Playing up front for Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid side cannot be easy. After all, in a team which is so focused on forging a cohesive shape, clearing danger quickly and frustrating opponents, attacking incision often seems as though it’s a secondary concern. But over the years the Madrid side have had special attacking players who have added the gloss to this style of soccer.
In Radamel Falcao, they possessed a poacher extraordinaire, as he fired Atletico to the Europa League in 2012 and Copa del Rey in 2013. Diego Costa’s stellar 2013-14 term, in which he led the line with power, ruthlessness and a fair dose nastiness, helped the Rojiblancos to a surprise title. In the current side, Antoine Griezmann is threatening to achieve something equally special.
The Frenchman was on target twice again at the weekend, as Atletico stormed to a 3-0 win at Las Palmas, keeping themselves clear at the top of the La Liga table. There was nothing spectacular about the goals, but Griezmann, twice through on goal in the second half, finished with the cold blood of a player who is in red hot form.
He’s been central to Atletico’s stunning rise to the top of the standings in Spain. The Frenchman’s searing pace, clever moment and forensic finishing have made him the standout player in the division over the last couple of months; he’s netted 11 goals in his last 11 games in all competitions, 18 in total for the season.
Griezmann is doing a difficult job with distinction and is certainly approaching the levels Falcao and Costa have scaled in recent seasons. But is it time to consider this wonderful forward alongside some of the established elite players in world football?
“I would not put him up among the very best: I would just tell him not to listen to such talk, to look to himself, to keep improving,” said Simeone after his No. 7’s latest masterclass, understandably seeking to dampen expectations, per ESPN FC. “He is young, works hard. With time it will all come to him naturally.”
But it’s hard not to get caught up in the growing hype around Griezmann, who has made massive strides as a player since Atletico brought him in in the summer of 2014. Despite having played on the flanks for Real Sociedad, Simeone sought to convert the Frenchman into a split striker, typically operating just off Mario Mandzukic.