Atleti’s Antoine Griezmann back to predatory best


It’s becoming pretty much impossible to stop Antoine Griezmann these days. He only has seven goals in his last two matches. Fresh from last weekend’s hat-trick against Sevilla, the Frenchman struck all four goals in Atletico Madrid’s rout of Leganes on Wednesday. His last nine matches have yielded 12 goals and three assists. His return to such devastating form will be pivotal as Rojiblancos make one last push for the title.

Griezmann cut a frustrated figure for the better part of La Liga’s first stanza. Atleti’s transfer ban left him with little choice but to remain at Wanda Metropolitano for at least another year. He didn’t want to ruin his legacy, walking away in the hour of need. Even with Manchester United and Barcelona seemingly eager to match his inflated buyout clause, the 26-year-old stayed put.

It was a tough decision on two fronts. With both suitors, he’s almost guaranteed instant success. Other than the Spanish Super Cup in his first year with Atleti, he has nothing to show for all his toils in the Spanish capital. Most frustrating, he has had to watch cross-city rivals Real Madrid prosper tremendously. He sulked further knowing no new face would arrive before winter.

The disappointment reflected profoundly on his play. Griezmann struggled to hit the heights of past seasons. His body language didn’t lie. More often than not, he was hard to spot, even with that shock of bottle blond hair. The statistics told their own story. Midway through the campaign, he had received more yellow cards (4) than goals (3). The faithful, yet to forgive his perceived flirtation with United, occasionally turned on him.

Unsurprisingly, there was significant pressure on Diego Simeone to axe the Frenchman. On his day, Griezmann possesses the mental strength to shoulder his team’s burden. Just to squeeze out results, he can sprint and dribble like a winger, then leap or head like a centre-forward. No one knows him better than his Argentine manager, though. Hence, it was even less surprising he kept the faith. Simeone has been vindicated in spades.

Good fortune seems to have visited the 26-year-old in 2018. Linking with Costa, Griezmann is nearing his predatory best. After scoring in the Copa del Rey victory over Lleida Esportiu in early January, he waited three matches to add another. Since then, however, the goals have rained down. The remarkable turnaround has spurred him to fourth on La Liga’s goal charts with 15, bettered only by Iago Aspas, Luis Suarez, and Lionel Messi.

As is his wont, Griezmann is showing his penchant for different sorts of goals. Against Leganes, he finished off Koke’s through ball in clinical fashion from inside the area. He made it two from a well-struck free kick. His third came from inside the area again off a fine Felipe Luis cross. He then displayed his heading mastery with the fourth, set up by Costa.

His form appears to have sparked Rojiblancos’ revival. Atletico has picked up eight victories on the trot in all competitions, including in six successive league outings. From trailing Barcelona by 10 points, they’re only four away. Next week’s clash between the two is shaping up to be a potential title decider. Should Griezmann keep his form, Barca is in trouble.

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