It was well after the final whistle on deadline day but, eventually, Antoine Griezmann's return to Atletico Madrid was officially confirmed.

Two years after leaving, Griezmann has joined on a season-long loan from Barcelona, with the deal including an option to extend for a further year and a compulsory permanent transfer clause.

Earlier this month, Barca – in a straw-clutching move following Lionel Messi's departure for Paris Saint-Germain – made a rather big deal of Griezmann making his 100th club appearance. Not even two weeks later, he is gone.

On that landmark appearance, Griezmann hit the crossbar in a 4-2 win over his former club Real Sociedad, where he had developed into one of LaLiga's brightest attackers before joining Atleti in 2014. 

He went on to score 94 LaLiga goals for Diego Simeone's team before a long-rumoured switch to Barca went through. Yet he has never quite managed to scale the same heights at Camp Nou as he did at his previous home.

A disappointing first campaign marred by injuries and inconsistency left Griezmann playing catch up last term, though he did net 20 times across all competitions to finish as Barca's second-leading scorer.

Stats Perform assesses how Griezmann's efforts last season match up to his best campaign from his previous Atleti stint, as well as looking at what he could contribute to Simeone's attack.

 

GRIEZMANN AT HIS PEAK

Griezmann was a model of consistency throughout his time at Atleti, as he became the perfect, versatile forward for Simeone's disciplined side.

He partnered Mario Mandzukic, Fernando Torres and Diego Costa among others during his time at the club, transforming himself from a speedy winger to a centre forward with predatory instincts in the penalty area, as well as harbouring plenty of creative talents.

Though he played more games (54) and scored more goals (32) during the 2015-16 season, Griezmann's finest campaign at Atleti arguably came in 2017-18.

His tally of 19 LaLiga strikes was 11 more than any other Atleti player as he finished sixth in the scoring charts overall.

Griezmann added another 10 goals across the cup competitions, however, including a brace in the Europa League final to help Atleti beat Marseille 3-0 in Lyon.

Only Griezmann got into double figures for Atleti in terms of assists (13), while only Koke (81) created more chances than his total of 65.

Griezmann was clinical when opportunities came his way too, converting 52.38 per cent of the 42 "big chances" (an opportunity defined as one where they player should score) that were crafted for him, while he ranked top for attempts (124) as he averaged a goal every 133 minutes.

To cap off an exceptional domestic campaign, Griezmann put in a man-of-the-match display as France beat Croatia 4-2 in the 2018 World Cup final.

 

PAST HIS BEST?

After making much of his call to stay put at Atleti – he took part in a mini-documentary to confirm his decision before the 2018 World Cup – Griezmann completed a €120million switch to Barca a year later.

It was not without controversy: Atleti insisted Barca had fallen some €80m short of the obligated fee, but the transfer was nevertheless upheld.

His first season at Camp Nou was one to forget, eventually ending with a humbling 8-2 Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich on home soil.

Griezmann came into his second season with a renewed sense of purpose and finally seemed to click under new boss Ronald Koeman. Playing 51 times in all competitions, including making 45 starts, he clocked up 3,904 minutes in total - the second most he has managed in a campaign since moving to Atletico.

A total of 20 goals sees him fall some way short of the 29 he managed in 2017-18, though his 12 assists come close to matching his Atleti peak.

His expected assists (xA) total of 8.99 does suggest the quality of opportunities he created was perhaps not wholly responsible for his final total. Given he was linking up with Messi, this is perhaps no surprise. It was, though, also the case in 2017-18, with Griezmann tallying an expected assists figure of 6.3, suggesting his Atleti team-mates were finishing chances they may not have been expected to.

Griezmann created more chances (67) last term than in his 2017-18 season, though his conversion rate of gilt-edged opportunities dropped to 39.39 per cent.

Only in 2018-19 (15.11) did Griezmann have a lower shot conversion rate than last term (18.02) while there was no international glory for him this time around either – he scored once as France dropped out of Euro 2020 in the last 16.

 

BACK WHERE HE BELONGS?

Griezmann was the main man at Atleti but had to play in the shadow of Messi at Barca, not to mention Luis Suarez before he moved on to Madrid.

Barca sold Suarez to Atleti last year and, well, the rest is history – the former Liverpool star scored 21 league goals as Atleti clinched their second title under Simeone.

Griezmann's haul of 13 goals would have put him as Atleti's second-highest scorer in LaLiga last term, four ahead of the next forward in Angel Correa, though midfielder Marcos Llorente plundered 12 in a more advanced role.

Of Atleti players, only Llorente (11), Yannick Carrasco (10) and Correa (8) provided more league assists than Griezmann's seven from 42 chances created in total.

While he has failed to score or create a single opportunity across Barca's three league games so far this season, Simeone must surely be confident he can get Griezmann operating at somewhere close to his former glory.

With city rivals Real Madrid failing to land Kylian Mbappe in the transfer window, Atleti will surely fancy their chances of reigning in Spain once again.

Antoine Griezmann has rejoined Atletico Madrid from Barcelona on loan, just two years after leaving the Wanda Metropolitano.

Atleti sold France striker Griezmann to Barca for €120million in 2019, yet he has never managed to recapture his best form at Camp Nou.

