Atletico Madrid head coach Diego Simeone has backed star forward pair Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann after their slow starts to the new LaLiga season.

The Spanish champions drew 0-0 with Athletic Bilbao in LaLiga on Saturday, days after another scoreless draw against FC Porto in the Champions League.

Suarez has netted only once in six appearances this term for Atleti, while Griezmann is yet to score in three games since his deadline day move from Barcelona.

"I have full confidence in all my players. I am aware that Luis was the last one to join the team alongside [Angel] Correa, [Kieran] Trippier and [Ramon] Lodi," Simeone said.

"They are the last ones who joined us in the pre-season. Then, in the international break, when he was getting fully fit, he had to stop following some physical issues.

"Now it is normal that it is taking some time for him to get fit but he eventually will, as he is a very important player for us."

On Griezmann, Simeone added: "I have full confidence in Antoine. He is a very important player for our team and all I had to tell him about is what I saw from his performances and which aspects I want him to improve on, and I have already told him this."

Atletico's chances of beating Bilbao on Saturday were not helped by Joao Felix's sending off, with the Portuguese forward dismissed after a second bookable offence for dissent.

In the wake of the game, Simeone downplayed Joao Felix's actions but he added on Monday that the side need to do better, having received 10 yellow cards in five games for complaining to referees.

"No, we must improve on that aspect, you just mentioned," he said. "I have no doubts we will do that.

"We really respect the Referee's Committee and yes, sometimes you can talk with them [in the games], but we are aiming to reduce those numbers because they are not good from us."

Atletico will take on Getafe away from home in LaLiga on Tuesday.

Diego Simeone hopes Antoine Griezmann will soon respond to his critics after Atletico Madrid were held to a goalless draw with Porto in the Champions League.

Atletico failed to win their opening game for the third consecutive season and are now winless in four home matches in Europe's premier club competition, their joint-longest streak without a victory.

Griezmann was introduced as a second-half substitute amid boos in search of a winner but failed to provide attacking impetus as he did not manage to record a single touch in Porto's box.

Following an underwhelming second debut against Espanyol following his return from Barcelona on loan, the pressure is now on the France forward, who already had to win supporters over on his comeback after his move to Camp Nou.

But Simeone is backing Griezmann, whose 21 goals for Atletico in the Champions League are nine more than any of their previous players in history, to prove his doubters wrong.

"Let's hope that he [Griezmann] gets better, that he can respond to all the people who criticise him at this time," Atletico head coach Simeone said to Movistar.

"He has a challenge ahead of him as a result of what happened in the past.

"They [the media] are making a movie and a morbid situation that clearly generates for us only the importance of having recovered a magnificent footballer whom we hope to recover."

Wednesday's result means LaLiga champions Atletico have now just won two of their last 10 European fixtures, but Simeone insisted he will drive his side towards improvements.

"The team has improvement ahead, we have work," he continued.

"We will aim for that, to find what makes the team better so that it maintains continuity in the game for as many minutes as possible.

"The system is a way of looking for variants so that the team can find solutions to the match. We have players who can play in different positions.

"We always did, last year we played various formations. We play with all systems."

Diego Simeone insists the referee was correct to add on 10 additional minutes in Atletico Madrid's dramatic late win at Espanyol due to the home side's time-wasting.

Atleti were heading for a first defeat of the season after Raul de Tomas gave Espanyol the lead through their first LaLiga goal in nine matches.

But Simeone's decision to make a triple substitution at half-time, before also turning to Joao Felix and Matheus Cunha in the second half, paid off for the reigning champions.

Yannick Carrasco fired in an equaliser in the 79th minute – Atleti's 300th LaLiga goal against Espanyol – and then set up Lemar's winner in the ninth of 10 added-on minutes.

Six substitutions were made in the second half and there was a lengthy VAR check for an earlier disallowed goal for Lemar after Luis Suarez was adjudged to have been offside in the build-up.

Espanyol scorer De Tomas complained about the amount of additional time played, but Simeone believes the hosts were made to pay for deliberately slowing down the game.

"It was a lot of minutes at the end, but I've never seen so much time wasted in a match either," Simeone said at his post-match news conference.

"You should look at what happened during the match."

 

Lemar dropped out of the starting line-up in place of Antoine Griezmann, who was making his second debut for Atleti, but made an impression during his time on the pitch.

Simeone explained after the game that the decision to overlook Lemar for a starting spot was down to fitness reasons following his return from international duty with France.

