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.
The ease with which he took to the role is testament to the talent of the 24-year-old, as his scintillating surges from deep allowed Atletico to move from their defensive structure into attack rapidly. Although this side was unable to replicate the heroics of 2013-14, it was apparent to the Vicente Calderon faithful they had picked up a gem of a player, as Griezmann finished the season with an impressive 22 top flight goals.
In the current edition of La Liga, Griezmann has shown further improvements, taking on the bulk of the team’s attacking responsibility.
SEE MORE: Barcelona allay Lionel Messi injury fears.
Although Mandzukic wasn’t prolific for Atletico, he was a player who occupied defenders, contested aerially and freed up space for his striker partner. Arda Turan’s effervescent presence also gave Griezmann a regular supply line. Both were sold in the summer, but the former Sociedad man seems buoyed by the subsequent pressures thrust upon him.
Let’s not forget, Jackson Martinez has struggled since his move to the Spanish capital, Luciano Vietto is still settling and Fernando Torres is sadly a shadow of his former self. So when this Atletico team have needed an attacking spark, they’ve looked for Griezmann. He’s delivered emphatically.
And although we’ve all seen the highlights of his wonderful dribbling, trailblazing runs and tremendous goalscoring, there’s more to his game. In terms of work-rate and attitude, Griezmann sets the tone for Atletico, harrying opposition defenders when asked and dropping into midfield or out wide when the situation demands.
Simeone has molded him into the perfect center forward for his fine side and provided he can stay fit, there’s no reason why Griezmann can’t be the driving force behind another title win for Atletico, not to mention glory for France on home in the summer, when he’ll be a key part of their European Championship side.
If we see such accomplishments, perhaps then Simeone will concede his star man in among the best players in the world. For a lot of us, Griezmann already deserves to be considered in that kind of company.
25+ Channels With Sports & News
- Starting price: $33/mo. for fubo Latino Package
- Watch Premier League, Liga MX, MLS & World Cup
- Includes ESPN, FOX, Univision, TUDN and more
Favorite Leagues At The Best Price
- Starting price: $7.99/mo. for Live TV Package
- Watch Argentine league, Brasileirāo and Copa Libertadores
- Includes beIN SPORTS, GolTV, TyC Sports and more
Many Sports & ESPN Originals
- Price: $6.99/mo. (or get ESPN+, Hulu & Disney+ for $13.99/mo.)
- Features LaLiga, Bundesliga, MLS, Copa del Rey & more
- Also includes daily ESPN FC news & highlights show
Live TV, Soccer & Originals
- Starting price: $4.99/mo.
- Features Champions League, Serie A, Europa League & more
- Includes CBS, Star Trek & CBS Sports HQ
175 Premier League Games & PL TV
- Starting price: $4.99/mo. for Peacock Premium
- Watch 175 exclusive EPL games per season
- Includes Premier League TV channel plus movies, TV shows & more
Get All 3 And Save 30%
- $13.99/mo. for ESPN+, Disney+ & Hulu
- Includes Bundesliga, LaLiga, NHL & the home to UFC
- Features Marvel, Star Wars + shows & movies for your entire family