Lionel Messi's departure to Paris Saint-Germain earlier in August might have given Griezmann the opportunity to take centre stage, but the 30-year-old received flak from the Barca fans as Ronald Koeman's side - inspired by Memphis Depay - laboured to a win over Getafe last weekend.

Koeman defended Griezmann, saying: "I don't like it when a Barca player is whistled. Someone who works like Antoine can never be criticised.

"All the attackers can have their day but there are games where you can't find the space. We haven't created opportunities for him either."

However, LaLiga champions Atleti – who were linked with their former talisman last month – have now brought Griezmann back to the Spanish capital.

Griezmann has signed on loan for 2021-22, with the deal including the option for either club to extend it for a further year. Barca also announced there is a compulsory permanent transfer clause.

While his exit will go towards easing Barca's financial difficulties, Atleti are bolstering an attack that already features Luis Suarez, Joao Felix and Angel Correa, as well as another new recruit in Matheus Cunha.

Atleti president Enrique Cerezo suggested last month that fans would not forgive Griezmann for how he left for Barca, who had reportedly been open to offers for the forward for some time, potentially allowing them to retain Messi.

 

GRIEZMANN'S BARCA STINT BY THE NUMBERS

After making much of his call to stay put at Atleti – he took part in a mini-documentary to confirm his decision before the 2018 World Cup – Griezmann completed a big-money switch a year later.

It was not without controversy, though, as Atleti insisted Barca had fallen some €80m short of the obligated fee, but the transfer was nevertheless upheld.

His first season at Camp Nou was one to forget. The coronavirus pandemic merely prolonging a dismal campaign by Griezmann's previously lofty standards – the nadir for all involved coming in the humbling 8-2 Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich.

Yet Griezmann came into his second campaign with a renewed sense of purpose and finally seemed to click under new boss Koeman.

While still having to fit in around key man Messi, Griezmann played 51 times in all competitions, making 45 starts and clocking up 3,904 minutes in total (the second most he has managed in a campaign since his move to Atleti).

Griezmann recorded 20 goals and added 12 assists last season, while his 20 goal involvements in LaLiga trailing only Messi in Barca's squad.

He had started in all three of Barca's LaLiga fixtures so far this season, too, but had failed to score, provide an assist or even create a chance in those appearances.

Ronald Koeman insisted Barcelona had other players who could step up and lead after Memphis Depay stood head and shoulders over the rest in Sunday's narrow win over Getafe.

Barcelona's 2-1 win in LaLiga came thanks to a second-minute strike from Sergi Roberto and a lovely run and finish from Netherlands forward Depay on the half-hour mark, the close-season arrival from Lyon already stamping his mark in Spain.

Between those goals, former Barcelona forward Sandro Ramirez briefly drew Getafe level, and the team who have yet to pick up a point this season pushed the hosts hard in the second half at Camp Nou.

For all the praise Koeman showered on Barcelona after the game, his players managed just seven attempts on goal, and they have not had fewer in a LaLiga fixture since tallying five in a 2-1 Clasico defeat to Real Madrid in March 2013. They have not had fewer in the league at home since at least 2003-04, Opta revealed.

Barcelona's seven points from three games look to be masking some serious shortcomings. Antoine Griezmann was mostly anonymous against Getafe and faced flak from the crowd, his display a blow to those that thought he might step up this season and assume the protagonist role previously vacated by Lionel Messi.

Koeman nonetheless looked for the positives, and said: "I don't like it when a Barca player is whistled. Someone who works like Antoine can never be criticised.

"All the attackers can have their day but there are games where you can't find the space. We haven't created opportunities for him either."

The France forward made more tackles than any other Barcelona player – five – but he did not have one shot or create a chance in his 84 minutes on the pitch. At the sharp end of the pitch, he was blunt.

Getafe have now played 17 away games against Barcelona in LaLiga without managing a win (W0 D4 L13). but Koeman praised the visitors.

"It was a difficult game. Getafe are a strong team," he said.

 

"We started very well. They equalised. We had control of the game but we didn't create many chances.

"I think that in the second half we lowered our performance with the ball. It should be noted, the work and the attitude we had to win the match. It was different from last year. Last year we drew games like today's. I'm very happy with the team."

Depay appears to have assumed the Messi role. His equaliser at Athletic Bilbao salvaged a point, and here his dribble and powerful finish coming in from the left side of the penalty was almost a mirror image of a typical Messi goal.

"I don't know if Memphis should lead," Koeman said. "There are more players to do it. We know that with him we have a player at the top who can make a difference. He did it today and also last week."

Barcelona could yet dip into the transfer market before Tuesday's deadline, but Koeman is not sure what the prospects are there.

He said: "Hopefully we can reinforce the squad because we need it, but if it is not possible, we will continue working as before."

Next for Barcelona is a Champions League group game against Bayern Munich, the team that thrashed them 8-2 in the Champions League quarter-finals in August last year.

That September 14 clash at Camp Nou will be preceded by countless reminders of the dark night at the Estadio da Luz, but Koeman will expect much better from Barcelona.

He wants them to make their home stadium, attended by 26,543 spectators on Sunday, as mighty a fortress as possible.

Without Messi, that seems a tall order, but Koeman has no choice but to set a high bar for his team.

"We have to win at home," Koeman said. "Last year we lost points here and this year we have two victories at home."