"Thomas is in a very good moment," Simeone said. "With the national team he had a digestive problem, he lost 3-4 kilos. 

"That is why I had doubts and thought about reserving him instead for Wednesday. I hope he can repeat those scenarios. 

"He was the player we signed from Monaco, the player that the team needs. Verticality he is good, he has a right foot, a left foot, he works had

"He grew a lot last season but lacked goals. Hopefully this season the goals will follow like today."

Atletico's late double came after Griezmann had been substituted off with an hour played following an underwhelming first game back since rejoining from Barcelona.

Griezmann had just four touches in the opposition box and managed only two shots, neither of which were on target, though nobody could match his three big chances created.

Asked what he made of Griezmann's performance, Simeone said: "I saw quite a lot in the first half that was not good from us. Espanyol were better in the first half.

"In the second we changed and looked for other alternatives to what we saw in the first half. The team had an extraordinary second half."

While Atletico have now picked up three wins and a draw from their opening four games, Espanyol remain winless on their return to the top flight.

Despite the controversy surrounding the added time at the end of the game at RCDE Stadium, home boss Vicente Moreno did not feel the need to criticise referee Juan Martinez Munuera.

"I don't think about it. It may seem like more minutes or fewer than expected, but it's down to the referee. Little can change what he saw," Moreno said.

"You rarely see 10 minutes added on in a game, but I am totally respectful. I just hope it's the same when we need a goal.

"As for the other comments made [by Simeone], I am respectful of what everyone says."

Atletico, who had failed to win on their previous three league visits to Espanyol, return to action on Wednesday with a home match against Porto in the Champions League.

Antoine Griezmann was eager to return to Atletico Madrid, according to Diego Simeone, who acknowledged there will be plenty of expectation on the forward.

Griezmann left Atleti for Barcelona in 2019 but, on deadline day, the 30-year-old returned to the Spanish champions on a season-long loan with an option to extend the deal.

With Barca hit by huge financial losses, the Catalan club needed to get Griezmann's wages off their books, even with Lionel Messi having left for Paris Saint-Germain.

Griezmann's departure from Atleti two years ago was by no means a smooth one, with supporters seemingly aggravated by the prolonged nature of the move. In 2018, the former Real Socieded attacker committed his future to the club, only to leave a season later.

However, Simeone insists Griezmann, who scored 94 LaLiga goals for Atleti in his first spell, was determined to return from Barca.

"I found a Griezmann who was eager to return," Simeone said ahead of Sunday's meeting with Espanyol, with Griezmann having been included in Atleti's squad for an immediate return to the city of Barcelona.

"[He was] enthusiastic about the option of returning to the team, and people will demand from Griezmann what they demand from us every day.

"The fans are very demanding and it is normal for them to demand from Griezmann what they demand from us every day."

 

Griezmann has joined a sparkling attack at Atleti, with Luis Suarez, Joao Felix and Angel Correa likely to be competing with the World Cup winner for a place up front. 

"Actually, when you talk about a better or worse squad, short or deep, everything is seen as a consequence of what is going to happen during the season," said Simeone when asked if his team were favourites for the title.

"It is easy to think of the best before the game starts and for there to be some imagination about the names, but the names do not make a team. The men do that.

"So, we will go without changing anything, with the commitment that I have with the club, and tomorrow we will play against a very complex, aggressive opponent who will be tough, like everyone else in the Spanish league.

"We hope to improve compared to what happened last season. We did not have a good Copa del Rey [run], in the Champions League we would have liked to compete better [and] we [also] have the Supercopa de Espana.

"Four competitions where hopefully we can improve the numbers from last season, as we are always looking to do."

Antoine Griezmann will return for Atletico Madrid against Espanyol but head coach Diego Simeone insisted his focus is on the team dynamic and ensuring his talented attacking options click, rather than individuals.

The France forward made a remarkable move back from Barcelona, initially joining the reigning LaLiga champions on loan with either club holding the option to extend for a further year.

Griezmann scored 133 goals across 257 games in his first spell before that ultimately ill-fated €120million move to the Catalan giants in 2019, and Simeone revealed his new loanee is relishing a homecoming.

"I found [Antoine] Griezmann eager to return to Atletico Madrid, very enthusiastic about the situation of returning to the team," Simeone told reporters on Saturday.

