Reports claim Antoine Griezmann could be a potential option for Chelsea amid speculation he could leave Barcelona.
The Blues are looking to bolster their attacking options after some problems in front of goal last season. So would Griezmann be a useful signing if a deal could be done? West London Sport’s Shamir Reuben looks at what the France international could offer.
Made to wait in the wings
At Barcelona everything is built around Lionel Messi. To keep his Argentine star happy, ex-boss Pep Guardiola shunted world class centre-forwards like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, David Villa and Thierry Henry to the wings.
Griezmann has also found himself relegated to the flanks, unable to wreak the kind of havoc that previously made him unstoppable at Atletico Madrid.
His two seasons at Barcelona feature in his three worst seasons in terms of attacking returns. That isn’t just in terms of direct goal threat; his underlying numbers for indirect threat have suffered too.
Even though he has had more touches in the penalty area at Barcelona, his shots per game have dropped, leading to him registering his worst tallies for shots and shots on target in five years.
Add to this that almost all set-pieces, including the free-kicks that favour left-footers, and penalties, are all taken by Messi, and you have a player who is clearly being held back by the presence of a more influential force.
If Griezmann is deployed in his favoured role in the centre, with the freedom to choose his movements and spaces, there is a significant chance that he could replicate his superb numbers from Atletico.
A good fit for Chelsea?
There is little room for doubt that Griezmann has some attributes that would fit into Chelsea’s system.
He is superb at defending from the front, often tracking runners into his own half to win the ball back.
In his final season at Atletico, Griezmann applied an average of 21.2 pressures a game – that number would put his defensive work-rate level on a par with Mason Mount’s tally from last season (21.3.) His passing is a very underrated aspect of his game as well.
Much would depend on what system boss Thomas Tuchel settles on for the new season. Chelsea’s major concern last term was finishing, with Timo Werner’s goal conversion at a dismal 8%, while Kai Havertz converted 12%.
Griezmann, during a relatively poor season and playing out of position for Barcelona, converted 18% of his chances. He also supplied seven assists – one fewer than Werner, who played eight games more.
So there would be every reason to believe Griezmann would add much-needed goals and assists to this Chelsea attack.
Formation would be all-important
However, Griezmann struggles to play as a lone forward at times, and works best with a target man.
At Atletico, he was world class as a second forward, playing off Diego Costa or Alvaro Morata, exploiting space with his exceptional movement and creating or scoring by getting into excellent positions.
He enjoys a great relationship in the French national team with Olivier Giroud, but the 33-year-old target man is leaving Chelsea. Another problem would be if Tuchel decides to shift formation to a more conventional 4-3-3.
Griezmann’s preferred second-striker role does not exist in a 4-3-3, and on the wings he isn’t as effective. In their victorious World Cup campaign in 2018, France began with a 4-3-3 against Australia, but struggled with the lack of a focal point. They eventually switched to a 4-2-3-1 with Griezmann as the central attacking midfielder – and the rest is history.
Barcelona also deployed a 4-3-3 last season with Messi playing as a so-called false nine, and Griezmann endured a frustrating time on the wings.
Chelsea’s two German forwards, Werner and Havertz, both had mixed first seasons in the Premier League. Werner started well but finished poorly while Havertz was the opposite.
Werner’s goal conversion rate for RB Leipzig was 15% and 23% in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons respectively, while Havertz managed 20% in his final two seasons at Leverkusen.
Given that Chelsea won the Champions League despite both men under-performing at times, keeping the winning formula will almost certainly result in improved attacking returns this coming season, in which case Griezmann simply wouldn’t be needed.
If Chelsea keep their Champions League winning 3-4-2-1, Griezmann would be able to operate as one of the two behind the central striker, but his fortunes will depend heavily on his synergy with Havertz or Werner – whichever is used as the centre-forward.
The 4-2-2-2 that Tuchel used at Paris St-Germain, on the other hand, could also be a great set-up for Griezmann.
Werner and Havertz are starting regularly together for club and country, and their understanding is likely to improve further. Playing Griezmann in the ‘hole’ behind them could offer an exciting and industrious front four, allowing him the license to create and move into lethal positions to score.
With Giroud’s move to Milan all but sealed, replacing one French forward with another could prove to be a very interesting piece of business for Chelsea were they to turn to Griezmann this summer.