Antoine Griezmann is "happy and proud" after reaching 100 appearances for Barcelona and the French star is targeting history with the LaLiga giants.

Griezmann brought up his century of games in Sunday's 4-2 rout of Real Sociedad and almost marked the occasion with his 36th goal for Barca, only to be denied by the crossbar.

With big shoes to fill after the departure of Lionel Messi to Paris Saint-Germain, Barca head coach Ronald Koeman will be hoping the forward can team up with recruit Memphis Depay to fire Barca back to the top of LaLiga.

Griezmann, who arrived from Atletico Madrid in 2019, told the club's media on Wednesday: "I am happy and proud to have reached this figure.

"It was very important to get a win in the first game with the fans back, who we haven't seen for so long. It was a good game and hopefully, we can now get another win against Athletic [Bilbao]."

Since arriving in 2019, no player has played more games for Barca, while only Messi (8003) and Marc-Andre ter Stegen (8040) have racked up more minutes than Griezmann's 7,497.

France international Griezmann sits behind Messi for goal involvements in that time, too, having recorded 51 direct involvements – 19 more than the departed third-place Luis Suarez, who fired Atletico to their first LaLiga title since 2013-14 last term.

Griezmann's returns do not just impress up against his team-mates, though, given only Suarez (42), Villarreal's Gerard Moreno (51) and Real Madrid star Karim Benzema (59) have scored more among LaLiga forwards since the Frenchman's switch to Barca.

While Griezmann remains a long way behind his 94 goals for Diego Simeone's Atletico, his 20 goals across all competitions last season – the same as his goal involvements in LaLiga – did see him finish as Barca's second-highest goalscorer.

 

Having not added to his 35-goal tally yet this campaign, that return means he is 14 goals away from Thierry Henry (49) as the highest-scoring Frenchman for Koeman's side, Ludovic Giuly third with 26.

However, it is not just his finishing abilities that standout during his Camp Nou career.

Only Messi (233) and Jordi Alba (131) have created more chances than Griezmann (107), who also ranks third at the club behind the same pair for 'big' chances created, defined by Opta, with 26.

In a side dependent on the link-up play of their forwards to unleash the likes of Ansu Fati, Alba and Ousmane Dembele, it is apparent why Koeman has challenged the 30-year-old to improve on those figures to be the spearhead and guide his team to glory.

Nevertheless, the former Sociedad man is looking forward to continuing life at Camp Nou.

"I hope I get to play another 100 games and carry on giving everything to make history with this club," Griezmann added. "I want to keep helping the team both on and off the pitch, in attack and defence, and enjoying being at Barca."

Is Kylian Mbappe's future nearing a resolution?

Mbappe is out of contract at the end of the season and the Paris Saint-Germain forward is no closer to extending his contract in the
French capital.

Real Madrid are reportedly poised to pounce.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID NEARING MBAPPE DEAL?

Real Madrid are closing in on Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, according to the front page of Monday's Marca.

Mbappe is in the final year of his PSG contract and he has reportedly made it clear he has no intention of re-signing in Paris.

Long touted to join Madrid, the LaLiga giants' pursuit of Mbappe is set to enter a decisive phase this week.

The Transfer Window podcast, however, claims Liverpool will attempt to sign Mbappe on a free transfer at the end of the 2021-22 season.

 

ROUND-UP

- Sport reports Barcelona are monitoring Arsenal pair Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as they look to rebuild following Lionel Messi's departure to PSG.

- Inter are eyeing Napoli captain Lorenzo Insigne but want a discount on the Italy star, claims Sky Sport Italia. Napoli value Insigne at around €25-30million with one year remaining on his contract. Lazio's Joaquin Correa, Atalanta forward Duvan Zapata and Fiorentina sensation Dusan Vlahovic have also been linked to Inter.

- Sport Italia says Tottenham are in talks with Fiorentina for centre-back Nikola Milenkovic, who has been linked with West Ham. Spurs are also keen on Fiorentina star Vlahovic, according to Sport Italia.

- According to Cadena SER, Antoine Griezmann is open to returning to Atletico Madrid this off-season. Griezmann swapped Atletico for Barca in 2019.

Luka Jovic has decided he wants to join Inter on loan, per Nerazzurri Siamo Noi. The Madrid outcast has also been linked with Eintracht Frankfurt, Sampdoria and Genoa.

Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City are tracking Metz's 18-year-old midfielder Pape Matar Sarr, claims the Daily Mail.

Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman has called on Antoine Griezmann to step up this season and help fill the void left by Lionel Messi.

The Catalan giants are still coming to terms with the loss of their all-time leading scorer, who officially joined Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer this week.

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi scored 672 goals and assisted 265 more for Barca across 778 appearances in his 17 years in the first team.

He directly contributed to 39 goals in LaLiga last season, scoring 30 and setting up a further nine.

Griezmann was the only other Barca player to reach double figures for goal involvements (20), with Ousmane Dembele next on the list with nine.

As they prepare to begin a first season without Messi since 2003-04, Koeman has challenged World Cup winner Griezmann to improve on those figures.

"I love working with him," Koeman said at a news conference ahead of Sunday's opening fixture against Real Sociedad. "He is a team player who always helps without the ball.

"He is always happy and encourages others. But he must take another step and be more effective. It will be more important without Leo, because he occupied that position."