However, the 51-year-old head coach wanted to avoid focusing on individuals as Atletico look to end a three-game winless away run at Espanyol in LaLiga.

 

Luis Suarez, who has been involved in 15 goals in 11 top-flight appearances against Sunday's opponents, could link up with his former Barca colleague Griezmann again, though the France star will face a fight for a place in the side given Atletico now boast a wealth of attacking talent among their ranks.

Angel Correa has thrived as a support striker, scoring three times in the first two LaLiga games, as Atletico opened with back-to-back wins for the fourth time in the Simeone era.

Versatile attacker Matheus Cunha then arrived from Hertha Berlin for a reported €26m fee late in the transfer window.

The Brazil forward created 54 chances – ranking him sixth among forwards in Germany – last season, while only five forwards across the top five European leagues completed more dribbles than Cunha's 123 since his arrival in Berlin back in January 2020.

Yannick Carrasco was the only Atletico player to complete 100 dribbles in that time and the Belgian winger – often used as a wing-back last term – led club charts for chances created (47) in LaLiga in 2020-21.

Add the likes of Joao Felix, Thomas Lemar, Marcos Llorente and Rodrigo De Paul to the equation and Simeone has a wealth of creative talents to call on. Now he can look to Griezmann as well.

Although his Barcelona spell may not have lived up to expectations, he still netted 20 times across 51 appearances in all competitions last season, providing 12 assists and creating 67 chances for Ronald Koeman's side. That was two more than he managed in 2017-18, arguably the finest individual campaign of Griezmann's career.

But Simeone is not kidding himself. While he has great talent at his disposal, he needs them to click.

"Internal competition has grown and that leads us to compete better," Simeone continued.

"At first it is easy to speak from the names. I believe in men and in how a team is executed. We are absolutely always looking for a team.

"Names don't team up, men do. We will go in that search of that commitment we have towards the club, always looking for the best."

Antoine Griezmann said he "definitely wanted to return" to Atletico Madrid after re-joining the LaLiga champions from Barcelona.

Griezmann is back in the Spanish capital with Atletico following his remarkable switch, initially on loan for the 2021-22 season with the option for either club to extend for a further year.

The France international scored 133 goals in 257 appearances during his first spell with Atletico between 2014 and 2019, before departing for Barca in a €120million deal.

Griezmann was part of Diego Simeone's side that won the 2018 Europa League, two years after helping them reach the Champions League final.

"Every game I will give everything for the great effort they have made for me so that I could return," Griezmann said.

"My part was easy, knowing that Atleti wanted me back, I definitely wanted to return. It is the best place for me to be happy on and off the field.

"It was a crazy day when the market closed, but everything went well and with a lot of desire. Although I was with the national team I wanted to be a 'colchonero' again.

"It is the most beautiful thing that has happened to me in the last few years."

 

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.

After a difficult first season at Barca, Griezmann came into his second term 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 saw him fall some way short of the 29 he managed in 2017-18, though his 12 assists came close to matching his Atleti peak.

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.

Griezmann added: "It is also thanks to [Diego Simeone]. I owe him so much in my professional life, because here with him, with Atleti, where I lived my best moments on a professional level and in my private life, because he has been a huge support for me and my family. I'm very happy. It is an honour to play for him."

Barcelona are a structurally better side without superstar forward Lionel Messi, according to head coach Ronald Koeman.

The LaLiga giants were left stunned last month when Messi departed for Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer after they were unable to fulfil a new contract that had been agreed.

Messi's exit has left a big void at Camp Nou, the six-time Ballon d'Or winner having scored 672 goals and assisted 265 across his 778 appearances for Barcelona.

Barca have started the post-Messi era with two wins and a draw in their opening three league matches, scoring seven goals in the process, and Koeman believes his side are adjusting to life without their greatest ever player.

"It was a huge blow to lose him," Koeman told Sport. "We had planned for the season with him. 

"We lose so much and it took a few days to get things in order, but we must turn the page and build the team.

"Losing Messi doesn't oblige us to play different tactically but there are things without the ball where the team can improve. 

"We won't have the individual quality of Leo, but in pressing and structuring the team, the team is better now."

 

Antoine Griezmann is another high-profile forward to have left Catalonia last month, the France international returning to Atletico Madrid on an initial loan just two years after swapping clubs.

Koeman understands the club's decision to let Griezmann depart in the final stages of the window, with Luuk de Jong arriving from Sevilla as a replacement.

