La Liga: Reignited Antoine Griezmann Leading Atletico Madrid Charge Against Hungry Barcelona
Barcelona are aiming to make a statement victory at Atletico Madrid on Sunday to prove they can challenge for silverware in 2023, but former player Antoine Griezmann is standing in their way.
Barcelona are aiming to make a statement victory at Atletico Madrid on Sunday to prove they can challenge for silverware in 2023, but former player Antoine Griezmann is standing in their way. The Catalans signed the French forward from Atletico in the summer of 2019 for 120 million euros ($126.3 million) and loaned him back in 2021, making the deal permanent in October 2022. Barca threw away a two point lead on champions Real Madrid last weekend with a 1-1 draw in the derby against Espanyol, leaving the title race tied neck and neck.
Both Barcelona and Real Madrid have 38 points from 15 games, with Xavi's side top on goal difference for now, although some are questioning their capability of going the distance against Carlo Ancelotti's well-oiled machine.
The Catalans last won the league before Griezmann arrived in 2019, ending a run of four league titles in five years, but have struggled for silverware since.
President Joan Laporta pulled various financial "levers" in the summer to spend big and bring in star signings including Robert Lewandowski from Bayern Munich, but the Catalans suffered a humiliating Champions League group phase exit.
Diego Simeone's Atletico are enduring a tough season too, also eliminated from European football and in a fight to maintain their top four spot.
Basque sides Real Sociedad, third, and Athletic Bilbao, fifth, are threats, while 2021 champions Atletico, fourth, are 11 points behind the leaders.
However Atletico forward Griezmann sparkled with France at the World Cup, as his team finished as runners-up to Argentina.
The 31-year-old was deployed deeper on the pitch in a midfield position, where he has sometimes featured for Atletico Madrid too.
Boasting a flashy new pink haircut, Griezmann is standing out head and shoulders above the rest.
"I think we have to close him down because he's really dangerous, he has very good passing skills and he's in really good form," Barcelona's French winger Ousmane Dembele told Eleven Sports on Thursday.
The pair are close friends but did not thrive together at Camp Nou, before Griezmann was sent back to the capital on loan.
After a saga at the start of the season where Atletico only played him in the late stages of matches to avoid activating a fixed 40 million euro fee to sign him, the clubs reached a new agreement for 20 million euros to seal his permanent return.
Barcelona will be without their own star player, top scorer Lewandowski, after his three-game ban was upheld by Spain's sports court on Wednesday.
The latter scored on Wednesday in the Copa del Rey round of 32 clash against Inter City, which secured the Catalans a narrow 4-3 win in extra time to narrowly avoid humiliation.
It highlighted the fragility which makes Real Madrid favourites to win the league and which Simeone will hope Griezmann can take advantage of at the Metropolitano.
"He's won back the love of the fans and speaks on the pitch, he's a good example for all his team-mates," said Simeone on Wednesday.
"When they want it, players reach an impressive level. He's an extraordinary player despite the fact many, many people thought the opposite."
Player to watch: Karim BenzemaThe Real Madrid striker is fit again and struck twice against Real Valladolid last week, keen to assert himself after his World Cup injury disappointment.
The 35-year-old has seven goals in La Liga this season, six behind top goalscorer Lewandowski, who is now suspended.
The former French international can start to catch up in the race for the golden boot when Madrid visit Villarreal on Saturday.
0 - Elche are the only club left in La Liga without a single win this season
14 - There are 14 players in the top flight who have played every minute of the first 15 games
40 - Sevilla are embroiled in a relegation battle and winger Erik Lamela is pitching in -- with 40 fouls he has committed more than any other player in the league
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Elche v Celta Vigo (1730), Valencia v Cadiz (2000)
Villarreal v Real Madrid (1615), Mallorca v Real Valladolid (1730), Espanyol v Girona (2000)
Almeria v Real Sociedad (1300), Rayo Vallecano v Real Betis (1515), Sevilla v Getafe (1730), Atletico Madrid v Barcelona (2000)
Athletic Bilbao v Osasuna (2000)
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