 

Messi's departure came after Barca had agreed deals with Memphis Depay and Sergio Aguero, the pair arriving on free transfers from Lyon and Manchester City respectively.

Aguero did not feature for Barca in pre-season and is out for another 10 weeks through injury, but Depay has made a positive impression with three goals in four friendlies.

"I know Memphis well from our time with the Netherlands national team," Koeman said. "He has been effective with his performances so far.

"We have lost a lot with Leo leaving and now we ask for more from the others, and not just the forwards. We will try our best to improve and achieve our targets."

Barca received a big boost on the eve of their season opener with Sociedad as it was confirmed Depay, Eric Garcia and Rey Manaj have been officially registered to play.

Ansu Fati is out until after the September international break, however, while Ousmane Dembele and Aguero are also nursing injuries, leaving Koeman light in attack.

Barca's well-documented financial problems make bringing in new players difficult, but Koeman is hopeful of another new striker arriving before the transfer window closes.

"We lack players, and some are still injured," he said. "The squad is short. That's why we need a striker. 

"But then it depends on whether we can sign the player. It depends on the Financial Fair Play issues. If we can, we will sign someone."

Sunday's clash with Sociedad will mark the first time Barcelona have played a competitive game in front of fans at Camp Nou in 17 months, with up to 30,000 expected to be in attendance.

It will be an emotional occasion in more ways than one as Barca begin a new chapter without the greatest player in their history.

"Messi's exit was painful for everyone because of everything he has done," Koeman said. "We have to live the today and not the past. I am excited and hopefully the fans are too.

"I am excited to play in front of our fans, though we know the quality of the opponent, who we played against many times last year."

Barca are unbeaten in their past 10 league games against Real Sociedad in LaLiga (W8 D2). Only once have they gone 11 league matches without defeat in this fixture, a run of 17 games between 1952 and 1960.

To paraphrase the apocryphal question asked of Abraham Lincoln's widow, "Aside than that, Mr Laporta, how was the lunch?"

When Lionel Messi jetted into El-Prat last Wednesday, it was to complete the formalities of a long-awaited contract extension that would commit him to the club of his life for the rest of his career.

At least, that's what the six-time Ballon d'Or winner and pretty much everyone else thought until he sat down for lunch with club president Joan Laporta on Thursday. After that, all hell broke loose.

"We had everything agreed but, at the last minute, it couldn't happen," he said at his tearful Sunday news conference, with the rampaging shambles of Barca's financial, internal and political affairs having put paid to the best laid plans.

Messi is now a Paris Saint-Germain player. It will be a jarring thing to type and read for some time, and the claims, counter-claims and recriminations over how Barcelona allowed things to reach this point of collapse will rumble on for some time.

It feels like a barely relevant sidenote that four days on from their greatest ever player addressing the media and being paraded around Paris, Barcelona will host Real Sociedad to begin their LaLiga campaign. What, if anything, can Ronald Koeman and his players salvage from the wreckage?

 

The Barcelona Way

The delayed election campaign that secured Laporta's return to the top job – his initial term between 2003 and 2010 having overseen the transformative tenures of Frank Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola – was a fraught one for Koeman.

Victor Font, one of Laporta's rival candidates, pledged to bring in club great Xavi if he was successful, while the eventual winner's support for Koeman was tenuous and conditional at best.

After a chaotic 2019-20 season, where Ernesto Valverde's lamentable sacking cleared the way for Quique Setien to surrender LaLiga to Real Madrid and oversee the humiliating 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals, Koeman was not a universally popular choice and easily viewed a stop-gap appointment.

Whereas Messi wanted to stay but had to leave this time around, last August he wanted to leave but had to stay – relations with Laporta's predecessor Josep Maria Bartomeu having broken down. On the field, the Blaugrana were inevitably a little bit all over the place.

But after a chastening 2-1 loss to Cadiz on December 5, Barcelona and a rejuvenated Messi went 19 games unbeaten in LaLiga. It was almost enough for an unlikely title success, but the run ended with a 2-1 defeat away to Real Madrid on April 10.

Koeman lost both Clasicos and his Barca only took a point from Atletico Madrid, failing to score in either game against the eventual champions. There were heavy Champions League losses to Juventus and PSG, and Koeman's record in big games was and is an obvious concern.

Yet, it was fairly bizarre to see the Dutchman treated with such disregard during the electioneering, which ran parallel to the long undefeated streak. After tinkering with various formations earlier in the season, Koeman had settled upon a 3-4-3 in which his team thrived.

Nevertheless, in May, it was reported by Mundo Deportivo that Laporta demanded Koeman commit to Barca's classic 4-3-3 and brand of football married to the club's traditions. A stay of execution would be dependent upon one of Johan Cruyff's former disciples committing to the Barcelona Way.

Back to the future

Looking at their performances from last season, it is easy enough to spot elements of classical Barcelona in Koeman's side.

They scored the most goals in LaLiga and had the highest expected goals (xG) figure of any team, indicating they cumulatively created a better quality of chances than their rivals.

The way they got to this point was also very Barca.

No side in LaLiga had a higher average sequence time than the Blaugrana's 14.27 seconds, while their average of 5.52 passes per sequence was also a league best. They were the only team to average above five.