"The aggravation we had on the last day, with practically no time to find a solution, it was a b****," Koeman said.

"Griezmann had a great contract and if he left it was going to help improve the financial situation of the club. That's why I agreed to his departure."

 

Koeman has repeatedly called on his other attacking players to step up and new recruit Memphis Depay has done exactly that with two goals and an assist in his first three competitive games for Barca.

Depay also scored his first international hat-trick for the Netherlands in Tuesday's 6-1 win over Turkey to move level with Johan Cruyff and Abe Lenstra in Oranje's list of all-time top scorers.

President Joan Laporta revealed this week Depay's number nine shirt is now the biggest seller at Barca and Koeman has backed his compatriot to be the face of the club for years to come.

"Memphis can mark an era at Barca," Koeman said. "He has something that is essential to be a success here: personality and character. 

"There's something different about him and he's really motivated by the challenge of being here."

He added: "There are always things to improve but I'll tell you one thing: if we have everyone available, we can do big things.

"We have a great team. We still have to be realistic, it will be difficult, but I am optimistic and ambitious."

Antoine Griezmann declared "I'm back" to Atletico Madrid's supporters after returning to training for the first time since re-joining from Barcelona.

The France forward made the switch to LaLiga's champions on loan for the 2021-22 season, with the option for either club to extend for a further year.

Less than 24 hours after scoring twice in Les Bleus’ 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Finland on Tuesday, Griezmann was back in training with Los Rojiblancos.

The 30-year-old delivered a personalised message via the club’s official Twitter account, saying: "Hello Atleti fans, I'm back."

Griezmann scored 133 goals in 257 appearances during his first spell with Atletico between 2014 and 2019, before departing for Barcelona in a €120million deal.

He was part of Diego Simeone's side that won the 2018 Europa League, two years after helping them reach the Champions League final.

Didier Deschamps praised France's determination after defeating Finland 2-0 in Tuesday's World Cup qualifier.

Les Bleus ended a five-game winless run with victory in Lyon as they continued their unbeaten streak and created a seven-point gap over second-place Ukraine in Group D.

Despite an underwhelming return after a poor Euro 2020 showing, it is the first time since 2006 that France have not lost any of their first six matches in qualifying for a major tournament (W3 D3).

Indeed, consecutive draws against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Ukraine had placed pressure on Deschamps, which is why he hailed Tuesday's win as crucial.

"It's easy to talk, I'm doing what I think is good for them and the interests of the France team," Deschamps told TF1 post-match.

"Even if we didn't do everything well, today there was more determination and from there, the technical quality is there.

"It was a very important result, but the job will have to be finished in November.

"We have never stayed for such a long period [without a win], it can happen.

"We must therefore appreciate this victory and especially during the last two qualifying matches in November, finish the job."

Antoine Griezmann's brace proved the difference, his first making him the fourth France player to score 40 goals, while his second saw him join Michel Platini in third on the list of all-time goalscorers.

The 30-year-old thrived after a change in system by Deschamps to a three-man defence and the Atletico Madrid loanee also recognised the importance of the result.

"We wanted this victory, to show that we are solid and that we had not lost anything," Griezmann said to TF1.

"Now we must keep this state of mind, this desire to give everything on the field, to win the duels and having to hurt like we did.

"Maybe we found a system that suits us best. We'll see. It's the coach who'll decide. But tonight, we were strong.

"Five draws was a long time. We wanted to win and we did it in the right way."

Antoine Griezmann's double ended a five-game winless run for France as they defeated Finland 2-0 in Tuesday's World Cup qualifier.

Didier Deschamps' men scored the opening goal for the first time in six matches, Griezmann delivering a stunning left-footed finish to become the fourth player to score 40 goals for France.

Finland were the most recent defeat team to triumph on French soil but rarely troubled in Lyon, Griezmann adding a second after the break to draw him level with Michel Platini in third on the all-time scoring list.

The hosts sit top of Group D and remain unbeaten despite their underwhelming return after a poor Euro 2020, while Markku Kanerva's men have won just two of their past 12 games across all competitions.

Urho Nissila brought the first save from Hugo Lloris, his looping strike forcing the Tottenham goalkeeper to tip over before Karim Benzema called Lukas Hradecky into action with a left-footed effort.

However, Hradecky was no match four minutes later as Griezmann beautifully curled into the bottom-right corner after an offload from Benzema, who was appearing in Lyon for the first time since 2011 after returning to his former club with Real Madrid.

