After the famous “La Decision” ended up being the wrong decision for Antoine Griezmann last summer, Atlético Madrid’s coveted World Cup winner is now finally changing colours and will continue his career away from the Spanish capital and the Rojiblancos.
With the footballing world going crazy about this versatile forward, it is only fitting that we do a take a look at him and dissect his player profile before he sets up towards a new chapter of his life in the season to come. So without further ado, this tactical analysis will profile Antoine Griezmann, give you his scout report from Atlético Madrid and how he could fit the tactics of his future club.
Antoine Griezmann is 28-year-old forward that used to play his football under the rigid hand of Diego “Cholo” Simeone since 2014 when he joined from Real Sociedad. The French forward is very much regarded as one of the best forwards on the planet and is characterised by exceptional technical ability, lethality, positioning, and creativeness.
Some of his best plays stem from his extraordinary reading of the game and footballing IQ, utilising brains and broad with sheer pace to beat his opponent and set up his teammates at the same time. Even though he started off his career as a left-winger, he is now more of a striker and a false nine that has enough positional freedom to roam the final third almost to his heart’s extent.
Being under development under Simeone for years, defending and doing it wholeheartedly and above all else, proficiently, is no stranger to this forward as he tends to both drop deep to assist in the defensive duties as well as initiate transitions and regaining of possession.
In short, Griezmann is the whole package and mostly a rarity in today’s market. We’ll now go through his most prominent traits and do an analysis on them in detail.
Positioning and movement
One of the key aspects of a lethal forward is his positioning. Griezmann is great at creating and exploiting space as he will often position himself or rather, reposition himself according to the need of a certain scenario. As a general rule of thumb, and in a more familiar system like Simeone’s, the Frenchman will mostly be found in-between the lines and as the deeper forward of the striking tandem up front.
In that sense, we can actually regard Griezmann as a false nine striker of sorts that oscillates between various different positions on the pitch and often moves freely inside them, giving the good old 4-4-2 some added fluidity and creativity.
The above image shows how that looks on paper and below you can see examples of Griezmann on the pitch. A couple of things that have to be noted in his positioning schemes are: a) He moves a lot and swaps positions with his teammates regularly and b) Most of the time he will drop deeper with back turned to the opponent’s goal (and open body so as to be able to receive the ball easier), with an aim to provide a link-up and assist the build-up of his team.
Here, you can see him dropping deeper with back turned to the goal as he drifts in-between the lines in order to open a new passing channel. From that area, he can receive the ball easier due to his good positioning and he is also in a good spot to progress the ball into other areas from there as well.
A similar thing happens below. Griezmann drifts away from his usual position, occupies the zone between the opposition’s lines and serves as a link for his teammate. A simple yet effective way of unlocking the opponent’s blocks and add more fluidity into his team’s attack.
Since he is allowed a lot of freedom around the area, he has developed a keen understanding of how to exploit it perfectly. This means that his awareness is at the highest level and once he sees a pocket of space, he can easily make use of it.
Sometimes, that also means that he can create it himself by slick movement and manipulation of the opposition’s backline but other times he will just spot the opportunity and jump on it. Below, we can see the former happening when Griezmann vacates his natural position to create an opening for his teammate.
The latter example, the one in which he takes advantage of the space created himself can be seen in the next image. Once again, he is really mobile and keeps moving freely, pulling his marker with himself deeper only to change the direction of his movement almost instantly, leave the defender on the floor and utilise the pocket of space left behind him for a great link-up in three moves in total.
His free role transformed him from a more traditional forward into a completely modern one as he now assumes the burden of both a finisher and creator for his team. But in order to be able to perform both tasks similarly well, he had to polish his technical ability with the ball as well as his passing skills.
Link-up play and passing
We have already established that Antoine Griezmann rarely sticks to his position transcribed by the teamsheet. His movement enables him to become more than just a forward – he becomes a true playmaker in every sense of that word.
This is pretty accurate from both a statistical and tactical point of view. Firstly, his average key passes completed have risen exceptionally. When he joined in 2014/15 he averaged 0.4 key passes in La Liga and 0.6 in the Champions League. Fast forward to the present day and age and he has 2 key passes per game in La Liga and 1.6 in the Champions League. That totals in a fivefold increase in that section only.
Furthermore, when it comes to the Spanish Primera, Griezmann may not be at the very top of all the goalscoring and assisting charts but he features in them when it comes to passing and chance creation. Last season, he finished as the league’s third-best through passer (74) only behind Sergi Darder and Lionel Messi.
Likewise, he was third (81) in smart passes (When the player is cutting the lines and winning some advantage for his teammates with this pass, leading them in a good position to attack. The pass should be between two to three opposite players) only behind Giovanni Lo Celso and Messi again. Finally, Griezmann is only second to Messi with deep completion (101) which is a completed forward pass collected 25 yards from goal.