In terms of sequences featuring 10 or more passes, they were streets ahead with 910. The next most 10+ pass sequences came from Madrid with 662. As a consequence, Barcelona also ranked top for build-up attacks – open-play sequences of 10 or more passes that end either with a shot or a touch in the opposition box.

Now as then in the glory days of Guardiola, you spend a lot of time chasing the ball against Barcelona.

Pedri enjoyed a breakout campaign so good he's only just been allowed to finish it, shining for Spain at Euro 2020 and the Olympic Games, while the evergreen Sergio Busquets ticked away in his customary style to average 95.52 passes per game. The next best midfielder in LaLiga on that metric was Madrid's Toni Kroos on 85.76.

 

Frenkie de Jong developed a knack of chiming in with some important goals from midfield after the turn of the year, while also showing his versatility by slotting into the back three when injuries and circumstances required.

Consider the presence of Riqui Puig and teenage sensation Gavi and the "take the ball, pass the ball" part of the Cruyffian legacy remains in safe hands, albeit with the fairly large assumption that there remains room for all of them on the accounts.

Pressing concerns

The other key facet of the teams in which Messi rose to his place at the top of the world game was their work without the ball.

Teams being at their most vulnerable in transition is now an accepted reality of the modern game, but Guardiola's Barcelona swarming opponents as soon as they lost the ball altered perceptions of what was required of elite teams in terms of intelligent commitment to the cause.

Barca operated under their six-second rule, which had nothing to do with anybody dropping food on the floor. They attempted to retrieve possession within six seconds of losing it via immediate and intensive pressing. If this was not possible, they would fall back into a defensive shape to guard against opponents now settled in possession and more able to play through the press.

Pressing methods and teams' aptitude in dealing with them have obviously evolved since Barcelona scared the life out of European football a little over a decade ago, but the principles remain. If a team wishes to play a high-possession game with a high defensive line, their defending from the front as to be impeccable.

In 2020-21, Koeman's side were merely quite good in this regard. Passes per defensive action (PPDA) is a metric that indicates how well a team presses. The lower the average number of passes an opponent is allowed to make outside the pressing team's defensive third before being met with a defensive action – such as a tackle, interception or a foul – the better the press.

Barca's 10.6 PPDA put them sixth best in LaLiga last season, below Celta Vigo, Real Sociedad, Sevilla, Getafe and Real Betis. Although they scored the most goals from high turnovers (seven), this can be attributed to the sharp finishing of Messi and others, as their 37 shot-ending high turnovers were only the eighth highest.

They are not numbers that suggest Laporta's fantasy of seeing a whirring 4-3-3 back in motion is one grounded in reality. By comparison, Luis Enrique's "MSN" Barca of 2014-15 averaged a staggering 7.0 PPDA. Had Messi remained, his capacity to do this sort of work is diminished, but that is now a puzzle for Mauricio Pochettino to solve.

Messi's great friend Sergio Aguero is one of the attacking reinforcements, although a calf injury means he will be sidelined for 10 weeks. If the masterful Argentina striker's body still allowed him to press with suitable intensity, he would probably still be with Guardiola at Manchester City.

 

Memphis Depay is fit to start the new season and some of the onus will fall upon the Netherlands international to sharpen Barca up a little.

He comes from a Lyon side who forced more shot-ending high turnovers than any other in Ligue 1 last season (62), while his 25 instances of winning possession back in the final third placed him joint fifth among forwards in the French top-flight. 

Antoine Griezmann won the ball 24 times deep in opposition territory last term in LaLiga, alongside 37 tackles and 100 recoveries, all of which were highs among Barca forward. He and Depay could certainly prove a useful nuisance in tandem.

Getting on with the job

Of course, it is not entirely certain Barcelona will be able to register Depay with LaLiga in time to face Real Sociedad, such is their parlous financial state.

Laporta claims this will not be a problem. But then, he said he'd re-sign Messi and essentially ran for election on a pledge he spectacularly failed to fulfil.

If it turns out Barca passed up on Messi because they decided to reject LaLiga's deal with CVC Capital Partners and its associated cash injection in favour of remaining in cahoots with Real Madrid and Florentino Perez's doomed Super League project, it's unlikely holding Laporta to account over whether or not Koeman plays 4-3-3 will be the top of anyone's agenda. It should be noted Madrid president Perez said it was "impossible" for him to have had such an influence, in response to allegations levelled by former Espai Barca Commission member Jaume Llopis.

One of the major reservations surrounding Koeman's appointment was whether he was the man to win Messi more Champions Leagues, with the clock ticking on the great man's career.

 

This might feel like an absurd grasp for positives and Koeman would be better off if the greatest player of all time was in his squad, but he is at least without one of the big over-arching narratives that Barca have specialised in both constructing and crushing themselves with over recent years.

Valverde was saddled with "only" winning LaLiga as European glory painfully slipped away. If Koeman can wrest back domestic control in these conditions, it would be recognised as a brilliant achievement in its own right. The atmosphere among fans back in Camp Nou might be perilous in the initial post-Messi weeks, but a few wins will place a defiant siege mentality within reach.

Since Cruyff was appointed head coach in 1988, this will be the first season without the late Dutch master, Guardiola or Messi – those three giants of the modern Barcelona – having any active association with the club. It is time for an institution on its knees to let go and turn the page.