Paul Pogba came close to adding a second, though he could only volley wide on the stretch as he sliced his right-footed strike from outside the area.

Griezmann doubled his and France's tally after the break, rolling a delicate shot through the legs of Hradecky after being teed up by Leo Dubois.

Atletico Madrid's new loanee should have completed his hat-trick, Benzema again acting as the creator, but he could only poke over before acrobatically volleying wide with his next attempt.

Benzema could have had a goal of his own in the closing stages, but Hradecky got down well to parry away after the forward had struck a left-footed volley.

What does it mean? Deschamps ends winless run and furthers Group D lead

France had stuttered after their poor showing at Euro 2020, drawing their five games in a row for the first time in their history before the visit of Finland.

However, Tuesday's win ensured their unbeaten run remains intact and extended their advantage at the top of Group D to a seven-point gap over second-place Ukraine.

Finland have played a game less than their closest rivals Ukraine but also sit on five points in third place, despite only picking up their first win against Kazakhstan last weekend.

Perfect Pogba

Griezmann will take the plaudits but Pogba appeared a class above at Groupama Stadium as he enjoyed a game-high 142 touches.

No player completed more passes than the Manchester United midfielder (113), who also recorded the most opposition-half passes (73).

In a complete midfield outing, Pogba managed 17 recoveries of the ball, 10 more than any other player on the pitch.

Poor Pukki

Teemu Pukki needs just three more goals to become Finland's all-time top scorer but fired a blank in a timid performance, with a second-half caution not helping his cause.

Only the two goalkeepers, Lloris and Hradecky (both 28), had fewer touches than Pukki's 29 and he won fewer than half of the nine duels he competed for.

To make matters worse, the Norwich City forward completed the fewest passes (14) of any outfield player in Lyon to play 90 minutes as he endured a torrid time up top.

What's next?

France face Belgium in the Nations League semi-final in October before hosting Kazakhstan the following month. Finland next play Ukraine at Helsinki Olympic Stadium.

Barcelona president Joan Laporta has insisted Lionel Messi could not have remained at Camp Nou, even with Antoine Griezmann leaving and the club's captains reducing their wages amid mounting debt.

Barca's financial issues – the LaLiga giants' debt has risen to €1.35billion – led to the shock departure of superstar Messi to Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer.

Gerard Pique accepted a substantial pay cut and fellow captains Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto followed suit to ensure the likes of Sergio Aguero could be registered for the new season, while Griezmann completed a sensational return to Atletico Madrid on deadline day.

However, six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi remaining at Camp Nou was impossible, according to Laporta.

"What happened is what has been explained," Laporta told Esport3. "There are objective data. Everyone can compare. We were pressured that we would either sign the CVC loan [deal] or there is no fair play.

"There was no margin. There was a pre-agreement and we had shaken hands. There were several agreements and LaLiga seemed to accept it, but then they said no without CVC. We didn't think that the situation was going to improve and we put an end to it.

"Messi could not have stayed even with Griezmann's [departure] and with the salary reduction of the captains. But it is important that we have lowered the salary cap because next year we can be more ambitious.

"I think we were both sad because the situation was not what we wanted. I have not spoken with Messi since. I saw his debut with PSG and it was strange to see him at another team, rivals. I did not like seeing him in another shirt."

Laporta added: "The reduction [of the expenditure] is important – we have gone from 110 to 80 per cent. I want to congratulate the executives and the financial department of Barcelona for their work, and all those who have worked tirelessly and extraordinarily.

"And we have some heroes in Pique, Alba, Busquets, and we will seal [the deal with] Sergi Roberto.

"What they have done is admirable. They are committed to the club, to the members. It is admirable. And we will continue with other players, such as [Samuel] Umtiti and others from the first team. We are in a process that is not easy.

"First the captains have set an example, and now we will continue with others."

Ronald Koeman's Barca have made an unbeaten start to the 2021-22 campaign, winning two of their opening three LaLiga fixtures to be level on seven points with leaders Real Madrid, Sevilla, Valencia, Atletico and Mallorca.

"I like Koeman," said Laporta. "We won the game against Getafe. They are not easy games."

Atletico Madrid president Enrique Cerezo says he would understand if Antoine Griezmann is jeered by his own supporters after rejoining the Spanish champions from Barcelona.

