PETE JENSON: Antoine Griezmann has become Barcelona's Mr Reliable

PETE JENSON: Antoine Griezmann wanted to provide the stardust at Barcelona but has become Mr Reliable instead… he has delivered while everything around him crumbles

  • Antoine Griezmann’s goals have been crucial for Barcelona at times this season
  • He struck an equaliser against Napoli on Tuesday night to grab a vital away goal 
  • Griezmann’s connection with Lionel Messi isn’t perfect and there is work ahead
  • But with Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele injured, Griezmann has stepped up 
  • The Frenchman wanted to bring some stardust with him but is now Mr Reliable 

The hardest goal to score is usually the first and Antoine Griezmann has now opened Barcelona’s account in games 10 times this season.

He did it again against Napoli on Tuesday night and saved his team from returning to Spain with a 1-0 defeat. But there is still an air of anti-climax about his first season at the club.

For all that he is working hard and scoring goals – through no fault of his own – he is turning into Barcelona’s Mr Reliable instead of being the man who brings the magic alongside Lionel Messi.

Antoine Griezmann came to the fore once again for Barcelona against Napoli on Tuesday night

He was brought in to provide stardust at Barca but instead his goals mean he is Mr Reliable

Appearances: 35

Goals: 14

Assists: 4

Minutes per goal: 199 

The start of his post-match interview on Tuesday night was as downbeat as Barcelona’s first half performance.

The team had failed to muster a single shot in the opening 45 minutes and Griezmann said: ‘It’s my job to stretch teams with my runs, sometimes they see me sometimes they don’t’.

He appears not to be over-enamored with the responsibility of making those endless selfless runs that force rival defences back and open space up for Messi.

He also admitted to French radio that the connection with Messi is still far from perfect. He told RMC: ‘It’s difficult because he is on the right and I am on the left. It’s very difficult to link with him and for him to see me. But when we both play through the middle we try to play one-twos.’

The French forward has now opened Barcelona’s account in games 10 times this season 

Griezmann celebrated his second goal against Betis by throwing a handful of glitter in the air

Griezmann has scored 14 goals in his first season at the club. Nobody can say he has not delivered. And his ability to break the deadlock for Barcelona in so many games shows he has produced when it matters.

But there will be some disappointment for him that far from being the showman it looked as if he wanted to be when he celebrated one of his first goals for the team by running to the side of the pitch and throwing a handful of glitter into the air, he has just become Mr. Reliable.

That celebration in August against Betis at the Camp Nou will never be forgotten. He ran behind the goal to grab a handful of glitter from a prepped steward and then threw it theatrically into the night sky. He admitted after the game that it had been LeBron James-inspired.

It seemed very much the action of a man desperate to bring the razzmatazz to the Camp Nou – Neymar the second coming; ‘El Prinicipito’ dovetailing perfectly with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez just as the Brazilian had before him.

Griezmann admitted to French radio that his connection with Lionel Messi still needs work

He arrived expecting to play with Messi and Luis Suarez but the latter has been out injured

It has not worked out that way. Timing is everything in a player’s career and he has joined Barcelona with them seemingly on a downward trajectory with the current board – Sporting Director Eric Abidal included – unlikely to stay in their positions for too much longer; and the last of the club’s great players Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and Messi in their final seasons of greatness.

In those circumstances – made even more pressing by the long term injury to Luis Suarez, and the additional blow of losing Ousmane Dembele, forcing the emergency signing of Martin Braithwaite – the best that Griezmann can do is be dependable when all around him is in a constant state of flux. He is managing that.

As well as opening the scoring against Betis, Villarreal, Eibar, Mallorca, Real Sociedad, Alaves, Ibiza, Leganes, Getafe and Napoli, he has also provided four assists.

Last summer when he signed for the club, respected former football agent Josep Maria Minguella said he would not return to the Camp Nou while Griezmann was playing for Barcelona.

Griezmann has arrived just as Barcelona’s star names are in their final years of greatness

It’s been substance over style so far but Griezmann’s goals are crucial for Barcelona now

Still an influential columnist, Minguella – who helped bring Messi to Barcelona – could not forgive Griezmann’s famous ‘The Decision’ mini-documentary in which he filmed his decision to stay at Atletico Madrid rejecting Barcelona the previous year.

That reaction to him seems harsh now. For all of Barcelona’s current faults the performances of their French striker don’t seem to be among them.

As he showed again on Tuesday night in Naples he is giving a good return on the money spent on him last summer.

Off the field he has settled in. He has the occasional ‘Mate’ (South American herbal tea) with Messi who now looks around the dressing room and, in the absence of Suarez, is just glad of anyone who might be on his wavelength when he crosses the white line.

It’s been substance over style so far but it’s the goals and not the glitter that Barcelona need right now. And Griezmann is not letting them down.

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