Koeman put together a team that functioned well amid considerable turbulence last season and should be allowed to improve upon that template with the fine players that still remain, free from any Mes Que Un Club self-flagellation as Laporta tends to the dumpster fire he inherited and chucked a vat of petrol all over last week.

Ronald Koeman was delighted with the connection between Memphis Depay and Antoine Griezmann during Barcelona’s 3-0 win over Stuttgart on Saturday.

Barca maintained their perfect pre-season record, making it three wins from three at the Mercedes-Benz Arena.

Depay, who joined the La Liga giants on a free transfer in June after his departure from Lyon, opened the scoring against the Bundesliga outfit in emphatic fashion after 21 minutes.

The Dutchman controlled Frenkie de Jong’s diagonal ball into the box, before flicking it over the head of defender Pascal Stenzel and firing past Fabian Bredlow in the Stuttgart goal.

Following his second goal in as many games, Depay then played a key role as Barca doubled the lead 15 minutes later - a clever backheel releasing Griezmann to cross for youngster Yusuf Demir to tap home.

Koeman praised the impact of his compatriot and was particularly impressed by his link-up with the France star.

"Surely people know what Memphis is about," he said.

"He has been at [Manchester] United, the last few years at Lyon and above all, he has shown himself to be a goalscorer. 

"He showed [that quality] with his goal, strength and speed he brings to the team.

"His connection with Antoine is very good and that gives us a lot.

"They are two players who can play in different positions in the attack. We're going to have competition."

Barcelona president Joan Laporta insists the club are "making progress" in all aspects of the contract negotiations with Lionel Messi after the six-time Ballon d'Or winner's previous deal expired.

Despite Messi technically no longer belonging to Barca, those associated with the club have portrayed a serene demeanour regarding a potential future agreement.

Even with his contract winding down, Barca officials have routinely affirmed that Messi's desire is to remain at Camp Nou, though LaLiga's salary cap rules mean he is reportedly set to be on half his previous wage should he ultimately accept a new deal.

However, the caveat that is thought to favour Barca in discussions is they are said to be offering Messi a five-year contract that would keep him at the club until he is at least 39.

While that may surprise some, Messi's form in 2020-21 showed he is far from being finished, as he ended the campaign as LaLiga's top scorer and managed 38 goals and 12 assists across all competitions, which translated to a goal every 110.3 minutes.

Similarly, he laid on 117 chances for others across all competitions. The fact Jordi Alba was the second most creative player in the Barca squad with 85 key passes only further underlined Messi's remarkable influence, but Laporta is adamant talks are proceeding as planned.

"The player has always said that he wants to continue [at Barca], there is no doubt about that," Laporta said at the presentation of Memphis Depay on Thursday.

"We are making progress in all the negotiations involving a contract of this type. They are going very well and it is a wish that we all have [for Messi to sign].

 

"We do not hide the will that we want him to continue and to be here for many years."

One player who is still signed to Barca but arguably has a more uncertain future than Messi is Antoine Griezmann, who could reportedly be involved in a swap deal that sees Atletico Madrid's Saul Niguez arrive in Catalonia.

Laporta initially stressed Griezmann has a future at Barca, though he soon acknowledged he is not untransferable.

"He is a player in the Barca first team, he has a valid contract and we are counting on him," Laporta said.

"The transfer market has started and practically nothing has happened. All the clubs are in certain difficulties.

"Players like Griezmann have a market, there are interested clubs and we are building our squad looking for financial balance. We are delighted with him and we are all professionals.

"Yes, the market is moving. We are open to all proposals because we are in a delicate moment and we are talking with all the players of the first team to see how they feel so that balancing acts hurt as little as possible."

Atletico Madrid supporters will not forgive Antoine Griezmann for his move to Barcelona in 2019 even if he was to return to Los Colchoneros, according to the Spanish champions' president Enrique Cerezo.

Griezmann has been linked with a move back to Atletico during the current transfer window as part of a swap deal that would see Saul Niguez head the opposite way to Camp Nou.

France international Griezmann scored 94 LaLiga goals for Atleti across five seasons with the club before joining Barca two years ago when his release clause was triggered.

Cerezo recently refused to rule out a move for Griezmann, but the Atleti chief does not believe the 30-year-old returning would be widely accepted among Atleti fans.

Asked if there had been any development with regards to a move for Griezmann, Cerezo said: "You're not talking to the right person."

When further probed on the issue and asked if supporters would forgive Griezmann for joining Barcelona in the first place, Cerezo said: "I don't think so."

 

Griezmann endured a disappointing first campaign at Barca marred by injuries and inconsistency, though he did net 20 times across all competitions in 2020-21 to finish as their second-highest goalscorer behind Lionel Messi.

He also impressed for France at Euro 2020, creating a team-high 10 chances across the tournament as Les Bleus suffered a shock last-16 elimination by Switzerland on penalties.

In his best season for Atleti in 2017-18, Griezmann scored 19 times in LaLiga – 11 more than any other team-mate – and provided 13 assists, while only Koke (81) created more opportunities than his 65 that campaign.

Antoine Griezmann has repeatedly been linked with a return to Atletico Madrid during this transfer window and Diego Simeone has heaped praise on a player he still believes can be a success at Barcelona.

Griezmann endured a mixed season for Ronald Koeman's men last campaign, scoring 13 times in 36 appearances as Barca's LaLiga title challenge faded down the home straight.