France international Griezmann this week completed a surprise return to Atleti on an initial season-long loan deal with an option for both clubs to extend the deal by a further year, just two years after heading the opposite way.

The 30-year-old was a fan favourite during his previous five-season stint at the club before his €120million exit, scoring 94 goals in 180 LaLiga appearances.

However, many Atleti fans were unhappy with the manner of Griezmann's drawn-out exit in 2019, a year after dedicating his future to the club in a mini-documentary.

The deal also brought with it further controversy as Atleti insisted Barca had fallen some €80m short of the obligated fee, but the transfer was nevertheless upheld.

With Griezmann now back at the Wanda Metropolitano, however, Cerezo is hoping Atleti backers give their full support to their returning former hero.

Asked about the possibility of fans booing Griezmann when he returns to the field for Atletico, Cerezo told Cadena SER: "I would understand that. 

"But what I want to say is that we are not going to gain anything with this. When he left, all I said was that in Barcelona they wouldn't love him the same as they do here. 

"He left in a strange way, but he has shown that he was eager to return to Atletico Madrid.

"There are fans who will not like it, but there are others who were delighted with his return and in the end the important thing is performance and having the best squad."

 

Griezmann was directly involved in 29 LaLiga goals across his two seasons at Camp Nou, a tally bettered among Barca players by only Lionel Messi (85), who is now of course with Paris Saint-Germain.

He played 51 times in all competitions in 2020-21, recording 20 goals and 12 assists, but was allowed to leave on deadline day due to the Catalans desperately needing to balance their books.

The transfer went through late on after Atletico freed up space by sending Saul Niguez to Chelsea on an initial loan deal.

"It was a three-way carom and we are lucky to have Griezmann for the next two years," Cerezo added. 

"We did not count on Griezmann because we didn't know if Saul was going to leave."

Griezmann featured in all three of Barca's LaLiga games in August, but failed to score or create a single chance.

Antoine Griezmann is relishing his return "home" after Atletico Madrid rescued him from Barcelona, with Diego Simeone set to be a big winner if the Frenchman rediscovers his best form.

The transfer window was closing when Atletico dashed in to snatch Griezmann, as Saul Niguez's move to Chelsea cleared space in coach Simeone's squad for a major arrival.

Griezmann said he was sad not to play regularly in front of a packed Camp Nou during his time at Barcelona, with the pandemic putting paid to that prospect.

That message came in a goodbye note to Barcelona supporters on Wednesday, but on Thursday he had his eye on the challenge ahead.

"Looking forward to coming home," Griezmann wrote on Twitter, replying after Atletico announced he would inherit Saul's number eight shirt.

He has joined on an initial loan with a reported obligation to buy for €40million after spending just two years at Camp Nou, with Barcelona having paid €120million to sign Griezmann, one of a string of big-money deals that proved poor value for the Blaugrana's money.

Griezmann never managed to recapture his best form in Catalonia, but Simeone will have scooped a bargain if the forward's prime performances return.

 

WHAT COULD THIS HOMECOMING BRING ATLETICO?

With Barca, Griezmann started 66 games in LaLiga but was substituted off 37 times, with the changes of coach from Ernesto Valverde to Quique Setien and then Ronald Koeman hardly encouraging stability.

During his first stint at Atletico, he started 168 times in the league and was taken off on just 68 occasions, an indication Simeone resoundingly backed his ability.

That faith would stem primarily from the fact only Lionel Messi (176), Cristiano Ronaldo (134 from 2014-18) and Luis Suarez (131) scored more LaLiga goals than Griezmann's haul of 94 during his five-year stay at Atletico. Before that, he was a regular scorer in LaLiga for Real Sociedad, whom he helped earn promotion in the 2009-10 season.

Yet there was much more to Griezmann's game in his first Atletico spell than goals, with his hard work meaning he fitted the bill for the club's taskmaster Argentine coach.

A remarkable 651 ball recoveries in five seasons was the highest total achieved by any forward in the league (Iker Muniain second on 551), but at Barcelona he was only 11th on the list in that department for the combined two years and two months he spent with the Catalan giants.

He was top five for assists (32) among all LaLiga forwards while at Atletico, got his 88 non-penalty league goals from an expected goals (xG) haul of 68.41, showing how clinical he was, while he also ranked in the top three for Opta-defined 'big chances' created (56).

His shot conversion rate was a healthy 21.2 per cent, which fell away to 16.9 per cent while at Barcelona, where his lacklustre display against Getafe last weekend suggested it was indeed time to move on.

