Pep Guardiola’s men looked more like their old selves in thrashing Burnley 4-1 on Tuesday with Gabriel Jesus stepping up in the absence of the injured Sergio Aguero to score twice.

City have lost just one of six league meetings with United since Guardiola took charge three years ago and cannot afford to slip up if they are to maintain any aspirations of catching Liverpool in the title race. The English champions could kick off at the Etihad 14 points behind the leaders, should Jurgen Klopp’s men continue their scintillating form at Bournemouth earlier on Saturday.

“For the distance we are behind Liverpool it would be crazy to think about the title, we have to think about the derby,” said Guardiola.

Klopp could even afford the luxury of leaving Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah on the bench for a 5-2 thrashing of Everton in the Merseyside derby in midweek.

Both are expected to return for the visit to the south coast, but Klopp may rest some of his stars who did start against Everton ahead of a huge week for the European champions.

Liverpool travel to Salzburg in the Champions League on Tuesday needing to avoid defeat if their defense of the title is not to embarrassingly end in the group stages.

Divock Origi scored twice against Everton and Xherdan Shaqiri struck on his first start of the season to prove Klopp does have the strength in depth to successfully shuffle his pack.

“It’s easy for me to tell them often, very often, how good they are but if they then don’t play it’s not too easy for them to always understand what I say,” said Klopp.

“But if they play and deliver like they did, it’s a very, very important sign for the whole squad.”

Leicester remain Liverpool’s closest challengers, eight points back in second, thanks to a run of eight straight wins in all competitions.

“The team is developing and are proving they have a winning mentality and mindset,” said Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers, who has dismissed speculation linking him with the vacant managerial role at Arsenal.

Next up for the in-form Foxes is a trip to Aston Villa on Sunday.

Villa are one of a host of teams hauled back into the battle to avoid relegation by Southampton’s resurgence with Dean Smith’s men just one point above the drop zone.