The summer signing impressed in a 2-2 draw against his old club but the champions have issues ahead of a midweek date against Real Madrid
It hasn’t been easy for Antoine Griezmann since making the switch from Atletico Madrid to Barcelona last summer, but the French forward is finally hitting his stride.
Unfortunately for the Catalans, just when it seemed like they were hitting theirs too they turned in a disappointing performance in a 2-2 draw at Real Sociedad on Saturday.
The result hands Real Madrid the advantage ahead of the crucial Camp Nou Clasico looming on Wednesday, with Zinedine Zidane’s side now able to eke out a two-point lead over the Spanish champions with a victory over Valencia on Sunday night.
Barcelona have various worries ahead of the clash with their arch-rivals so, with Ousmane Dembele sidelined and the team’s form still hit and miss, Griezmann’s improvement comes at an important time.
While still not at his effervescent best, it was Griezmann who showed up when Barcelona were floundering in San Sebastian, scoring the equaliser after Sociedad took the lead.
Usually it is Lionel Messi or Luis Suarez who pull the team out of bad situations, and indeed the two combined to put Barcelona ahead in the second half, but Griezmann was signed for €120 million to make the difference and Barcelona can start relying on him to do that.
Sociedad went ahead after a dubious penalty was awarded to them, with Sergio Busquets penalised for a supposed shirt-tug, and Mikel Oyarzabal stroked home from the spot to put the Basques in front at a lively Anoeta.
Barcelona struggled to create many openings or control the game, with Real Madrid loanee Martin Odegaard impressing, but Griezmann finished lethally to pull the visitors level.
Sent through on goal, the forward cleverly lofted the ball over the onrushing Alex Remiro to silence the crowd.
It was reminiscent of Griezmann’s goal last weekend against Real Mallorca, when he broke the deadlock with a near identical dinked effort.
This was the fifth time Griezmann has been first on the scoresheet for the Catalans, the team’s ‘can-opener’, to translate a Spanish saying, which is a useful skill to have.
Formerly a Sociedad player, Griezmann did not celebrate his goal, even if he would have been thrilled on the inside.
“I will never celebrate here, I have a lot of respect to those who gave me everything,” said Griezmann after the game.
He is being forced to operate on the left wing, a position which isn’t his, but bit by bit is looking more comfortable operating there.
Since he signed for Barcelona he’s offered the work rate which Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone loved, but not shone enough at the other end to justify his price-tag.
Finally it feels like he’s finding his feet in attack, with the team more aware of his movement and runs.
Busquets made up for his error in the first half with an excellent ball over the top for Messi, who beat the offside trap and squared for Suarez to tap home.
However, Barcelona conceded a weak equaliser, when German goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen parried the ball into the path of Alexander Isak, who dispatched it without fuss.
The returns from injury of Jordi Alba and later Nelson Semedo as a second-half substitute, will be a comfort to coach Ernesto Valverde who has not been able to rely on Junior Firpo and Sergi Roberto as full-backs over the past few weeks.
But, with Real Madrid in resurgent form, Barcelona didn’t show much in the Basque country that inspired confidence ahead of the Clasico, with Griezmann’s improvement the only spark of hope.