At Atletico, he is set to team up with Suarez, his former Barcelona team-mate whose acquisition last year proved a stimulus for the Rojiblancos' title charge.

And in a quirk of fate, Griezmann could make his return to Atletico action back in Barcelona, at Espanyol on September 12.

By scoring for France on Wednesday, albeit fortuitously against Bosnia and Herzegovina, Griezmann was again making a nuisance of himself at a high level, which is where Atletico find themselves after winning LaLiga last term.

And as much as he is "looking forward to coming home", it remains to be seen whether the scars of an acrimonious exit have healed.

France head coach Didier Deschamps acknowledged there is "significant room for improvement" with his attacking trio of Antoine Griezmann, Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe while the latter suffered a reported calf concern.

Deschamps deployed the star trio together for the seventh straight game but lacked genuine attacking cohesion as Les Bleus drew 1-1 with Bosnia-Herzegovina in Strasbourg.

The France boss has persisted with the trio since Benzema's return to the national team fold, yet Les Bleus are winless in their past four games.

Griezmann equalised in the 39th minute after Edin Dzeko's opener but France were forced to play for most of the second half with 10 men after Jules Kounde's red card.

Mbappe crashed his only shot for the game off the near post in the 27th minute, while Griezmann's goal came with fortune after Dzeko headed a corner into his back and over the line.

Benzema's only shot on target was a tame deflected effort that was easily held by Bosnia goalkeeper Ibrahim Sehic.

"There were good things, there were sequences and individual actions," Deschamps said after the game.

"The opponents make sure to bring in a lot of people, to reduce spaces. We created chances in the first half. There are situations that could have been better handled as well.

"The room for improvement in offensive efficiency is significant, particularly with the individual quality of these three players.

"I have others on the bench. I have made changes to boost this area."

Real Madrid target Mbappe was replaced in second-half stoppage time by Moussa Diaby with RMC reporting a calf issue, although the severity is unknown at this stage.

The world champions remain top of Group D in World Cup qualifying with eight points from four games despite the draw, with second-placed Ukraine drawing 2-2 in Kazakhstan.

"We knew that [result] before and it proves that the qualifying phases are complicated," Deschamps said.

"I will not hide that we must be satisfied with this draw even if it was not what we had planned. Considering the scenario, it was complicated when we were reduced to 10.

"We have one more point and there are others to pick up on Saturday in Kiev. It happens very quickly. I have no regrets in the sense that the intentions were there."

Les Bleus return to action on Saturday away to Ukraine in Kiev, before a third qualifier in the break against Finland.

France failed to bounce back from their surprise Euro 2020 elimination as they were held to a 1-1 draw in 2022 World Cup qualifying by Bosnia-Herzegovina, finishing with 10 men. 

Les Bleus, who went out in the last 16 of the European Championship after a shock penalty shoot-out loss to Switzerland, fell behind to Edin Dzeko’s 36th-minute strike in Strasbourg on Wednesday but were quickly back on terms following a fortuitous goal for Antoine Griezmann. 

Didier Deschamps' side would have been expecting to push on for a win to go six points clear of second-placed Ukraine, who drew 2-2 with Kazakhstan earlier on Wednesday, in the second half of the Group D clash. 

However, after a deadline-day switch from Sevilla to Chelsea failed to materialise, Jules Kounde was shown a red card for a lunge on Sead Kolasinac following a VAR check and France had to settle for a point. 

Kylian Mbappe missed the decisive penalty against Switzerland but went close to getting back on the scoresheet when his effort from the tightest of angles crashed behind off the near post in the 27th minute. 

Miralem Pjanic warmed the gloves of Hugo Lloris before Dezko seized upon a wayward Thomas Lemar pass and drilled a fine 20-yard effort through Presnel Kimpembe's legs and into the bottom-right corner. 

France were somewhat lucky to restore parity three minutes later. Dzeko headed a corner against Griezmann's back and following a VAR check it was clear Ibrahim Sehic had failed to keep the ball out after a slight touch off Dennis Hadzikadunic. 

Aurelien Tchouameni was sent on for his debut at half-time but France's plan was thrown into disarray following Kounde's late tackle on Kolasinac, who had to be replaced by Eldar Civic. 

Bosnia had a couple of chances to steal a famous win, but Smail Prevljak and Pjanic were unable to find the target with their efforts inside the final five minutes.
 

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