His heatmap more than justifies this as we can see that the Frenchman spends most of his time in deeper positions from where he can be the creative spark and set his team up rather than only pounce on and finish actions.
Let’s see how that translates onto the pitch in the following examples. You can clearly see in the first image how Griezmann likes to position himself in the areas that offer him the most freedom to express himself.
This often means stepping away from the goal and outside of the final third so he can use his creative boots to the best of his abilities. Here, he drifts wide and creates enough distance between himself and his markers to be able to afford a couple of seconds on the ball without any intrusion while also attracting multiple defenders and thus creating space for his teammates.
But even though that example shows how he interchanges positions, the next one fully personifies Griezmann’s style of play. Forward on paper, midfielder in reality, the Frenchman can often be seen around the middle of the park where he is allowed most space and time to orchestrate play and send deadly passes.
Last season he averaged 80% passing accuracy in all competitions with 4.19 passes into the final third and 1.89 through balls and 2.31 long balls per game.
Griezmann fully embraces his dual role in the team but for all the skill he shows in the playmaker spectre, his best attribute is still his lethality and an eye for goal.
For all of their abilities in other areas, forwards are still very much ranked according to their efficacy in front of goal. As far as scoring goals go, Griezmann can tango with the best of them.
Last season, the forward played a total of 5609 minutes in all competitions, scoring 29 goals and assisting further 15, which is an incredible return. But this suddenly becomes even more impressive when we add the fact that he outperformed his xG values (expected goals) by almost 10 (29 goals vs 19.42 xG).
His shot and xG graphs give us a closer and more detailed look at his lethality. We can see that he relies on both shots inside and outside the area and often scores from situations that he is not really expected to score from.
Still, the goals that arrive from clear cut chances attest to his great positioning and exploiting of space, which is an aspect we already covered earlier in this tactical analysis. Of course, much of it comes as a result of certain tactics deployed but Griezmann is a forward with more freedom than most and these are the direct consequences of that.
He also averaged 2.7 shots last season in all competitions with 46.4% of them being on target. Hitting the target with almost every other shot is pretty impressive, to say the least. One other important aspect of his lethality are the touches inside the box.
Last season he accumulated a total of 126 touches in the box, ranking him eight in La Liga in that metric. Once again, movement and space creation in the danger area are key for him. Notice in the image below how he scans for possible pockets of free space and rushes in to exploit it.
It’s all about being free from your markers in the best possible area and in the best possible scenario where you can make use of it. In order to do that, he often uses fake runs, blindside exploitation and sudden bursts of speed and direction changes.
That way he either beats the opponent or doesn’t allow them to mark him properly in the first place, resulting in Griezmann enjoying acres of space inside the opposition’s box.
Being a part of Diego Simeone’s tactics and his system for years now, Griezmann is no stranger to defending wholeheartedly. This is a part of his skill set that is most underrated of all. For all his attacking prowess, his defensive contributions often get overlook completely.
But when you spend so much time in Atlético Madrid, you get used to defending and it comes to you naturally. As a general rule of thumb, they used to defend in 4-4-2 with oscillating periods of pressing. They don’t always press high up the pitch but rather work by blocking the passing channels and covershadowing their opponents.
This is when Griezmann is extremely effective as also his most prominent defensive trait. While one of the forwards is usually tasked with tracking the ball and applying pressure on the ball-carrier, the other (often Griezmann) will screen the opposition’s link between defence and midfield.
This is all standard part of Simeone’s tactics but works well for the majority of teams. What is special in Griezmann’s case, though, is his work rate in defence. Not many forwards defend at such a rate as the Frenchman. This is partly due to the system deployed by Atlético Madrid but also down to his willingness to participate.
In the example below, he can be seen tracking back and intercepting the ball in his own half.
The most important part is that this is no anomaly when it comes to Griezmann. His numbers from last season are proof enough of that and when he is put shoulder to shoulder with some of La Liga’s best forwards, he comes out on top in almost every defensive category.
Below, you can see the stats comparison with some other forwards in Spain. The only category in which he falls behind are clearances while the rest are pretty much well above everyone else with some exceptions.
His 0.8 tackles per game and 21 in total in La Liga put him well ahead of most forwards with only Lucas Vázquez (21) level with him and Christian Stuani (22) in front of him.
There are certainly not many forwards in the modern market who can replicate what Antoine Griezmann does on the pitch, both offensively and defensively. He is a modern striker through and through as he tends to both create and finish off actions.
His time at Atlético Madrid has come to an end but his story is far from being over. A new chapter awaits and Griezmann will be ready to take it head-on.
If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the digital magazines from totalfootballanalysis.com – a guaranteed 100+ pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Buy your copy of the June issue for just ₤4.99 here, or even better sign up for a ₤50 annual membership (12 monthly issues plus the annual review) right here.