In contrast, Atleti – in true Simeone fashion – battled to secure their first Spanish top-flight success on the last day of the 2020-21 season and ended a seven-year spell without a LaLiga triumph.

Ahead of the 2021-22 campaign, reports in Spain have suggested that Simeone was keen to link-up with the France forward once more, but the Atleti head coach seemed keen not to inflame that speculation too much during an interview with Marca.

“I want the best for him and I hope he will succeed at Barcelona”, ​he said.

“He is at an extraordinary club and Antoine is a complete player. At Euro 2020, he again proved he can bring a lot [to a team] regardless of his positioning. But today, he is not with us. I only wish the best for a player who gave me everything.”

Indeed, Griezmann was in fine form at Euro 2020, despite France's last-16 shoot-out exit at the hands of Switzerland. He created more chances (10) than any of his team-mates as Didier Deschamp's team crashed out of the tournament earlier than expected.

Simeone's praise of his former player, of course, comes as no surprise. In arguably his best season for Atleti in 2017-18, Griezmann found the net 19 times in LaLiga – 11 more than any other team-mate – and provided 13 assists, while only Koke (81) created more opportunities than his 65.

 

And, while Griezmann's future remains unclear, he could partner Luis Suarez, whose 21 goals fired Atleti to LaLiga success last year, up top.

Simeone praised Suarez's workmanlike productivity up front and his unwavering desire to win.

"At the moment the option [to sign Suarez from Barcelona] appeared, I knew that the team lacked that forcefulness. There are not many. There are few specialists and Luis is one of them.", Simeone added.

"We understood that if we continued to be solid behind him, he would be closer to responding in the most difficult moments, when he had to appear. What I said about the 'Suarez area'. I'm not a fortune teller, but I'm a soccer man and I knew it was his time."

Reports in Spain suggest Atletico Madrid and Antoine Griezmann could be set for a reunion, just two years after Barcelona broke their transfer record to sign the France star.

Griezmann spent five seasons at Atleti, joining Diego Simeone's team from Real Sociedad.

He went on to score 94 LaLiga goals for the club, before a long-mooted switch to Barca went through in 2019.

Yet Griezmann, who turned 30 in March, has never quite managed to scale the same heights at the Camp Nou as he did in Madrid.

A disappointing first campaign marred by injuries and inconsistency left Griezmann playing catch up last term, though he did net 20 times across all competitions to finish as Barca's second-highest goalscorer, behind the imperious Lionel Messi.

With the uncertainty over Messi's future seemingly set to be resolved by a new five-year deal, reportedly worth half of the 34-year-old's previous contract, Barca have to clear their wage bill if they are to comply with LaLiga's salary cap.

The Blaugrana have added Sergio Aguero, Memphis Depay, Eric Garcia and Emerson Royal in the close-season, though are unable to register those new signings until players are moved out.

Griezmann, who is one of the club's highest earners, looks set to be one of the names to make way in a swap deal involving Saul Niguez – though Renan Lodi and Mario Hermoso have also been touted as potential options for Barca. Ahead of his potential return, Stats Perform assesses how Griezmann's efforts last season match up to his best campaign from his first Atleti stint.

 

GRIEZMANN AT HIS PEAK

Griezmann was the perfect example of consistency throughout his time at Atleti, as he became the perfect, versatile forward for Simeone's disciplined side.

He partnered Mario Mandzukic, Fernando Torres and Diego Costa among others during his time at the club, transforming himself from a nippy winger to a central striker with predatory instincts in the area, as well as harbouring plenty of creative talents.

Though he played more games (54) and scored more goals (32) during the 2015-16 season, Griezmann's finest campaign at Atleti arguably came in 2017-18.

His tally of 19 LaLiga strikes was 11 more than any other Atleti player, as he finished sixth in the scoring charts overall.

Griezmann added another 10 goals across the cup competitions, however, including a brace in the Europa League final, which Atleti won 3-0 against Marseille in Lyon.

Only Griezmann got into double figures for Atleti in terms of assists (13), while only Koke (81) created more chances than his 65.

Griezmann was clinical when opportunities came his way, too, converting 52.38 per cent of the 42 "big chances" that were crafted for him, and he ranked top for attempts (124) as he averaged a goal every 133 minutes.

To cap off an exceptional domestic campaign, Greizmann put in a man of the match display as France beat Croatia 4-2 in the 2018 World Cup final.

 

PAST HIS BEST?

After making much of his call to stay put at Atleti – Griezmann having taken part in a mini-documentary to confirm his decision before the World Cup – the 28-year-old completed a €120million switch to Barca a year later.

It came with controversy; Atleti insisting Barca had fallen some €80m short of the obligated fee, but the transfer was nevertheless upheld.

His first season at Camp Nou was one to forget. The coronavirus pandemic merely prolonging a dismal campaign by Griezmann's lofty standards – the nadir for all involved at Barca coming in the humbling 8-2 Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich.

Yet Griezmann came into his second season with a renewed sense of purpose and finally seemed to click under new boss Ronald Koeman.

While still having to fit in around key man Messi, Griezmann played 51 times in all competitions, making 45 starts, clocking up 3,904 minutes in total (the second most he has managed in a campaign since his move to Atleti).

