As Barcelona adjusts to life without Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann is given his finest opportunity yet to lead the Catalan club.
On Saturday, Griezmann will make his 101st appearance for Barcelona when the club travels to Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish league’s second round. In Messi’s absence, the French attacker has the chance to take center stage and become a protagonist.
“I hope I get to play another 100 games and carry on giving everything to make history with this club,” Griezmann said. “I want to keep helping the team both on and off the pitch, in attack and defense, and enjoying being at Barça.”
While Messi was still on the squad, he had some crucial performances, but he never lived up to the lofty expectations that awaited him when he signed for €120 million from Atlético Madrid in 2019, a year after he was named man of the match in France’s World Cup victory.
Griezmann, who has 35 goals for Barcelona, used to be relegated to a supporting position behind Luis Suárez and youngsters like Ousmane Dembélé and Ansu Fati. He wasn’t even a regular starter at times, and he only played a few minutes off the bench.
Both performed admirably in Barcelona’s 4-2 opening-day triumph against Real Sociedad, which marked the club’s first season without Messi in 17 years. After Barcelona refused to offer him a new contract due to financial difficulties, the Argentina international joined Paris Saint-Germain.
Sergio Aguero and Martin Braithwaite. Braithwaite scored twice vs Sociedad. So there are two more forwards for Barcelona this season.
“It was very important to get a win,” said Griezmann, who is 14 goals from equaling Thierry Henry as the club’s highest-scoring Frenchman. “It was a good game and hopefully we can now get another win against Athletic.”
Barcelona has won 12 of its previous 15 league games against Athletic, who started the season with a 0-0 draw against Elche on Monday.
When Real Madrid travels to Levante on Sunday, it will rely on a French striker to continue its winning streak. Karim Benzema, the team’s leading scorer last season, continued his excellent form by scoring twice in Saturday’s 4-1 triumph over Alavés.
Eden Hazard, who suffered from injuries last season, put up a strong performance for new coach Carlo Ancelotti. He will still be without a few players, notably Marcelo and Toni Kroos, who are both sidelined.
In the league, Levante was the last club to defeat Madrid, prevailing 2-1 in the Spanish capital in January. Only two of Madrid’s last four league games have been against Levante.
Atlético Madrid, the defending champion, also won its opening, 2-1 against Celta Vigo, and today plays Elche at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, where a crowd of more than 20,000 is expected after Spanish health officials permitted the league to resume with up to 40% of spectators in stadiums.
Because several players are still healing from injuries and after Mario Hermoso was sent off in the match against Celta, Atlético coach Diego Simeone may have difficulties putting up his defense.
Suárez, who joined Atlético from Barcelona last season and was the club’s top scorer last season, started on the bench in the opener but is set to return to the starting lineup on Sunday after an additional week to rediscover his best form following the preseason.