We’re nervously edging towards the business end of another exciting campaign in the top division of Spanish football, where it is looking more and more likely that the La Liga trophy is heading back to Barcelona.
The Catalan club have quite simply stormed their way to the top of the table, and sit eight points clear of second-placed Atletico Madrid with just eight games left to play. Ernesto Valverde’s side were seemingly in the clear of late, but their most recent result – a stunning 4-4 draw at Villarreal – has put a hint of doubt in their title surge, with Atletico beating Girona 2-0 to close the gap in Spain’s top division. Real Madrid meanwhile are still striving for a top three finish despite a rollercoaster season for the club, and are hot on the heels of their city rivals.
Barca’s crazy eight-goal encounter with 17th-placed Villarreal proved that both as a league, La Liga is truly entertaining and, compared to the Premier League, there is a real competition for places. Once giant-killers Valencia and Sevilla are doing well to remain in the top ten, while Getafe and Alaves occupying fourth and fifth respectively in a real shake-up in the Spanish top flight. Real Madrid’s incredible fall from grace can undoubtedly be linked to the fact that they let go one of the game’s most gifted players of all time, but with Cristiano Ronaldo now earning his trade in Italy, the floor has opened up for debate on La Liga’s second-best players this season, with Atletico’s Antoine Griezmann more than capable of claiming such a title.
It’s irrefutable, undeniable, unquestionable – phrase it however you want – that Lionel Messi is on top of the world right now, and has been for quite some time, but Griezmann is doing all he can to try and keep his side in the race for glory this season, but ultimately Messi and co. should take the title home given their final run in.
The Argentinian clinched his 32nd league goal with a phenomenal free-kick in the draw at Villarreal, but Griezmann is more than holding his own, as are the usual suspects in Karim Benzema and Luis Suarez. More refreshing is those aiming to upset the status quo on a more personal note, with Wissam Ben Yedder and Jaime Mata of Sevilla and Getafe respectively, and former Premier League men in Cristian Stuani and Iago Aspas all in around those vying for a spot under Messi in the scoring charts.
Griezmann’s 13 league goals and 7 assists have, however, proven more vital than most, with the French forward propping up in the right place more often than not to guide Diego Simeone’s side to another three points. The forward has bagged almost a third of the club’s league goals this season and has been just as crucial at one end of the pitch as his defensive teammates have at the other. There’s no doubting Simeone’s admiration for keeping clean sheets – aside from PSG they and Juventus share the best defensive record in Europe’s top five leagues this season – but it’s reasonable to assume his adoration for Griezmann’s efforts in the final third isn’t far away.
It’s been quite a rise for the 28-year-old, but one can’t help but think that the French forward still has huge amounts to offer for both club and country. His loyalty to Atletico has stood the test of time over the years but has more notably withstood the advances of Barcelona, who have been and are continuing their efforts to persuade the forward to become their new main man up top as 32-year-old Luis Suarez hits the latter stages of his career. Griezmann’s composure in front of goal, together with a deadly finishing ability both on the ground and in the air, have ensured his value is one that simply won’t stop rising, with another ridiculous chip to secure all three points against Girona helping to heap the pressure on Barcelona who, in the end, may fail to take no for an answer and eventually land their number one target.
His performances on the world stage have further enhanced his already glowing reputation. Since that first French cap in 2014, he’s been a regular under Didier Deschamps, seemingly culminating in a top goalscorer and Player of the Tournament award at Euro 2016, only to be toppled by a Man of the Match performance and Silver Boot award in Russia 2018, where he bagged four goals to help his nation to World Cup glory.
The signs were certainly there at an early stage in the national setup where, as a 19-year-old, Griezmann helped his country to the 2010 U19 Euros on home soil, in a tournament which he and several others utilised as a stepping stone for future success. The only player representing a Spanish club in the entire squad, the young forward hasn’t done too badly at all since, and played his part in a group of potential wonderkids including Thiago, David Alaba, Fabio Borini, Nathaniel Clyne, Nathan Delfouneso, Ruben Rochina and several others who either have or haven’t quite made it.
Then-teammates Francis Coquelin and Alexandre Lacazette have also made a name for themselves, while countryman Gael Kakuta has perhaps fallen from grace after clinching the Player of the Tournament award, with former Liverpool youngster Dani Pacheco even taking home the title of the top goalscorer. It’s fair to say some have gone on to do much bigger things than others.
With legendary status therefore already confirmed with the French national team, Griezmann is now well on his way to repeating that feat back in Madrid. The club have boasted an incredibly talented list of strikers throughout the years, and Griezmann is sure to go down in history as one of the greatest, despite battling it out for places with the likes of Fernando Torres, Diego Forlan, Sergio Aguero, Radamel Falcao and Diego Costa.
His 130th goal for the club in all competitions over Rayo Vallecano earlier this year ensured he overtook Atletico’s very own in Torres in the top five goal scorers in the club’s all-time standings, behind only Luis Aragones (172 goals), Adrian Escudero (169), Paco Campos (146) and Jose Eulogio Garate (136). It’s important to remember he isn’t even 30 years old yet.
In a climate dominated by self-centred players, Griezmann has been thrown across the forward lines for both club and country in recent years, has never complained but has always found the back of the net. His current employers will give everything to their clinical forward in an attempt to keep him at the Wanda Metropolitano but, as many footballers will testify to, it’s certainly not easy to say no to Barcelona, regardless of the circumstances. Here’s hoping he remains with Diego Simeone to create more memories in the red and white stripes of Atletico Madrid.
Feature Image via Wallpaper Abyss – Alpha Coders