A total of 20 goals sees him fall some way short of the 29 he managed in 2017-18, though his 12 assists come close to matching his Atleti peak.

 

His expected assists (xA) total of 8.99 does, however, suggest the quality of opportunities he created was perhaps not wholly responsible for his 12 goal provisions. Given he was linking up with Messi, that is perhaps no surprise. This was, though, also the case in 2017-18, with Griezmann tallying an expected assists figure of 6.3, suggesting his Atleti team-mates were finishing chances they may not have been expected to.

Griezmann created more chances (67) last term than in his 2017-18 season, though his conversion rate of gilt-edged opportunities dropped to 39.39 per cent from 33 such openings.

Only in 2018-19 (15.11) did Griezmann have a lower shot conversion rate than last term (18.02) while there was no international glory for him this time around either – he scored once as France dropped out of Euro 2020 in the last 16.

Chelsea may have been European champions in 2021, but they have not won the Premier League since 2017.

Blues owner Roman Abramovich is reportedly ready to loosen the purse strings to end their league title wait.

Chelsea have been linked with several big-name signings this off-season.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA RELEASE FUNDS TO LAND HAALAND

Chelsea are ready to ramp up their bid to sign Borussia Dortmund striker Haaland now Euro 2020 is over.

Bild reports Abramovich has released the funds required to lure Haaland to London following an impressive 18 months in Germany.

Dortmund have reportedly told Chelsea it will take £150m (€176m) to sign the Norwegian, and Chelsea may sell Callum Hudson-Odoi, Hakim Ziyech and Tammy Abraham to fund the move.

 

ROUND-UP

Tottenham have set their sights on Southampton forward Danny Ings, making him a priority, claims The Telegraph. Manchester City are also apparently interested.

- Daily Express reports Chelsea are making plans to sign Antoine Griezmann on loan from Barcelona, with the Blaugrana attempting to reduce their wage bill in line with LaLiga salary cap rules.

- Another Barcelona player potentially on the move is Clement Lenglet. According to Sport, new Everton manager Rafa Benitez wants to build his defence around the France international.

- Monaco left-back Fode Ballo-Toure is close to signing with Milan, having already agree personal terms, according to Fabrizio Romano.

- Fabrizio Romano also claims Roma are interested in signing Alex Telles on loan from Manchester United to replace the injured Leonardo Spinazzola.

Manchester City's search to replace Sergio Aguero is well known.

Spanish reports have linked Pep Guardiola’s side with Barcelona's Antoine Griezmann.

So, could City - who won the Premier League but lost the Champions League final to Chelsea – be set to bring in the France international? Possibly not...

 

TOP STORY – GRIEZMANN NOT ON CITY RADAR

Manchester City are ready to ramp up their move for a new striker during the transfer window but will not pursue Barcelona forward Griezmann, claims The Sun.

Pep Guardiola's side will instead set their sights on Tottenham's Harry Kane, while Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland is another possibility.

The Sun's report denies Spanish links between City and Frenchman Griezmann, with Barcelona understood to be keen to reduce their wage bill to free up funds to re-sign Lionel Messi.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Daily Mail reports that Atletico Madrid's signing of midfielder Rodrigo De Paul from Udinese will pave the way for Liverpool's proposed move to sign Saul Niguez. De Paul's arrival means Atleti are free to sell him off, with the Reds and Barcelona reportedly interested.

- Juventus are homing in on a transfer for Manchester City's Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus, while they are also keen on bringing back Moise Kean to Turin, according to Tuttosport.

- Manchester United are edging closer to agreeing terms with French defender and long-term target Raphael Varane for a move from Real Madrid, reports the Mail.

- Jadon Sancho's move from Borussia Dortmund to Manchester United will be confirmed this week with a medical before his post-Euro 2020 holiday, claims The Sun.

- Fabrizio Romano claims that Wolves goalkeeper Rui Patricio will become Jose Mourinho's first signing at Roma imminently.

Lionel Messi seems certain to stay at Barcelona, and he could reportedly be joined by Renato Sanches.

While Messi came out of contract at the end of June, he seems set to stay at Barca, who remain central to plenty of transfer talk.

They are apparently interested in Sanches, who helped Lille win Ligue 1 last season.

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA EYE SANCHES

Barcelona want Lille midfielder Sanches, according to Le 10 Sport.

The report says Tottenham are also targeting the Portugal international, who has previously played for the likes of Benfica and Bayern Munich.

Barca have already signed Sergio Aguero, Eric Garcia and Memphis Depay ahead of the 2021-22 season, though missed out on midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum.

 

ROUND-UP

- One player whose future at Barcelona is uncertain is Antoine Griezmann. La Vanguardia reports the forward wants to remain at Barca, where he is contracted until 2024, but could leave given the financial uncertainty at the club.

- Could Kalidou Koulibaly finally be set to leave Napoli for the Premier League? 90min reports Everton manager Rafael Benitez has recommended the defender as a transfer target for the club.

- Also in Serie A and Sky Sport reports Andrea Belotti is set to decide in the coming days whether to renew his contract with Torino beyond 2022. The report says Jose Mourinho's Roma are interested in the striker.

- Barcelona are looking to offload goalkeeper Neto, but finding a suitor for the shot-stopper is complicated, according to Mundo Deportivo.

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