All eyes on France star in key clash

Antoine Griezmann would be forgiven for regretting his opportunity to sign for Barcelona. Already out of the King's Cup and the Champions League, Atletico have a huge task trying to close their eight-point gap when they visit the LaLiga leaders today
Antoine Griezmann would be forgiven for regretting his opportunity to sign for Barcelona. Already out of the King's Cup and the Champions League, Atletico have a huge task trying to close their eight-point gap when they visit the LaLiga leaders today.PHOTO: REUTERS

Griezmann trying to rescue Atletico's season a year after rejecting chance to join Barcelona

BARCELONA • Antoine Griezmann had been set to move to Barcelona last summer in one of football's biggest transfers of all time.

The seemingly nailed-on deal, however, failed to materialise after Atletico Madrid managed to convince the France forward that they were making progress, leading him to sign a new contract until 2023.

But, 10 months after making La Decision - a much-lampooned TV documentary about his decision to stay at the Wanda Metropolitano - media reports have indicated Griezmann "regrets" turning down Barcelona's overtures.

The Spanish champions take on Atletico in a top-of-the-table clash at the Nou Camp today, and he could have been lining up alongside Lionel Messi and a few weeks from a possible domestic double and the Champions League as well.

Instead, he will spearhead Diego Simeone's attack in the knowledge that a loss will surely sound the death knell for his side's title hopes.

The league is all Atletico, who trail Barcelona by eight points, have to play for, having already been knocked out of the King's Cup and the Champions League.

The expectation is that a disappointing term will be followed by a string of player sales in the close season.

THE MORE THE MERRIER

We're on a well-travelled path and now we have to be precise. We'd like to get a trophy, and it would be best to get all of them.

ERNESTO VALVERDE, Barcelona coach, who is aiming for glory on all three fronts.

Bayern Munich have already announced the signing of France defender Lucas Hernandez, who will move in the summer for a club record fee of €80 million (S$121.6 million).

Captain Diego Godin, defenders Filipe Luis and Jose Gimenez, goalkeeper Jan Oblak, and midfielders Thomas Partey and Saul Niguez have also been linked with exits, although Griezmann's possible departure would be the hardest to stomach.

Although the club are continuing to put up a brave front with the rumour mill in overdrive - coach Simeone has said he "cannot imagine the next season without him" - it is hard to imagine the 28-year-old putting up with another year of mediocrity.

After all, this is a player who has gone public, stating he is "sitting at the same table as (Lionel) Messi and (Cristiano) Ronaldo".

While it would be a "statement of intent" should Atletico win, it is hard to see the away team, who will already be without injured Spain striker Alvaro Morata, causing an upset, with Simeone yet to beat Barcelona in the league in his seven years in charge.

However, Ernesto Valverde does not believe his side have a mental edge going into the encounter as "Atletico are not destabilised by Griezmann being talked about".

Urging the Catalan giants to keep their focus with the treble on the horizon, the Barcelona coach said: "Historically, when Barca win the Champions League, they win LaLiga.

"The way to be in other tournaments is how you are in LaLiga. For me, the league is essential.

"All three trophies are equally close or far away. Everything depends on little things, and we still haven't won anything yet.

"We're on a well-travelled path and now we have to be precise. We'd like to get a trophy, and it would be best to get all of them."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2019, with the headline 'All eyes on France star in key clash'. Print Edition | Subscribe